When Baseball America released their rankings of the Top 100 Prospects for 2009, there was only one player from the Washington Nationals included on the list, the no.1 prospect in the DC system, Jordan Zimmermann, an '07 2nd Round pick who was ranked 41st overall by Baseball America coming off a 2008 season which saw the then-22-year-old right-hander out of Auburndale, Wisconsin go (10-3) with a combined 2.89 ERA at two stops in the Nationals' system (1.65 ERA, 2.29 FIP at Class-A Potomac), (3.21 ERA, 3.55 FIP at Double-A Harrisburg), over which he issued a total of 47 walks (3.2 BB/9) while collecting 134 K's (9.0 K/9) in 24 starts and 134.0 IP.
Zimmermann's 2.89 '08 ERA was, "...the lowest (ERA) among Nationals farmhands," according to the one-line review written for each player on Baseball America's list, and Baseball America's Aaron Fitt, who'd ranked Zimmermann as the top prospect in Washington's system a month earlier, wrote that it was the right-hander's dominance of the Carolina League competition which lifted him to the top of the '09 prospect list :
"Several prospects who passed through Potomac took major steps forward, headlined by Jordan Zimmermann, who emerged as the clear-cut top prospect in the organization."
Mr. Fitt recognized Zimmermann in the article accompanying his prospect list as having the Best Slider and Fastball in the DC system. Then-Assistant GM Mike Rizzo praised him in a January 23rd '09 Nationals Journal article by Washington Post writer Chico Harlan entitled, "The Season Ticket Holder Luncheon (And A Dukes Update)","...as someone who could be 'major-league ready as soon as this spring training," and Zimmermann went in to Spring Training in 2009 thinking the same and claimed one of two open spots at the back of the rotation. Though he was initially sent down to the minors, once the odd season-opening schedule normalized Zimmermann joined Washington at home in Nationals Park where he made his Major League debut against the Braves on April 20th...
Will the three players who made this year's Baseball America Top 100 Prospect list make their MLB debuts in 2010?
92.Drew Storen - (RHP)
The Nationals' 2nd '09 1st Round pick found himself in exactly the same spot on ESPN.com's Keith Law's list of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball earlier this winter with Mr. Law writing that, "On stuff and control, he could make the Nationals' club this spring and be one of their better relievers, but a half-season to rip through Double-A and Triple-A wouldn't hurt his development." On this year's Baseball America Top 100 Prospect list the only info provided is that his "Best Tool" is his slider, and his major league ETA is mid-2010...Pitching at all three levels of the Nationals' system after being drafted 10th overall in '09, Storen posted a combined (2-1) record with a 1.95 ERA and 11 saves in 28 games and 37.0 IP over which the 6'2'', 180lb Brownsburg, Indiana native collected 49 K's (11.9 K/9), gave up 8 BB, (1.9 BB/9) and surrendered 2 HR's while holding opponents to a .162 BAA...
The good news about seeing Storen here, though, at no.92, for anyone who started counting down from 100, was knowing that Baseball America's Aaron Fitt had ranked Storen third in the Nationals' system when this year's list of Washington's Top 10 Prospects was published meaning there would be two more Nats' prospects in the Baseball America Top 100...
• LINK: 2/23/10: Baseball America Prospect Chat with Drew Storen.
38. Derek Norris - (C)
According to Baseball America, the Nationals' top position player is catcher Derek Norris, an '07 4th Round pick out of Godard, Kansas, who hit for a .286 AVG with a .413 OBP and a .513 SLG, (.926 OPS) in 126 games and 437 AB's in 2009 in which the 21-year-old right-handed hitting and throwing backstop connected for 30 doubles and 23 HR's while driving in 84 RBI's. Norris' power is listed as his Best Tool in the profile accompanying his name on the Baseball America list, with his own MLB ETA projected as 2012. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt thought enough of Norris' '09 campaign to move him up from being the 6th best prospect in the DC system in January '09 to the 2nd best prospect in the organization the following November, when Norris was also recognized as being the Best Hitter For Average and the Best Power Hitter, who also happens to have the Best Strikezone Discipline. ESPN.com's Keith Law had the Nationals' catcher of the future ranked 31st overall on his own list of, "The Top 100 Prospects: 2010", where the catcher's described by Mr. Law as, "...an offensive catcher whose defense is the subject of major debate among pro scouts,"
"If he does remain a catcher, he has superstar potential and could end up in the top 15-20 prospects next fall because he has an advanced approach at the plate..."
Derek Norris is in camp with the Washington Nationals this Spring, but not expected to challenge for a spot on the Nationals' major league roster for another year or two at least.
2. Stephen Strasburg (RHP)
Finishing as the second-best prospect behind the Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward on yet another list, the top-ranked pitcher in all of baseball according to Baseball America's 2010 Top 100 Prospect list, is the Washington Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick, pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The 21-year-old right-handed flame thrower followed up on a dominant junior season at San Diego State University with an impressive run in the Arizona Fall League, which resulted in Strasburg's earning the distinction of being named the Top Prospect in the Nationals' organization when Baseball America's Aaron Fitt released the 2010 edition of the list in November. With "mid-2010" as his estimated time of arrival in the major leagues, the 6'4'', 220+lb righty is recognized by Mr. Fitt for having the Best Fastball, Best Curve and the Best Control of all the pitchers in the Nationals' organization.
In describing Strasburg's strengths, ESPN.com's Keith Law, another writer who ranked Strasburg as the best pitcher, but the second-best prospect overall behind the Braves' Heyward, notes that Strasburg:
"...has good life on the fastball to his glove side, and his curveball is as hard as a typical slider, with sharp late tilt that he uses to bury the pitch down and in to left-handed batters. He has a hard changeup with a screwball-ish fading action, but he rarely had to use it as an amateur because -- let's face it -- not many college hitters were going to square up a 98 mph fastball with life."
Strasburg's the center of attention so far in Spring Training, with each of his first two throwing sessions receiving extensive coverage in the DC press. MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote yesterday in an article entitled, "Latest Strasburg session astounds", about Strasburg's first bullpen session with veteran backstop Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who was impressed with what he saw from the young pitcher, but not in so much awe that he couldn't offer a few tips to the 21-year-old future ace:
"'Pudge was giving me new ideas -- how to face certain hitters, how to approach guys with the sinker, changeup and working on both sides of the plate instead of just the arm side. It worked pretty well, so I'm going to pick up on it in the next bullpen session.'"
Sounds like this Pudge thing might work out after all...if Strasburg doesn't make the rotation out of Spring Training, he'll almost certainly be up in the first few months of the season, and fans of the Washington Nationals might finally find out (No offense, Livan and Lannan, ok?) what it's like to have a true ace at the top of the rotation.