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1/28/08 Can Collin Balester Crack The Washington Nationals' '08 Rotation?

     Collin Balester's been listed among Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects in the Washington Nationals/Expos' system in every season since Montreal chose the 6'5'', 190 lb, right-handed fastballer out of high school in Huntington Beach, California with the 114th pick in the 4th Round of the '04 MLB Amateur Draft.

      Selected after reliever Bill Bray, who pitched 19 games in DC before he was traded to the Reds, Erick San Pedro, a catcher who has struggled his way up to Triple-AAA Columbus over the last four years, and shortstop Ian Desmond, who hit .264 last season with the Class-A Potomac Nationals where he collected 30 doubles, 4 triples, 13 HR's, 45 RBI's and 27 steals in 129 games, Collin Balester, (18-23) with a 3.99 ERA and 330 K's in 79 starts over 4 Minor Leagues seasons, still stands to become the first player from the Expos' '04 draft to make a real impact on the Nationals' organization at the Major League level.

     The first review of the Nationals' prospects after Balester's draft in 2004, came on January 5th of 2005, when Baseball America's (baseballamerica.com) Aaron Fitt listed Balester as the tenth of the "Top 10 Prospects" in the Nationals' system. Though Bill Bray was then viewed as a better prospect, Mr. Fitt mentions, "Righthander Collin Balester also has potential," and singles out Balester as having the best fastball in the organization.

      In 2005, Collin Balester was (8-6) with a 3.67 ERA in 23 starts and 125.0 IP for the Nationals' Class-A affiliate, the Savannah Sand Gnats, but the 95 K's he collected, and the 1.18 WHIP Balester posted are probably what prompted Aaron Fitt to move the second-year pro up to the 2-spot amongst the Nationals' prospects when Mr. Fitt produced his next system-wide review on 11/16/05, in which he writes, simply, "Prospects like Collin Balester, Ian Desmond, Armando Galarraga, Kory Casto and Frank Diaz had breakout years."

     In 2007, Balester struck out 87 batters while going (4-5) with a 5.20 ERA in 22 starts with the Class-A Potomac Nationals, and started three Double-AA games with the Harrisburg Senators where he was (1-0) with a 1.83 ERA and 10 K's in 19.2 innings on the mound, earning him Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's endorsement as the Number #1 prospect in the Nationals' organization heading into the 2007 season, though his name doesn't get mentioned in that year's article.

      The only time Balester's name came up in connection with the Nationals during the '07 season was in the repeated statements by Nationals' GM Jim Bowden, nearly every time a starter was injured, that the Nationals were not going to rush their young starters through the organization.

      Balester split the '07 season between Harrisburg, where he was (2-7) in 17 starts with a 3.74 ERA and 77 K's over 98.2 innings, and the Triple-AAA Columbus Clippers, where Ballester struck out 40 batters in 51.2 innings while posting a (2-3) record and 4.18 ERA in 10 starts, and when Aaron Fitt's next Top 10 Prospect list was posted at baseballamerica.com on 11/27/07, Balester was considered the second-best starter in the organization behind '07 1st Round pick Ross Detwiler, who was also said to now have the best fastball.

      But Balester's fastball has continued to impress the Nationals, as mlb.com's Bill Ladson wrote in an 8/30/07 article on Balester entitled, "Listen up: Balester making some noise":

          "Columbus pitching coach Steve McCatty describes it as
           'Major League.' Washington general manager Jim Bowden
            calls it 'real strong.' The radar gun calls it mid-90s."

     Mr. Ladson also wrote, in an article from 01/05/2007 at washington.nationals.mlb.com entitled, "Nationals offer contracts to five pitchers" that:

          "It is believed that the Nationals are willing to sign some
          of these veteran pitchers because they don't want to rush
          their prospects, such as Collin Balester, Matt Chico and
          Colton Willems, to the big leagues."

      This time around, however, as noted in Mr. Ladson's quote-rich article entitled, "Q&A with Jim Bowden" from 1/5/08, the Nationals have yet to sign any veteran pitchers, and Mr. Ladson quotes Mr. Bowden this year stating:

          "...Shawn Hill, John Patterson, Jason Bergmann, John
           Lannan and Matt Chico are the five starters on our
           board...Tim Redding pitched well last year and he will be
           able to compete for a spot on the team. Other young
           pitchers such as Tyler Clippard, who we acquired from the
           Yankees, Collin Balester, Garrett Mock, Enrique Gonzalez
           will be given opportunities to make our staff as starting
           pitchers."

     As one of five or six starters competing for the fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation, Balester could find himself in Triple-AAA at the start of the '08 season, but if Matt Chico can come into Spring Training and earn a spot last season, and John Lannan can make the jump the Major's with success, there's no reason to think that young pitchers like Balester, Mock or Clippard can't do the same. Nationals' fans are just about two weeks away from finding out...

*Collin Balester Links*

Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's, "Top 10 Prospects: Washington Nationals", from 1/4/05:

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/features/04top10s/nationals.html

Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's, "Top 10 Prospects: Washington Nationals", from 11/16/05:

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/features/05top10s/nationals.html

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's review of the '04 Expos draft in an article entitled, "Expos all smiles at end of draft" from 6/8/04:

http://www.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20040608&content_id=765638&vkey=draft2004&fext=. jsp&c_id=null

Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's, "Top 10 Prospects: Washington Nationals", from 1/12/07:

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/features/263086.html

Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's, "Top 10 Prospects: Washington Nationals", from 11/7/07:

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/features/265146.html

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Listen up: Balester making some noise", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070830&content_id=2179389&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Nationals offer contracts to five pitchers", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070105&content_id=1774097&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

Collin Balester's career stats at thebaseballcube.com:

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/B/Collin-Balester.shtml

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Q&A with Jim Bowden", at washington.national.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080105&content_id=2340005&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was