Author Topic: Q&A w/ NFA Brian: May '09  (Read 446 times)

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Q&A w/ NFA Brian: May '09
« Topic Start: May 20, 2009, 12:37:49 PM »
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Q&A w/ Nationals Farm Authority: May '09
The first in a series of monthly Q&A’s with Nationals Farm Authority’s Brian Oliver, a website dedicated to the Washington Nationals minor league teams and prospects.

CSN:  The 2009 MLB Draft is just a few weeks away and we know that it is a very important event for the Nationals. We also know there is a 99.9% chance Washington will draft San Diego State hurler Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick. For those that have been living under a rock, why are scouts drooling over the young right-hander and calling him one of the best pitching prospects ever?

NFA:  Where to start. He offers a breathtaking combination of size, stuff, and command. And in particular, his velocity is amazing. Strasburg is a 6'5", 220-lb right-handed pitcher who works comfortably in the high-90s with reports of pitches reaching the triple digits. The thing is that too often such velocity is paired with poor control, that's not the case with Strasburg, he can control where those pitches are going. And when you add to that a nasty slider, you have the makings of a draft prospect not seen often.

CSN:  Two part question, do you think Strasburg can skip the minors and start right away with the big league club? Do you think the front office feels the same way?

NFA:  Strasburg could skip the minors and jump right to the majors, he'd experience the bumps/bruises that most young pitchers do. But there is no way he should. First, by the time he signs on August 15 (and Scott Boras clients always sign at the last minute) he'll have sitting for almost two months. He'll need time to get himself back in game shape and to be honest there is little to no reason to put too many additional IPs on his arm in 2009.

I believe Mike Rizzo when he says that Strasburg is not playing in the majors in 2009 aside from an obligatory cup of coffee and maybe one inning in September (like Ross Detwiler did in 2007).

CSN:  Because of the whole Aaron Crow debacle from last season, the club gets the 9b selection (10th pick overall)? Are you hearing anything/what route do you think the club will go with that pick?

NFA:  On Tuesday, May 18, Rizzo told Baseball America that signability would not be an issue with the #10 pick. The conventional wisdom among those that follow the draft is that the Nationals were going to be safe and select a player who would be easier to sign at #10. The reason is that the #10 is unprotected, meaning that if that player goes unsigned, there is no compensation. That combined with Strasburg's deal would seem to suggest that finances would play a role.

I do not imagine they are going to break the bank with this pick so I doubt we'll see a slot-busting deal there (slot should be around $2M). But my hope is that they grab the best available guy on their list with a reasonable bonus demand (arbitrary cap of say $2.5-3M)

CSN:  We've seen prospects Shairon Martis, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler all make starts at the big league level. Are there any other prospects nearing a call-up to the big league club soon?

NFA:  The name most fans are hearing/suggesting nowadays is right-handed Craig Stammen. Stammen was a 12th round draft pick in 2005 out of the University of Dayton. He's a pitch-to-contact guy, meaning you won't see him striking out too many hitters and he relies on his defense to back him up. That could be an issue given the Nationals defense so far this year. He's a great story because he really turned himself around after a disappointing 2007. He has great command, basically able to put pitches where he wants them.

The 2005 draft has been OK to the Nationals as it has produced regulars Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan along with Marco Estrada and Justin Maxwell, who both received cups of coffee with the Nationals.

CSN:  Now that we're a month into the season for four of the Nationals minor league clubs (with two more starting up in the next month or so), which prospect has put himself on the radar that wasn't on there to begin the season?

NFA:  Not on the radar? That's a tough one. If I had to select one batter and one pitcher it would be 1B/OF Robby Jacobsen from Hagerstown and right-handed pitcher Brad Meyers from Potomac.

Jacobsen is a local guy, drafted out of George Mason. He's old (24) for his level but has shown the ability to hit for the Suns. Over 28 games, he is hitting 344/388/478 with 12 RBI and 17 runs scored. He splits his time between 1B and corner OF so the fact he doesn't hit for much power hurts him. But he has done everything asked of him in Hagerstown.

Meyers was a 5th round pick by the Nationals in 2007 out of Loyola Marymount. The 6'6" 23-year old righty was drafted in large part based on his low-90s fastball. The concern was he was too hittable and needed to develop better offspeed offerings. So far this year for the P-Nats, he's 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over six games. Over 34IP, he's struck out 26 and walked 6.

CSN:  We've already touched on two of the Nationals Top Ten Prospects (according to BA), how are some of the others doing and do you see any promotions in their near future?

NFA:  The guy performing the best do far is CA Derek Norris. He broke on the scene last year for the Vermont Lake Monsters and he has not slowed down in his full season debut for the Suns. He is hitting 328/424/595 over his first 33 games with 7 home runs and 25 RBI. The reports were that the Nationals were telling him to be more aggressive at the plate after a very patient 2008 in Vermont (63 walks over 70 games). He has very good control of the strike zone but I believe the Nationals were hoping to see how he could handle the challenge.

Chris Marrero has had a very nice start to the season for the P-Nats, hitting 286/342/451 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI. He has lost quite a bit of weight from 2008 and looks better out there though he is still experiencing some growing pains defensively at first base. Michael Burgess is doing just what I expected of him, hitting home runs (7) but striking out (36 over 125AB). He has been showing some improvement recently but he'll need to demonstrate stronger plate discipline to move forward. Danny Espinosa, a shortstop drafted last year, has cooled off considerably after a very hot start to 2009. His May has been a bit of a hiccup.

On the mound for Potomac, the Nationals have seen some very strong outing from their starters. Besides Meyers, the P-Nats have seen positive results from their entire rotation (lefties Tom Milone & Will Atwood along with righties Jeff Mandel & Colton Willems). It has been nice to see Willems perform so far. He was the Nationals second first rounder in 2006 (Marrero was the first). After mixed results in Hagerstown in 2008, Willems has shown some flashes of what made him a top high schooler in that draft. He's only 1-2 but has a 1.69 ERA and 0.81 WHIP over his first three starts (he missed the early part of the season, apparently with an oblique injury). If he can build on his early results that's good news for the Nationals.

The less said about Harrisburg, the better. The team has struggled from day one and aside from Detwiler, there has not been one guy who stands out too much.

Syracuse has seen a turnstile of comings and goings given the struggles in Washington so far. If I were to highlight one area for the Chiefs, it would be the bullpen where righties Tyler Clippard and Jason Bergmann have produced consistently in Triple-A.

CSN:  Finally, with the big league club having some early season struggles, in your opinion, with what you have seen from the Nationals farm system ... how close is Washington to becoming at least a .500 club?

NFA:  The Nationals offense easily has the making of a 0.500 club. The back end of their starting rotation (Martis, Zimmermann, and Detwiler) offer hope for the future. I'll let the bullpen speak for itself.

If they can figure out how to stop the madness in the bullpen and can find one or two veteran arms to stabilize the rotation, the Nationals could challenge for a 0.500 record as early as 2010. The thing is that with that upside potential, the youth of this team can also lend more volatility for growing pains.

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