Nationals Top 15 Prospects

With just about one-third of the season gone, it's time to take a look at some of the top prospects in the Washington Nationals organization.

15.    Esmailyn Gonzalez, SS

The switch-hitting Gonzalez figures to start in the New York/Penn League when they start play in June. There was a lot of hype surrounding his signing and he didn't show much of that potential in his first pro season last year, but there is a lot to like about Gonzalez. He has great skills and is still adjusting to life in the states and the rigors of pro ball, so it may take him a little time to start to show just what he's capable of doing on the field, but he just turned 18 last September, so there isn't a need to push him at this point.

14.     Roger Bernadina, OF

Bernadina will turn 24 in June and seems to be pulling it all together for himself. Rather than being an outfielder with above average speed and defensive skills, Bernadina is showing off more of the offensive skills that hadn't really blossomed prior to this season. He started very slowly, spending three seasons in the South Atlantic League and was on the brink of falling off the radar and hadn't shown anything great until this season. He's hitting .319 through the first third of the season with Double-A Harrisburg and has swiped 17 bases. He still strikes out a little too much, but with a .380 OBP, you can't be too picky of his strikeout numbers (44 in 182 at bats), however, if he can show better plate discipline, he would become a true top prospect for the Nats.

13.    Ian Desmond, SS

The Nationals brought Desmond into big league camp for a while this Spring to start getting him acclimated and show him some respect, hoping to build his confidence. Like Gonzalez, he came to the Nationals with a lot of hype and hasn't reached the type of numbers that most expected, but he has put up solid numbers, especially at Potomac in 2007 (13-45-.264). The feeling is that he can do much better, although he hasn't shown the continued development this season in his stint at Harrisburg, but keep in mind that many players take some time to adjust to the jump from High-A to Double-A ball.

12.    Jake Smolinski, 2B

Yes, the Nationals do have prospects other than in the outfield and at shortstop. In fact, they think so much of Smolinski that they moved him out of their outfield mix and have him playing at second base this season at Hagerstown. He's adjusted pretty well to the move, but has made seven errors at his new position, which still isn't too bad for having to make a lot of adjustments. Not only is he adjusting to second base, but the Nationals aggressively jumped him from the Gulf Coast League in 2007 to the South Atlantic League this season and he's having to adjust at the plate as well. He's a polished hitter with good instincts and has taken to the challenge well this season with the Suns.

11.     Zech Zinicola, RHP

After struggling at Harrisburg last season, the Nationals started Zinicola at Potomac in 2008 and he showed his old form through the early going, so they moved him back up the ladder to Double-A and he's shown that he's truly gotten himself straightened out. He's converted all eight of his save opportunities this season and has a combined record of 4-2 with an ERA of 1.16 between Potomac and Harrisburg this season. So, just how quickly will the Nationals move the 23 year old Zinicola? That's a good and complicated question, since Chad Cordero is shelved, but Zinicola struggled early at Double-A last season and the Nationals don't want to hurt his confidence and rush him to Triple-A or the majors. It's likely that if he continues to pitch well, he'll move along to Columbus at some point and could even get a September invite to the nation's capitol, putting him in a position to battle for a bullpen spot next Spring. He could serve as an apprentice to Cordero in 2009 and open the door for a mid-season trade of Cordero depending on how things are playing out for both Cordero and the Nationals.

10.    Jack McGeary, LHP

The left-hander suffered a separated right shoulder prior to the draft last season and fell to the sixth round. Scouts were worried about his velocity, which dropped off sharply, but it appears that was mainly due to the non-throwing shoulder injury and the way it changed his mechanics. He was still showing some sloppy mechanics in the New York/Penn League last season and needs work to get his mechanics straightened out and to develop his change-up, which figures on being a very good pitch for him. He's got a dominating curve ball that he has enough command of to either throw for a strike or place just outside the zone to get hitters to chase and his fastball should show more velocity as he develops, but was right around 90 miles per hour and sometimes a little under last season. The Nationals were very high on McGeary and convinced him to sign rather than attend college, but have worked out a deal for him to attend college full-time for three years, which might slow his development a little.

9.     Mike Daniel, OF

Daniel has a definite niche in the Nationals organization even though there are a number of good outfield prospects climbing through the ranks. Rather than being the big power, lower average type outfielder that many of the other outfield prospects appear to be, Daniel is more of a high average type hitter who is a little lacking on power, although he did hit 11 home runs between Potomac and Hagerstown last season. Should his power continue to develop, he will move up the rankings pretty quickly. Daniel also shows good speed and is an above average defensive player.

8.    Colten Willems, RHP

If there is a player with the potential to make a big jump up the list of Nationals prospects, it's Colten Willems. His fastball has good velocity - mid 90s - and he can command it well. The pitch has some late movement and with Willems continuing to grow, the pitch has become more intimidating since he appears to be throwing it downhill to hitters. There is still work to be done on his curve and change-up, but both pitches are developing, albeit at a slow pace. Willems has good, solid mechanics and is a bulldog on the mound, never losing his composure even when he's in a jam.

