With their first 1st Round pick, 6th overall in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Washington Nationals selected a then-21-year-old left-hander, Ross Detwiler, out of Missouri State University. With the 31st pick of the 1st Round, using a supplemental selection they'd received as compensation for losing Alfonso Soriano to Chicago's Cubs via free agency, the Nats drafted 18-year-old Calhoun, Georgia lefty Josh Smoker. The Nats also had a second supplemental pick between the first and second rounds (49th overall) that June that they'd received in return for outfielder Jose Guillen signing with LA's Angels. They used that pick to select outfielder Michael Burgess out of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, FL.
The Nationals' next pick that year was the 3rd pick of the 2nd Round, Chicago's pick, compensation for the Cubs having signed Soriano, since their 1st Round pick, (Josh Vitters, 3B) 3rd overall that year was protected under the rules of free agent compensation. The Nats' Front Office had a decision to make, and a difference of opinion as former D.C. GM Jim Bowden explained on MLB Network Radio recently as a lead-in to a discussion about his time in the nation's capital.
"'Well we got to the point where you put the list together on the board and as I said before," Mr. Bowden explained, as he described walking into a draft room filled with the team's evaluators and cross-checkers including current D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, then an Asst. GM and VP of Baseball Ops, who'd been brought in by Bowden after serving as the Arizona Diamondbacks' scouting director from 2000-2006. "I had brought Mike Rizzo in, who's now the GM of Washington" Mr. Bowden explained, "I have a lot of respect for his evaluative ability, have for a long time, and we also had a whole bevy of evaluators that had been in Washington before I got there as well as some other people that came in and a lot of respected people."
But the room was divided. "Everybody's lists are different," Bowden continued, "we got to the point of Jordan Zimmermann and it was extremely interesting in how the process would go. I would leave, I'd go down to the clubhouse, I'd come back up and check and there seemed to be some controversy about Jordan Zimmermann's name. And this was a guy that Kris Klein, one of the crosscheckers (ed. note - "...and now the Nats' scouting director.") and Mike Rizzo really wanted. The rest of the room, which I respect equally, the rest of the room sat there and said, 'This is a real over-draft, if you leave him that high on the board it's going to be a huge over-draft, you can get him later in the draft.'"
The then-Devil Rays selected RHP Will Kline out of the University of Mississippi with the first pick of the 2nd Round, 65th overall, then Kansas City picked right-hander Sam Runion, a high-schooler from North Carolina 66th. "Well in the discussions later," Mr. Bowden said, "I kept looking at Mike Rizzo and Kris Kline and they kept looking at me going, 'The one thing we know is that [Zimmermann] is going to be in the rotation in the big leagues fast and he's going to be at least a three starter in the middle. He's gonna get there and he's gonna get there quick.'"
The Nationals' current GM and Mr. Kline apparently convinced Mr. Bowden to take Jordan Zimmermann, a 6'2'', 200lb righty out of Auburndale, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin-Stevens Point who'd turned twenty-one that May, with their 2nd Round pick, 67th overall. As MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote at the time, in an article entitled, "Nats stick with pitching at top of Draft", the Nats made Zimmermann the third pitcher they'd selected that year in part because he possessed, "an above-average fastball, changeup and curveball," but also because of the toughness he'd displayed at times, "What impressed the Nationals was that he once pitched with a broken jaw, which was wired together."
Here's how Washington introduced Zimmermann to the nation's capital in a June 13, 2007 Press Release announcing that they'd signed the right-hander to a $495,000 dollar signing bonus, though the terms of the deal were not disclosed at the time:
"Zimmermann, 21, was selected as a Second-Team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) in 2007 for the second straight year. He went 10-0 with two saves and a 2.08 ERA in 13 games (nine starts) as a junior this season for Division III University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posted 90 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 78.0 innings of work, and finished his campaign by tossing 19.2 straight scoreless innings. He allowed just three hits with 26 strikeouts in those 19.2 innings. Zimmermann was also a First-Team All-Midwest Region selection, and was named the region's Pitcher of the Year by the ABCA. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder tossed a one-hit shutout against Emory (GA) in the opening round of the Division III World Series. He went on to win World Series Most Outstanding Player honors."
Zimmermann, now 24, is expected to be an important part of the Washington Nationals' starting rotation this year, and hopefully part of the top of the rotation along with Stephen Strasburg for the near future. After debuting and impressing in 2009, then blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of that season, Zimmermann, who returned to the mound in the majors late last year, has been impressive this Spring, throwing 11.0 scoreless innings thus far, in which he's allowed eight hits and four walks while recording seven K's. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's on record saying he expects big things for the player he played a lead role in bringing to Washington, as he explained to MLB.com's Bill Ladson this winter in an article entitled, "Nats acquire lefty Gorzelanny from Cubs":
"'I'm really excited about our rotation,' Rizzo said. 'I see a much-improved Jordan Zimmermann, who is going to take the next step after having Tommy John surgery. He is going to turn into the pitcher we think he is and 14 other clubs think he is. He is the guy that is in demand every time we try to make a trade.'"
If a rival scout MASN's Phil Wood spoke to recently is to be believed, the decision Jim Bowden and his staff made, in siding with Mr. Rizzo and Kline and selecting Zimmermann as high as they did that year, was a good one. Mr. Wood, in an article entitled, "Zimmermann continues to impress", after Zimmermann's last start against Florida this weekend, spoke to an anonymous scout who revealed that the right-hander taken 67th, wouldn't have been around if the Nats had waited to get Zimmermann later in the draft, since they didn't have another pick until the 3rd Round (100th overall):
"'He's the real deal, no doubt about it,' he told me. 'Our club had our eye on him, We thought because he came from such a small school (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) he'd fall past the top 75 players, but Rizz (Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo) had him scoped out.'"
The Florida Marlins had the 76th pick of the draft that year for the record if we use context clues to guess which team Mr. Wood's source worked with. Whether it was the Fish or some other team, it appears, or at least anecdotal evidence suggests, that Jordan Zimmermann might not be a Nat right now if Washington didn't take him when they did on the advice of the current GM and his scouting director. [Rizzo points to head.]