It’s been a rough Major League season in the nation’s capital, but the Nationals have enjoyed a banner year in the Minors, and they have the third-best organizational record in all of baseball to show for it.
Entering action July 24, six clubs had combined for 311 wins this season, and three of them were leading their respective divisions.
The Nationals have adopted in the last few years a strategy of drafting the best players available during the First-Year Player Draft, flooding their system with as many elite prospects as they can find. It’s shown early returns at the lower levels of the system, where players like John Lannan and Justin Maxwell excelled and progressed quickly en route to accelerated journeys to the Majors.
In Class A Hagerstown, slugger Michael Burgess, who general manager Jim Bowden touted as one of the best power hitters in his high school class, leads the entire organization with 18 home runs. One step higher at Class A Potomac, 2007 first-round pick Ross Detwiler continues to improve his control, and he’s posted a 3.86 ERA in four July starts, striking out 19 and walking just four in that time. Baseball America taps the left-hander as Washington’s projected future No. 1 starter.
Detwiler is one of a bevy of young pitchers the Nationals hope will continue to progress through the system. While the Missouri State product is still sharpening his craft in Potomac, players like Jordan Zimmermann, Shairon Martis, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen have all shown enough to warrant progression through the Nationals’ system.
Zimmermann, all of 24, is 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA in 14 starts at Harrisburg, and he’s struck out 70 batters in 79 2/3 innings.
Mock is already in the Majors operating out of the bullpen, and he and Clippard have both made spot starts for Washington this year. Martis earned a save in the 2008 Futures Game, and Stammen made just six starts in Double-A before earning a promotion on the back of a 3-1 record and a 1.64 ERA during that stretch.
The Nationals’ Minor League pitching depth is giving early returns at the highest level as well, as highly-rated right-hander Collin Balester took the spot of injured starter Shawn Hill in early July and has a 1-2 record in four Major League starts. His 5.75 ERA is a bit deceiving as well, as he’s allowed just one run in two of those four appearances.
The Nationals have some offensive talent in the Minors as well, most notably in the form of the just demoted Triple-A center fielder Roger Bernadina. Another fast climber through the system Bernadina began his season in Double-A Harrisburg and was in Washington by late June.
He struggled at the Majors and found himself sent down to Triple-A Columbus, where he’s made the most of his opportunity. In nine games in the Ohio capital, the fleet-footed Bernadina is hitting .469 with five doubles, two triples, a home run and a perfect 5-for-5 record in stolen base attempts.