Twenty-five years, and his life is still, trying to get up that great big . . .

. . . playbill of hope.

There's no off-season for Rocket Bill Ladson, and he proves it yet again with a long profile of Nats' power prospect Larry Broadway. Broadway entered this season with a solid, though unspectacular career ledger in three minor league seasons; of course, in this organization, "solid, though unspectacular" is by necessity regarded a bit differently than in others, and sure enough Baseball America rated Broadway the Nats' No. 2 prospect entering the recently-completed campaign.

And then this recently-completed campaign began, and it was nothing short of a disaster for Broadway. Saddled by a sore groin, Broadway got off to a sour start at Triple-A New Orleans, missed a few games, and then, according to Rocket Bill, "partially tore his right tibial collateral ligament while diving for a ball down the first-base line at Zephyrs Stadium."

I'm not a board certified med-head, so I confess ignorance as to what the right tibial collateral ligament actually is, though Broadway obviously knows, to the extent of tossing around a tidy abbreviation while discussing how the injury occurred:

"The knee landed on [a seam where the grass and dirt meet], and the field is not in very good condition," Broadway said. "It knocked my shinbone back and partially tore my TCL. It was the craziest, stupidest thing ever."

Here's the TCL:

You know what it is? It's the old medial collateral ligament, one-third of the "unhappy triad"---of which the anterior cruciate ligament is without doubt the most famous. Anyway, I guess I learned something.

But back to Broadway.

In the meantime, we didn't really miss much, since Larry was out of commission for two-and-a-half months. Interestingly, Broadway gained twenty pounds while out of action. Although an April story in the Duke newspaper more-than-obliquely accused Broadway of steroid use as a Blue Devil (on the theory that his weight gain, strong performance, and the admissions of ex-teammates created another kind of "unhappy triad"), Broadway again essentially boils down his weight gain to the Homer Simpson method: "Well, I have been eating more". (As well as intense lifting, of course.)

Anyway, let's not get into that. The minor leagues have a stiffer drug policy, and for our purposes here, we will accept without any snark, sarcasm, or suspicion the fact that Broadway wasn't among lots and lots of minor leaguers who tested positive.

Once activated, Broadway was assigned to Double-A Harrisburg, and he sort of beat the devil out of the ball; in 52 games, he collected two bases per hit and homered once every 15.5 at-bats (up from once every 21.7 turns the previous season at Harrisburg). Emboldened by the strong finish (stronger still, if we overlook his career-low .335 on-base percentage at Harrisburg), Broadway is tearing up the Arizona Fall League so far.

Nevertheless, Rocket Bill's profile concludes in a vaguely pessimistic fashion. Sweet swing or not, power surge or not, Broadway is still blocked at first by another, better lefty swinger, Nick Johnson. Barring a trade, Johnson will be back at first in '06, as he has one more arbitration offseason remaining before free agency. Johnson is both the team's best hitter and perhaps its most fragile contributor.

Johnson's status---both in terms of swinging and sitting---leaves Broadway in a rather uneasy position, as the organization's scouting director, Dana Brown, notes:

"This guy is going to be fine," Brown said. "He was drafted in 2002, and I think he will get to the big leagues sometime in 2006, which is not bad," Brown said. "We love Nick. He is good offensively and defensively, but Nick gets hurt [a lot], and you never know. I know it will be tough to crack the lineup with Nick there."

Needless to say, much of Broadway's future is out of his hands. He indicates he would prefer avoiding a switch to the outfield; considering the weight he intends to continue carrying, and considering current (interim, though perhaps eventually permanent) general manager Jim Bowden's fetish for outfielders, perhaps Broadway's preference is advisable. But it does limit his options. His route to a regular big league role is dependent upon Nick Johnson leaving and no one captivating filling the void. From that perspective, it's hard to blame Broadway if, deep down, he roots for a bad season for the Nats in '06---maybe Johnson would be dumped on a contender for much-needed prospects, or maybe Johnson would simply not be retained in the offseason.

However, I wonder how compelling a prospect Broadway really is. He'll be 25 in December, and while the knee ligament injury certainly set back his development, it's worth noting that he's getting up there in age (after all, he's only 21 months' younger than Nick Johnson) and that he hasn't particularly distinguished himself since he was a 22-year old in the Sally League. (To be fair, Broadway was also mighty impressive in a quick cup-o'-coffee with Harrisburg that season.)

Next season will likely be a make-or-break season for Larry Broadway. Brown "think[s]" he'll reach the majors "sometime in 2006"; I'm guessing, barring a major Johnson injury (let's cross our fingers there), "sometime" will be relatively synonymous with "late." Certainly, Broadway's prospects depend on Johnson, as the skills and approach demonstrated by the two are rather similar in nature. Futhermore, both Ryan Zimmerman and Vinny Castilla could or will bump Broadway out of an opportunity in DC---if Dutch is the starting third basement, then Castilla (Vinny willing, of course) occupies the role Wil Cordero made a mockery of: back-up third baseman/lefty-mashing semi-platoon first baseman.

Because of his injury, Broadway had a strange season, and that was reflected by the attention paid to him in the "Natosphere." Everyone knew he was one of the team's top prospects (such as they were) at the outset, but he became easy to forget. However, this season, the focus will be back on---both in general and in the blogs. Broadway will be an interesting case to watch.

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