In an AP article entitled, "Lerner selected as new Nationals owner" at ESPN.com shortly after the Lerner Group purchased the Washington Nationals from Major League baseball in May of 2006, the newly-named Team President Stan Kasten set out the agenda for beginning to rebuild the barren system the DC-based group had inherited from the MLB owners and Montreal:
"Kasten said his Nationals will focus on pitching and grooming talent -- core elements of what worked so well during his time with the Braves, who have won 14 consecutive division titles...'We're going to spend money on the minor leagues, player development and scouting,' Kasten said. 'We have principles.'"
MLB.com writer Bill Ladson started his 5/4/06 article entitled, "Notes: Robinson likes Lerner priority", by relaying an anecdote from the Nationals' Hall of Fame Manager, Frank Robinson, who in Mr. Ladson's words, "...has always said that the Minor Leagues are the lifeline of a franchise", and later Mr. Ladson notes Mr. Robinson's prediction that the rebuilding effort "...will take two to three years, as long as the organization is patient. He used the Braves as the model franchise..."
(ed. note - "...And not only the Nationals, who have talked of trading for a power bat this winter, but also the Braves, (who have come close to dealing some Grade-A talent in their pursuit of Peavy), should heed the advice Frank Robinson offers in his assessment of the old Atlanta Management's approach to building from within:
"'Dealing with the Braves, when I was with the Orioles, you couldn't touch their A prospects, their top prospects," Robinson said. "They would walk away from a deal before you could get any of those players. Those are the players they had marked that probably will be playing with us within a year or two years."
As Mr. Robinson predicted, two years after the Lerner Group and Kasten took over the Nationals, the results on the Farm are beginning to show, not only in the promotion to DC of players like Collin Balester, Shairon Martis, John Lannan, Mike Hinckley, etc., but also on the field in the Minors where the various affiliates have significantly improved. Former Washington Post Nationals-beat writer Barry Svrluga wrote a post at Nationals Journal in January of '08 noting the results of the Baseball America rankings of MLB Minor League systems entitled, "Baseball America: Nats farm system now no. 9", (ed. note - Which eschewed the use of poss. apostrophes!"), while reporting that the Nationals' System as a whole had jumped some twenty-one spots in the rankings from 30th (or last) overall to 9th, (as the title gave away), which was, Mr. Svrluga noted, the second largest jump by a franchise in the last decade.
(ed. note - "Coincidentally, Mr. Svrluga notes in the Nationals Journal post that the largest jump in the rankings was made by the Texas Rangers, who jumped, "...24 slots, from 28th to fourth, this year, helped by major trades of Eric Gagne and Mark Teixeira.")
In 2009, one Nationals' affiliate, the Class-A Potomac Nationals even went so far as to win their league's title, taking the Carolina League crown...and now they've been designated by MiLB.com voters as the 3rd best team in the Minors this season in the Minor League "Team Of The Year" voting, behind only, NY Yankees' Double-AA affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, who took the Eastern League title and the San Francisco Giants' Class-A affiliate from Georgia, the Savannah Sand Gnats, who were the South Atlantic League's best. (ed. note - "For those link-averse amongst us, the write-up on the MiLB.com award page reads:
"The Nationals combined to lead the Carolina League in batting (.265), runs scored (720), hits (1,234) and fielding percentage (.975) en route to their first title since 1989.")
Just this week, John Sickels at Minor League Ball.com, presented his "EXTREMELY PRELIMINARY" assessment of the state of the Nationals' system in a post entitled, "Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2009", where he names 2007 2nd Round pick Jordan Zimmermann, (who pitched the first half of the year with the Potomac Nationals before moving to Double-A Harrisburg), as the top prospect in the DC system, noting, "...I liked this guy in college, and I think he is significantly underrated on a national basis." Mr. Sickels then offers this analysis of the entire DC system after presenting his full (preliminary) Top 20 Prospects list:
"The Nationals system is not as bad as you think it is, but it isn’t very good, either. They have a lot of depth in C+ style prospects, but lack impact talents beyond the top few, and even guys like Marrero and Detwiler have big question marks. Health has been a big issue for a lot of their players. They need to continue being aggressive in the draft, and further investments in Latin America would likely help."
(ed. note - "Quoting Mr. Sickels from his post, "...'Reports on these guys and over 1,000 others can be found in the 2009 Baseball Prospect Book. Pre-order for January 31st shipping now!'")
(another ed. note - "The Nationals Farm Authority's Brian Oliver's own assessment of Mr. Sickel's list entitled, 'John Sickels Nationals Top 20 Prospects', is a must-read post for DC fans.")
WINTER LEAGUE ROUNDUP...(all links to MiLB.com player pages)...
Tigres del Licey second baseman Anderson Hernandez was 0 for 2 with a run scored and 2 walks in a 16-8 loss to the Gigantes del Cibao. Starting at third for Licey? Ronnie B. Ronnie Belliard, who starts his Winter by going 2 for 4 with 2 HR's and 6 RBI's in the loss. (ed. note - "Watch out, Hernandez, Belli's Back! Once the Nationals don't get Teixeira, how about a trade with LAA for Kendry Morales, who started at first for Cibao tonight, and after hitting his 6th HR and collecting 4 RBI's, is hitting .451 in 18 games with 10 doubles, 6 HR's and 18 RBI's...just sayin'.")...Tigres del Licey RF Emilio Bonifaci...Eh, he's a Marlin now...In Puerto Rico Winter League action, Criollos de Caguas' DH Justin Maxwell went 0 for 3 with a walk and a K, and Garrett Guzman was 0 for 1 in a PH appearance. DC backstop Jesus Flores was 0 for 2 against the Cardinales de Lara in a 2-0 loss for Flores' Navegantes del Magallanes.