Q&A with Nick Manno - Part I

Nick Manno, the Washington Nationals Assistant Director of Player Development, sits down with CapitolDugout.com for an in depth Q&A session. In part one of our two part series, Nicks talks about the state of the farm system, the big surprises of 2005, who he views as the organizations' top pitching prospects, and much, much more.

CapitolDugout.com: Since the beginning of last season, it seems that many of the organizations' prospects have taken off, greatly improving the farm system in the process.  At this point, how do you feel about the progress you have seen over the past year?

Nick Manno: I think that we have really made a lot of progress that cannot be measured in wins and losses. Like you said, we had several players in our system have really good years, some expected, others more of a surprise. If you look at the number of individual players that made league all-star teams or received other awards, it definitely shows improvement over 2004.  We had 23 minor league all-stars in 2005 compared to 13 in 2004.

CapitolDugout.com: In 2005, which players "surprised" the organization by either their performance or unexpected development?

Nick Manno: In terms of surprises, Mike O'Connor and Francisco Plasencia really opened eyes last season in the organization. O'Connor was able to settle in as a starter and take off from there. And, with Plasencia being new to the organization, we really just wanted to see what we had. He put up good numbers with Milwaukee, but I don't know if anyone could have predicted the year he had in Vermont. That being said, I am anxious to see how he is able to perform with a full season club.

A lot of the other players who put themselves on the map we had high hopes for to begin with. It was just a matter of them putting it all together. I'm talking about guys like Frank Diaz and Kory Casto.

CapitolDugout.com: What are your overall thoughts on Collin Balester and what should we expect from him down the road?  Did he perform above expectations in 2005 and do you feel he has the chance to be fast tracked given his performance at such a young age?

Nick Manno: I think anytime an 18 year old kid in his first full season puts together the kind of year that Balester did, he exceeds everyone's expectations just a bit. But, the thing that sets Collin apart from other pitchers his age is that he has really shown a feel for fastball command, which is so difficult for a young pitcher to develop. The sky is the limit for Collin.

CapitolDugout.com: Do you feel that Clint Everts will be the same pitcher he was pre-surgery in 2006 and what are the plans for him this season?

Nick Manno: The thought of a healthy Clint Everts gets everyone in the organization excited. We feel he is going to come back and be even stronger. The most important thing for Clint is to continue building back arm strength to go with the secondary stuff we already know he has. We can't determine what level Clint will pitch at until we see him in spring training…

CapitolDugout.com: What are your thoughts on Francisco Plasencia?  His performance seemed to come out of nowhere.  Was it surprising to people within the organization and what type of player do you project him to be?

Nick Manno: As I said earlier, Plasencia really surprised everyone in the organization. He was signed out of Venezuela as a released player by Ismael Cruz and from the first day of spring training, he stood out to the staff and continued to do so through the rest of the spring and into extended spring training. He was very receptive to the teachings of Mitchell Page and Rick Eckstein and once he was able to get into a rhythm, he took off. He also is an above average defensive player as well.

CapitolDugout.com:  Bill Bray appears to be on the verge of becoming a big league pitcher.  What type of role do you see him fitting in as a big leaguer and what are your overall thoughts on his development thus far?

Nick Manno: Bill Bray has outstanding stuff and it is just a matter of time before he is in the big leagues. I think initially his Major League role may be more as a middle reliever, but as he gains experience, he has the stuff to eventually be a very good late inning guy.

CapitolDugout.com: As of right now, if you had to pinpoint the organization's top three or four pitching prospects that we should keep an eye on this season, who would they be?

Nick Manno: You already know about [Clint] Everts, [Bill] Bray, [Collin] Balester. There are some others coming off injury that we have high hopes for in Shawn Hill and Daryl Thompson. And, some other young pitchers who have either not yet put themselves on the map or were just draftees are guys like Greg Bunn, Ricardo Morales, Marco Estrada, and Craig Stammen. Finally, we fully expect that Mike Hinckley will regain the form that won him back-to-back Minor League Pitcher of the Year awards.

CapitolDugout.com:  Which offensive prospect in the system would you say has the most untapped potential?

Nick Manno: That would be Rogearvin Bernadina. In my opinion, he has the most complete tool set in our organization. I saw a game last year in which he showed everything we know he is capable of. I mean, he hit an opposite field home run, made a diving catch, stole two bases, took a walk. He did it all. If he could ever do that consistently, he could be a star. One thing we need to remember with Rogearvin is that coming from the Netherlands, guys don't start playing baseball as early as we do here or they do in the Latin American countries. He is going to play this year at 21 years old and really is still probably only about 16 or 17 in terms of baseball experience.

CapitolDugout.com: Of the catching prospects in the organization, which do you think may have the best chance of being a future big leaguer and why?

Nick Manno: We have really upgraded our catching over the past year or so. The best package of offense and defense we have is Devin Ivany, who made just a ton of offensive progress from the end of 2004. Defensively he blocks and throws as well as anyone we have and is still learning to call a game.

CapitolDugout.com: You've had two late draft signings this year, Brad Clark and Justin Maxwell.  Do you have any indication as to what we should expect from those two this spring and at what level they may be playing?

Nick Manno: I am really looking forward to seeing both players. Maxwell, from what I understand, has the potential to be a star. Unfortunately, he hasn't been healthy during that past two college seasons, and Clark was a highly touted high school pitcher before his senior season with arm strength. We will have to see where they are in spring training to see where they will begin the season.

Part II of our extensive interview with Nick Manno will be made available on Friday.

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