The Nationals’ 2007 first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft, Ross Detwiler, made the short trip from Class A Potomac to D.C. last week to work a bullpen session with pitching coach Randy St. Claire. The veteran Major League pitching coach liked what he saw.
St. Claire said Detwiler has “a great arm” and impressive pitches. The Nationals pitching coach likes the sink Detwiler puts on his fastball, the “tight spin” on his breaking ball and his curveball.
“He’s got the stuff to be, I think, a very good pitcher at the Major League level,” St. Claire said. “He’s just got to put it together, where he becomes consistent with each and every pitch. To be successful at this level, 80 percent of your pitches have got to go where you want them to go. Until he gets that down … he’s got a lot of learning to do, but he’s got the ability and I think potential to be here and be a very good starter.”
Detwiler struggled early this season, and his 5.16 ERA over 22 starts reflects that. However, he’s performed far better in the second half of the season, cutting his first-half ERA by around half a run, and he’s struck out 95 batters in 103 innings.
The Missouri State product attributed the greatest part of his success to an adjustment he made with Potomac pitching coach Randy Tomlin to straighten up his delivery. He said his struggles have come when he starts throwing across his body, causing him to lose control at times.
Detwiler admitted his struggles have gotten to him this season, but he thinks he’ll be better for it eventually.
“You know, it’s been frustrating,” Detwiler said. “But to a point, it’s been
good, because I can see how, when I don’t do things just the way I’m supposed
to, I do fail, and you know, when I come up here and work with someone like
[pitching coach Randy St. Claire] or when I’m working with Randy Tomlin back in
Potomac, getting back on line, I can see how everything works out for me.”
In other Nationals Minor League news, Vermont catcher Derek Norris was named the Single-A New York-Penn League Offensive Player of the Week between July 28 and Aug. 3. Norris went 10-for-21 with three home runs and seven RBIs over that stretch. He also walked 13 times, indicative of the patience that has given Norris 40 walks and a .484 on-base percentage, both tops in the league.
Norris becomes the 15th Nationals’ farmhand to pick up a Player or Pitcher of the Week honor in 2008.
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.