WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 01: Manager Davey Johnson #5 and general manager Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals talk before the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on July 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
You can look at the inclusion of four players from this year's Draft on Baseball America's most-recent Top 10 Washington Nationals' prospect list one of two ways, as a sign that it was an especially strong class or proof that the system the Nats' inherited from the Montreal Expos is still not quite rebuilt. There are other ways to look at it as well, I suppose, maybe the Baseball America writer overvalues the new names or undervalues some in the system already, but however you look at it the perception of the franchise as a whole has changed in part as a result of the last few draft classes, two of which were top-heavy of course with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper back-to-back no. 1 overall picks and potential once-in-a-generation talents. Strasburg, Harper and the other members of what were three relatively deep classes jumped to the top of Baseball America's lists immediately upon joining the organization as Washington quickly graduated the best prospects in the system to the major league level over the last few seasons.
Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos. Chris Marrero, Stephen Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and Cole Kimball. In March of 2010, when talking about the future Nationals' rotation in an MLB Network Radio interview, then-Nats' President Stan Kasten said the team was confident about the near-future and knew, "... right around the corner is the next wave to add to our rotation with [Stephen] Strasburg coming and Jordan Zimmermann getting back and Ross Detwiler getting healthy and Chien-Ming Wang getting healthy, we think it's going to be an important transitional year for us." Detwiler's injury issues and slowed development, Wang's longer-than-anticipated road back and Strasburg's unfortunate elbow injury set the plan back a little, but three and maybe four of that "next wave" of pitchers are expected to be part of the Nats' 2012 rotation.
In an interview with 106.7 The FAN's Chad Dukes and Danny Rouhier yesterday, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said the organization's growth can be attributed to, "... not only ownership allowing us to be very aggressive in the Draft, but also allowing us to go out and get front office people who really know their business and are the best of the best. When you talk about the impactful drafts that we've had since I've taken over, I don't think it's any coincidence that when I took over I made Roy Clark and Kris Kline the architects of our amateur drafts. Then Doug Harris and Bob Boone, guys that run our minor league system. Because scouting and player development have to go hand-in-hand, they have to be on the same page with no in-fighting and everybody has to be pulling on the same rope."
"It's cliche-ish," Rizzo said of scouting and player development, "But it really is the engine that drives successful organizations for the long term and we identified the best players in the last three drafts, we drafted them, we were aggressive in signing them, we spent a lot of money in the amateur draft, and we see, I think, the first wave of those players hitting the Nationals this coming year, but we feel that we have two or three more waves that will hit the Washington Nationals in the very near future."
"We've got a timeline and a plan and a vision for this organization to be in and it all starts with scouting and player development," Rizzo said, "And I think it started two years ago when we brought in the best and brightest minds in those departments to lead the Nationals in scouting and player development." Davey Johnson, when he was brought back as the manager for 2012, told reporters that it was an easy decision. "The last few Spring Trainings have been really fun for me, being, not only with the big league guys, but the minor league guys and also spending a lot of time with the front office people and it's just a great organization, one of the better ones I've ever been in, if not the best."
The manager and GM are apparently working as closely and as well together as the scouting and player development departments, with Rizzo telling reporters upon announcing Johnson's return to the bench, "It's no coincidence that the day I became the interim general manager Davey became special assistant to the general manager on a full-time basis. He was a resource for me through all the early times and the early decisions we made and he was a comfortable guy to have in Spring Training to bounce things off of and he was the easy choice for me when we had to make a change at the major league level."
The two have also challenged each other with Rizzo explaining to Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell in an article this past September entitled, "With Davey Johnson back, Nationals will be fun and fascinating", that the manager changed the way he thinks of constructing and using a bullpen:
"'Davey is an innovator. He taught me a whole different way to think about relief pitching — the A and B bullpen,' said Rizzo. "He said, ‘How can you have long winning streaks if you have to go to the same relievers every night? You have to have two bullpens — A and B — and trust them both.’ And he also wants a right-handed and left-handed long man — but not ‘mop-up men.’ He uses them in big spots.'"
The GM and manager share a similar attitude as well. It isn't only Jayson Werth influencing the culture, but also Rizzo and Johnson, as the GM told the WaPost writer, connecting a story of how he was fined and suspended for arguing with umpires in New York this past season to one from his fiery manager's past. In a recent chat, the Washington post's Mr. Boswell described the sort of team Johnson would eventually like to field:
"I keep thinking how much Davey wants Bryce Harper to pan out fast because he LOVES big-ego and big-talent players. Eventually, Davey always wants to run a Pirate Ship...
"Nats fans don't know WHO they have in Davey yet. Remember I told you: All his good teams end up flying the skull and crossbones and having fueds with their main rivals. When he took over the flatline [Orioles] after '95, he brought in an all-outlaw coaching staff __everybody who knew how to cheat, pull a prank, play a little dirty (like Davey did, according to Elrod). He wants a band-of-brothers __like the Smurfs prank on the rookies last year on the trip to NYC. Davey doesn't do it. He stands back and lets the team dream up its own crazy stuff. But, within certain limits __and I've never been able to figure out what they are!__ he lets 'em do what the hell they want to do as long as they take the same swagger on the field. He wants 100 mph fastballs and guys like Harper who might have an edge. But he also had a Dudley Doright everywhere, [Gary] Carter in NYC, [Cal] Ripken in Baltimore and [Ryan Zimmerman] here. He's fine with them, too."
You may have sensed the attitude recently when Johnson declared that the pennant was the Nats' goal this season or when Rizzo told reporters that the Nationals were the talk of baseball following the signing deadline for this year's draft picks this past August. Or maybe when the manager opened a recent interview with 106.7 the FAN's Mike Wise and Holden Kushner by telling the hosts the Nats were taking aim at the Phillies as he told his old friend and current Philadelphia third base coach Sam Perlozzo recently, "I just want to hand him notice too," Johnson said, "The last couple series [with Philadelphia] is going to be the way it's going to be all year with us and [them]."
National League, you've been warned.