7.    Justin Maxwell, OF

After getting a couple quick invites to the majors, Maxwell simply needs to keep developing in the minors. Thanks to a loaded Major League outfield, Maxwell doesn't have to be rushed to the majors, but it's going to be interesting to see how the Nationals juggle him along with Michael Burgess and Chris Marrero, who are better prospects but are at lower levels than Maxwell. Maxwell presents well with a good mix of speed and power and has the distinction of being the only player in the minors last season to hit 25 doubles, 25 home runs and steal 25 bases and capped that off by making his first Major League hit a grand slam. Even with all of that, he's not likely to hit for much of an average and figures to top out around the .270 mark, but his power will make it worth it. He's learned to hit for power to all fields and uses his speed well both on the bases and in the outfield, although his defensive skills in center field are average to slightly above. He's worked hard to improve his arm, but he's still basically a little under average at throwing out runners looking to move up.

6.     Josh Smoker, LHP

The Nationals decided to keep Smoker in extended camp rather than start him off in the South Atlantic League this season because they wanted him to work on his secondary pitches. When he was drafted last June out of the Georgia high school ranks, he was throwing at least six different pitches and worked on varying each of those pitches, but the Nationals immediately took away some of the pitches and have him focusing on fastball, curve and change-up to keep things simple. He's got very refined and smooth mechanics and repeats his release point well, helping him to have good control of his pitches. It was probably a good decision for him to work on his pitches in extended camp and then hit the New York/Penn League next month rather than go to a full-season league right out of the gate. If all goes well for him, he should get a shot at Hagerstown before the Summer ends.

5.    Jordan Zimmerman, RHP

An injury and time off to have his wisdom teeth pulled caused Zimmerman to drop to the second round of the 2007 Draft and the Nationals basically lucked out by being able to get him there. After pitching well in the New York/Penn League last season, the Nationals moved him to High-A Potomac to start the 2008 season and have since jumped him up to Double-A Harrisburg and he hasn't missed a beat. The key for Zimmerman is keeping his fastball down in the zone, because it's not powerful enough to blow by many hitters when he gets it up in the zone. Fortunately for Zimmerman, he has pretty good control with the fastball and it tends to drop down in the zone as it reaches the hitter. His curve is a little more inconsistent and he needs to improve on that and again, focus on keeping it down in the zone for it to be effective. He's really put things together well this season and it's not out of the question that he will be given a fighting chance to make the rotation next Spring.

4.    Michael Burgess, OF

Burgess and Chris Marrero are very similar hitters, but Burgess has more holes in his swing right now. Like Marrero, Burgess tends to look to put too big of a swing on a pitch rather than just letting his natural power do the work for him. Unlike Marrero, Burgess looks to pull the ball, which further exposes his swing when it gets too lengthy and loopy. He's got explosive power and should develop into a dominating power hitter before too long once he finds a way to keep his plate mechanics consistent. Throughout his career, Burgess has shown good plate discipline and does cut down his swing with two strikes on him and will go the other way on occasion. Defensively, he's got a powerful arm and generally gets the job done in right field.

3.     Collin Balester, RHP

Balester is closing in a full season at Triple-A and it figures that he'll be a September call-up if he's not in the majors before then. The Nationals have been working with Balester to get him to throw his curve as more of an out-pitch rather than his tendency to throw the fastball. He also needs to let up a little on his change-up because it flattens out when he throws it too hard and it doesn't have time to move through the strike zone. He's got his fastball sitting right around 94 miles per hour consistently, but it can be a hittable pitch. His curve is nasty at times and he can generally keep it down in the zone. Balester has been hurt by a couple of bad starts lately that have pushed his ERA to 4.65 on the season with Columbus, but much of his struggles can be attributed to slumping mechanics, which is very fixable.

2.    Chris Marrero, 1B

Marrero's power continues to shine through, but he's having trouble hitting for the type of average that most scouts thought he would post. He was fine in the Gulf Coast League and South Atlantic League - hitting a combined .297 in 79 games at those levels - but he's dropped well off that pace at Potomac where he's hit just .252 in 117 games. He uses all fields and drives the ball well with a nice, compact swing, but he will get a little long at times and tends to rely as much on powering the ball out rather than just using the natural power the his swing generates. He's adjusted well to playing first base and figures to stay at the position through his climb and will play there in the majors.

1.    Ross Detwiler, LHP

Look for Detwiler to make a mid-season move to Double-A Harrisburg as he continues his climb up the Nationals minor league ladder. A big plus for Detwiler this season has been his ability to put more hitters away via the strikeout and much of that has come through his improving change-up that he throws. The upper-70s change is a good compliment to his fastball that has been hitting right around 94 miles per hour this season at Potomac. His curve bites down through the zone and gives him two definite plus pitches with the change quickly moving toward joining that group. On the downside, his mechanics are still a little off at times and he tends to drag his arm across his body, which is something that he'll have to show improvement on before he can start to dominate hitters at higher levels.

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