Nationals Top 20 Prospects

While the Nationals system isn't the best around, it is getting better. With that in mind, we've got a look at the 20 best prospects in the organization as we head into the 2009 season.

1.    Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, 22

After a strong debut season in 2007, Zimmerman made big strides last summer, pitching at both Potomac and Harrisburg. His performance was good enough that he has a legitimate shot at making the major league club this spring. Zimmerman picked up some velocity on his fastball and showed great imrpovement with his curve, putting him in the position that he is now.

2.    Chris Marrero, 1B, 20

Marrero suffered a broken right ankle last summer and missed a big chunk of the season. His average has dipped as he's moved to the higher levels of the minors, but his power numbers have remained constant. For 2009, Marrero will have to prove that there won't be any lingering issues from his ankle injury and also have to work on pumping his average back up to where the Nationals would like to have him hitting.

3.    Michael Burgess, 0F, 20

After 11 home runs in short-season ball in 2007, Burgess blasted a combined 24 last season at Hagerstown and Potomac. The problem is that he hit an outstanding .318 in his first season, but sank to .246 last season. The real Burgess will wind up being somewhere between those two numbers, but the power numbers should stay pretty consistent.

4.    Ross Detwiler, LHP, 22

Detwiler's numbers were down greatly from his debut season and there were some who heard alarm bells going off. A lot of the enthusiasm around Detwiler was partially because of his quick rise to the majors just a few months after being drafted. Detwiler is going to be a top quality major league pitcher and the concern is overblown. Look for him to turn around well in 2009.

5.     Jack McGeary, LHP, 19

Initially, McGeary was splitting his time between getting his college degree and pitching in the Nationals organization. Now, he's informed the Nationals that he'll be pitching full-time and putting his classes on the back burner. It's very good news for the Nationals and it's very possible that now that he's going to focus on baseball, McGeary could be in the majors before he would have even graduated under the old plan.

6.    Garrett Mock, RHP, 25

After making his MLB debut in 2008, Mock is now going to be in position to make the club out of spring training. He pitched pretty well for the Nationals, working primarily out of the bullpen, but did start three games. He may get a shot at the Nationals rotation, but could also be a good addition to their bullpen, considering all the relief help that they may need to rebuild their bullpen.

7.    Derek Norris, C, 20

The young catching prospect is set for his first full-season league in 2009. Last season at Vermont, Norris showed great strides over his debut season in the Gulf Coast League the year before. He shows good power potential, can hit for average and is a strong defensive catcher with a strong, accurate arm.

8.    Colton Willems, RHP, 20

Last season was Willems' first in a full-season league. He pitched well and should be able to move fairly quickly through the minor league season if his showing in 2008 is any indication. Willems has good velocity and command of his pitches and needs some work on his curve and change-up, but should be able to turn them into strong pitches without much trouble.

9.    Destin Hood, OF, 18

Since first round pick Aaron Crow didn't sign with the Nationals, Hood holds the distinction of being the highest signed pick from last June's draft. The second rounder had a decent debut season, hitting .256 in the Gulf Coast League, but his potential is for much better production than that. He'll likely spend this season in extended camp before heading off to Vermont for the New York - Penn League season in June.

10.    Shairon Martis, RHP, 21

Martis pitched well in his first stint at Double-A Harrisburg and pitched even better when the Nationals promoted him to Columbus. From there, it was a promotion to the majors, where he struggled through five games (four starts) with the Nats. It's likely that he needs more work at Triple-A to be ready for the majors and could spend the entire season at Columbus before heading back to the Nationals in September.

11.     Josh Smoker, LHP, 20

The Nationals thought that Smoker was ready to make the jump to Hagerstown last summer after having kept him in extended camp until late May, but unfortunately, they were wrong. He was hit hard in the South Atlantic League and wound up being pushed back to the Gulf Coast League. He pitched very well in the GCL and it's likely that the Nationals may try him again at Hagerstown for 2009.

12.    Justin Maxwell, OF, 25

Last season wasn't a very good one for Maxwell. After putting up decent numbers in an audition with the Nationals in 2007, big things were hoped for out of Maxwell last season. Instead, he missed much of the year with injuries and hit just .233 at Harrisburg. If he can show that he's healthy and back on track, Maxwell could certainly become a solid prospect once again.

13.     J.P. Ramirez, OF, 19

The Nationals 15th round pick in last year's draft played just five games in the Gulf Coast League, but hit .364 with a .533 on-base percentage. He's got good tools and it's going to be interesting to see what type of numbers he can put up in 2009, although he'll likely return to a short-season league. His time in extended camp will be put to good use, because he's got some rough edges, but those should be smoothed over pretty quickly.

14.     Ian Desmond, SS, 23

While Desmond is a good player with strong potential, consistency hasn't been his strong suit. He's struggled in two partial seasons at Double-A Harrisburg and has hit just a combined .232 at Double-A. This is going to be a key season for Desmond, who will need to conquer Double-A to continue being considered a strong candidate for the future of the Nationals infield.

15.     Leonard Davis, OF/IF, 25

After starting off as a third baseman, the Nationals have tried Davis at second and are now looking at him more as an outfield prospect. His outfield defense is better than he showed on the infield, but still pretty weak. Offensively, he's got plenty of tools and just needs to find some defensive skills to make him a more solid prospect.

16.    Marco Estrada, RHP, 25

Estrada's first foray to the majors wasn't very impressive, but keep in mind that he has only pitched 65 innings at Triple-A and was working out of the bullpen rather than his more customary role as a starter at the major league level. Estrada has pitched well in the minors, but the Nationals will need to better define his role for him to be successful.

17.     Danny Espinosa, SS, 21

The Nationals third round pick in last June's draft, Espinosa had impressive numbers at Vermont. Not only did he hit .328, but posted a .476 on-base percentage with the Monsters. His defense will need a little work, but he's got impressive skills and is very coachable, so he should be able to learn what he'll need to know to improve. The athletic skills are all there, it's just a matter of putting them to use.

18.    Bill Rhinehart, 1B, 24

If there was any good thing about the injury to Marrero last season, it was the emergence of Rhinehart. Even though he wasn't really ready to move to Harrisburg, Rhinehart wasn't completely overmatched at Double-A and showed signs of starting to put things together at Harrisburg. He started the season at Hagerstown and played just seven games at Potomac before moving up because of Marrero's injury. He could start this season at either Potomac or Harrisburg, depending on how the Nationals gauge his progress.

19.    Graham Hicks, LHP, 19

Last year's fourth round pick, Hicks made just two starts in the minors. He's got good potential and with time in extended camp and an opportunity to get a complete run in a short-season league, Hicks should be in much better position next year at this time than he is now.

20.    Carlos Alvarez [Esmailyn Gonzalez], SS, 23

By now, everybody knows the story of Alvarez. Initially, we had him listed as the tenth best prospect in the organization, but dropped him to number 20 once the truth was disclosed. In all honesty, he could have been dropped further, but with our list well underway, we gave him the benefit of the doubt. There are legitimate skills there, but now Alvarez is going to have to be pushed along much quicker and it's not clear if he'll be able to handle moving at a faster pace.

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