The Nationals shocked everyone when they signed Jayson Werth to a katrillion dollar contract for the rest of his life and the lives of his children. But they didn't appear to be done as they were rumored to be in the running to both sign Cliff Lee and deal for Zack Greinke. At the time, it seemed like they were going to spend money either like a bunch of drunken sailors or like a bunch of sober politicians and were ready to contend this year. Then Cliff Lee decided the mullets in Philadelphia reminded him of the mullets in Arkansas--ditto the acid-washed jean jackets--and Zack Greinke decided he didn't want to play in the baseball hotbed of Washington D.C. under the intense scrutiny of an over-zealous baseball media. So Rizzo shifted gears and turned his attention to the reclamation project that is Brandon Webb, but Webb was mesmerized by the coffee table books in the his current doctor's office and decided to go to the team who employs his doctor as the team doctor so he could keep reading those awesome coffee table books.
Sprinkled in there, the Nationals signed Chien-Mien Wang to another incentive-laden deal, dealt Josh Willingham for a bag of balls and a new pitching machine (at the time seemingly to clear space for another deal), signed Rick Ankiel to play somewhere, but still haven't signed a Deradam LeeRoche to play 1B.
What started out as a promising off-season has left Nationals fans feeling like high-school kids throwing their first kegger. They had high hopes going in, secured the keg (Werth), but then no one showed up. However, there's still reason for the Federal Faithful to take hope that your friend's older sister will come through and bring all of her friends to the party once they finish their respective shifts down at the local Hooters.
Up first on the countdown of reasons for hope, Ross Detwiler.
Detwiler, as you may recall, was part of LOLBowden's plans to rebuild the Nationals farm system by drafting pitchers and dealing for hitters. A good plan on the surface, but one that does require a team to draft good pitchers, or in the case of Aaron Crow, pitchers you can actually sign. Somewhere amidst all of his drunken bafoonery Bowden selected Ross Detwiler (for the purposes of hope we'll ask that you look past the fact that he passed on the other left hander available, Madison Bumgarner) in the 2007 draft.
Detwiler has good stuff, including a fastball that tops out in the mid to high 90's, but typically sits around 93, a curveball that depending on who you talk to is either 12-6 or 1-7 and a plus changeup. Up until this point Detwiler's biggest problem has been the consistency of his delivery. He's tall at 6'5", but is also very lanky which provides a knees and elbows look to his delivery. However, his height could be holding him back, at least for now. Everyone is of course familiar with Randy Johnson's struggles to find the plate before becoming one of the dominant pitchers in the game on his way to 300 victories and most likely a first ballot induction into the HOF, however, Detwiler may be able to look to another member of the 2007 draft class for hope.
The aforementioned, Bumgarner, entered last season hoping to make the Giants starting rotation out of spring training, but a mechanical flaw in his delivery saw his velocity dip from the low to mid 90's down in to the high 80's. Bumgarner was sent to the minors to work on his mechanics where he fixed the flaw and was able to dominate down the stretch for the Giants, even making three postseason starts and one very clutch relief appearance. Like Detwiler, Bumgarner is a tall and lanky left-hander and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that similar resurgence is possible for a pitcher taken 4 slots ahead of Bumgarner in the 2007 draft.
The other reason for hope with Detwiler is that last year in his 5 starts and 3 relief appearances with Washington he had a tough time finding the strike zone, posting a BB/9 of 4.25, however, in his 10 minor league starts last year after returning from injury he posted an anemic 1.88 BB/9. Granted, both are relatively small sample sizes, but it's a reason for hope not necessarily a case for what will happen.
Lastly, Detwiler has also seen a significant dip in the number of K's he's posted between the minor leagues and his brief stints with the big club. In his minor league career he's posted a K/9 rate of 8.15, while posting a K/9 of just 5.17 in the majors. Most young pitchers will see a regression in their strike out totals when making the jump from the minors to the majors, but losing roughly 3 SO's per 9 innings is something I would expect to pull closer to his minor league average as the sample size increases, but also as he makes fewer relief appearances.
Detwiler has been expected to make the leap from prospect to big leaguer for several years now and has been ranked as high as second on Baseball America's organizational prospect rankings, but will this finally be the year he bursts on to the scene and realizes his potential? Who knows, but we can all hope he does.