This probably does not come as a shock to many people, but the Washington Nationals system is not very good. There are some interesting players in the lower minors, but most of their talented Latin signings from the last few years turned out to be 35 years old and older… OK, not quite. But the grey hair should have been a tip off.
Jordan Zimmermann had a great 2008 season and an even better spring training in 2009, which earned him a spot on the club’s opening day starting rotation. The former second round draft pick was selected out of a small college in 2007. During the 2008 season, Zimmermann allowed just 89 hits in 106.2 Double-A innings. He also posted rates of 3.29 BB/9 and 8.69 K/9. He has good four-pitch mix with a fastball that touches 94 mph, a slider, curveball and change-up.
While Zimmermann has taken a huge step forward, Ross Detwiler has taken a step or two back after being the club’s first round pick in the same draft. Detwiler received a taste of big league action after signing, but he spent all of 2008 in High-A ball with modest results. He allowed 140 hits in 124 innings and posted rates of 4.14 BB/9 and 8.27 K/9. Detwiler has a fastball that can touch 96 mph, along with a good curveball and change-up. He’s expected to open 2009 in Double-A despite his struggles.
Michael Burgess, 20, was another player that had a disappointing season in 2008. After a stunning debut in 2007 after being a supplemental first round pick out of high school, the outfielder hit just .249/.335/.469 with 18 home runs in 401 at-bats. He posted rates of 10.3 BB% and a gut-churning 33.9 K%. He “earned” a late-season promotion to High-A, where he hit .225 albeit with six homers in just 71 at-bats. Burgess is not the best fielder but he has a strong arm, which helps him immensely in right field.
Chris Marrero was the organization’s first round draft pick in 2006 but he has been slowed by injuries (a broken leg and damaged ankle in ’08) and inconsistencies. The 20-year-old first baseman spent 2008 in High-A ball where he hit .250/.325/.453 with 11 home runs in just 256 at-bats. He also posted rates of 8.9 BB% and 21.5 K%. It was his second time in High-A and most of his numbers took a small dip. Regardless, he should open 2009 in Double-A.
Catcher Derek Norris is an intriguing sleeper in the system, who is starting to get noticed more and more. In 2008, the 2007 fourth round pick out of high school hit .278/.444/.463 with 10 home runs and 11 steals (in 20 attempts) in 227 short-season at-bats. Norris also posted impressive rates of 21.7 BB% and 24.7 K%. Defensively, the right-handed hitter is raw but he has a strong arm and threw out almost 50 percent of base stealers last year.
One of the best bits of news that the organization received this year is that Jack McGeary is going to pitch full-time for the first time since signing for almost $2 million in 2007. He had been splitting his time between baseball and finishing his degree at Stanford. The left-hander had a good year in 2008 and he allowed 61 hits in 59.2 innings. He also posted rates of 1.96 BB/9 and 9.65 K/9. McGeary has a repertoire that includes an 87-91 mph fastball, good curve and change-up.
Outfielder Destin Hood was selected out of high school in the second round of the 2008 draft. The toolsy outfielder played both baseball and football in college and was given a large contract to forgo college. In his debut in rookie ball, Hood hit .256/.333/.349 in 86 at-bats. Catcher Adrian Nieto was another prep player given an above-average contract to sign. He hit .265/.390/.353 in 34 rookie at-bats. Following the trend, J.P. Ramirez cashed in after signing late. He hit .364 in just 11 at-bats. Impressively, he walked four times and did not strike out.
Up Next: The Regular Season!
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.