Last March in a segment on the Washington Nationals on MLB Network Radio, former D.C. GM Jim Bowden talked about the 2007 Draft and the standoff that took place in the Nats' draft room when it came to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, a pitcher (as NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman wrote today too) who then-Assistant GM Mike Rizzo and Kris Kline (then a cross-checker in the organization, now scouting director under Rizzo) both loved. Bowden eventually sided with Rizzo and Kline, explaining that he'd brought Rizzo to D.C. from Arizona where he was the D-Backs' director of scouting because he'd valued Rizzo's evaluative abilities.
Rizzo and Kline, Bowden recounted, wanted to select Zimmermann with the Nationals' 2nd Round pick, 67th overall. "The rest of the room," Bowden explained, "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 pro-Zimmermann side, Bowden said, led by Rizzo and Kline, kept assuring him, "'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.'"
After a (10-0) 2007 season at Wisconsin-Stevens Point in which he had two saves, a 2.08 ERA, 18 walks (2.08 BB/9) and 90 K's (10.38 K/9) in 78.0 IP, Zimmermann was drafted by the Nats and less than a week later signed, allowing the right-hander to get 12 G, 10 starts and 49.0 IP in with the New York/Penn League's Vermont Lake Monsters in 2007 over which he had a 2.57 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 16 walks (2.94 BB/9) and 62 K's (11.39 K/9). After two stops in the Nats' system (at Class-A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg) in 2008, Zimmermann was a combined (10-3) in 25 G, 24 GS and 134.0 IP with a 1.65 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 2.63 BB/9 and 10.21 K/9 with the Class-A Suns and a 3.21 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 8.69 K/9 and 3.29 BB/9 in 20 GS and 106.2 IP with the Double-A Senators.
Zimmermann, who was named the top prospect in the Nats' system by Baseball America after the '08 season, arrived just as quickly as the Rizzo and Kline had suggested when he made the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training in 2009, and he was 16 starts and 91.1 IP into his first MLB season with a 4.63 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 29 walks (2.86 BB/9) and 92 K's (9.07 K/9) when he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. After experiencing pain in his elbow, Zimmermann tried to make one rehab start, but when the trouble persisted he visited doctors again and had Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Lewis Yocum analyze the results of his MRIs before they finally decided to perform Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
"'We've got a lot of depth in our young starting pitching," Mike Rizzo (who was GM by then) told the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell in an article entitled, "Zimmermann Will Miss 18 Months", but, "... Jordan was the prize pupil. We'll have him back -- full go -- for spring training '11, though he may pitch sometime in '10. But you'll see the real Zimmermann in '11.'" Zimmermann came back to make 10 starts and throw 39.2 IP at three stops in the Nats' system in 2010 and seven starts and 31.0 IP at the major league level, so he was 100% healthy and ready to go in time for Spring Training in 2011. In 26 starts and 161.1 IP for the Nationals in '11, the right-hander had a 3.18 ERA, a 3.16 FIP, 31 walks (1.73 BB/9) and 124 K's (6.92 K/9).
In the meantime, the Washington Nationals had drafted Stephen Strasburg with the no.1 overall pick in 2009. The right-hander, widely considered a once-in-a-generation talent, signed too late in August of '09 to get any work in that year, but after an impressive stint in the AFL, Baseball America's Top Prospect in the Nationals' organization made 11 starts in the Nats' system before making his MLB debut in June of 2010. During an August 21st start against Philadelphia, Strasburg too blew out his elbow, suffering what D.C. GM described at the time as, "... a significant tear of his ulnar collateral ligament that will probably require Tommy John Surgery."
After Zimmermann's injury, the Nats' general manager told the WaPost's Thomas Boswell that they felt they had taken a "very conservative approach" with the right-hander. "'The small bit of sunshine,'" Rizzo told Mr. Boswell, in addition to the fact that it wasn't a shoulder/labrum injury, "'... is that there is an 85 to 90 percent success rate with pitchers recovering to their pre-injury status after Tommy John surgery." After Strasburg's injury Rizzo said much the same, once again pointing out that, "... the success rate for people coming back and retaining their stuff is pretty good," and telling reporters who asked if he was frustrated or thought things could have been handled differently in Strasburg's development that the Nationals were, "'Frustrated yes, but second guessing ourselves? No.'"
Strasburg made it back to competitive action late in 2011, following a program after surgery in late 2010 that mirrored what Jordan Zimmermann had gone through the previous season, making six starts and throwing 20.1 IP in the Nats' system before returing to the majors for five starts and 24.0 IP last September. The right-hander is 100% healthy, in Spring Training and ready to start the 2012 season in the rotation. That's the good news for 2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis. The Washington Nationals have an established plan that they trust when rehabbing pitchers following Tommy John.
Solis, who had elbow issues end his second Arizona Fall League stint early, visited doctors then who had a difference of opinion on how to proceed, so he rested his elbow all winter and tried to start throwing again this Spring, but when he experienced pain in his elbow again this week he once again visited doctors and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was once again forced to announce that another top pitching prospect had a torn ligament in his elbow that would require Tommy John surgery. Solis was the third-highest ranked pitcher on Baseball America's 2012 Top 10 Prospects list, behind 2011 Draft picks Alex Meyer and Matt Purke, but the left-hander who'd been on the fast track since the Nationals drafted him in 2010 was part of the depth in the Nats' system which made them comfortable enough to deal prospects this winter to acquire Gio Gonzalez.
After watching Solis in the AFL, Rizzo said the left-hander, "... could go quickly, and take off and be a real factor for us in the very near future." MLB.com's scouts had Solis ranked as the organization's top left-hander and the second-best pitching prospect in the system and the scouting report on the 23-year-old said he could make an impact if he could manage to stay healthy. In announcing that he'd have Tommy John surgery today, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, including MLB.com's Bill Ladson, "'He has great stuff. We always thought -- even after we drafted him -- he was quick to the big leagues. This [the surgery] will derail that a little bit.'" Dr. Lewis Yocum, who performed the surgeries on Zimmermann and Strasburg will do the same for Solis, who'll then go through the same process the right-handers did the last two years. Unfortunately, this is something the Nats know how to deal with.