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Nationals Chose Well In 2005 Amateur Draft

[September 23rd] -- Most serious Nationals' fans marvel at the quick ascent from college junior to starting 3rd baseman in the major leagues by Ryan Zimmerman. For most prospects, it takes 3-5 years before they join the parent club, and at that, it's usually for only the traditional "cup of coffee" September call up. Not Zimmerman. He started at Class A Savannah, quickly moved to AA Harrisburg, and today has reached the pinnacle of his career goal: the major leagues.

So just how good is the former University of Virginia product doing when compared to his peers in the 2005 amateur draft? Let's take a look. Remember, Zimmerman was the 4th pick in the draft. We'll compare him to the other top ten draftees.

Some of these players have yet to sign, placing financial gain above their careers. Justin Upton, the number one pick in the draft, number 2 Alex Gordon, number 9 Mike Pelfrey and number 10 Cameron Maybin are all hold outs. Who knows how this time away from baseball will effect their careers. Some, like J.D. Drew were able to hold out for more than a year and still go on to be productive. Remember, however, that Drew has had constant injury problems which might be related to his lengthy absence from the game. Ryan Zimmerman, however, put his love of baseball ahead of being filthy rich, settling on being just a multi-millionaire and starting his career immediately.

Jeff Clement, the #3 pick in the draft, played well for the Mariners rookie team in Bellingham Washington, batting .315 with 6 homers and 20 RBI's. The 5th pick, Ryan Braun, split time between Helena of the Pioneer League and West Virginia, a Class A team. Braun did well, hitting a combined .347 with 10 homers and 45 RBI's. Toronto's Ricardo Romero played for Auburn and Dunedin, both rookie league teams, and went 1-0 with a 3.82 ERA. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki spent the season with Class A Modesto, hitting a modest .266 with 4 homers and 14 RBI's. Number 8 pick Wade Townsend of the Devil Rays had the hardest time of the group, going 0-4 with a 5.49 ERA pitching for Hudson Valley, a short season rookie team.

Some of these players, such as Clement and Braun did a quality job during their first season in the minor leagues. A few will remain in Class A next year as they continue to hone their skills. Others will play a portion of their season next year at the Class AA level. All in all, they are on pace to make it to the major leagues in three years or so.

And then there is Ryan Zimmerman. After overpowering Class A pitching for a week at Savannah, he was promoted to AA Harrisburg. There, he hit a one week "pothole" as his average dipped to .215. From that point, however, Zimmerman made the neccessary adjustments and ended the season with a .323 average. At the major league level, he's done even better. He went 2-4 against the Giants Thursday and raised his average to .381. More importantly, his on-base average is .361 and he is slugging at a .571 clip. He hasn't hit a home run yet, but half of his 8 hits are doubles, which is a very good sign. Most of the quality sluggers today had a high number of doubles early in their careers as they learned how to drive the ball. Defensively, well, Jim Bowden said on draft day, "Ryan Zimmerman's defense is major league quality today."

How good will he be? Most scouts say he will have a career similar to that of Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. He'll likely have a higher average, with perhaps only a little less power, and a much, much better glove.

The Nationals have several players who will make up the core of the team's future. Brian Schneider is the premier defensive catcher in the National League today. Zimmerman will provide stability at third. Ian Desmond has shown traces of brilliance since the first day of spring training. Ryan Church should become a .300-20-80 guy for years to come. John Patterson has morphed into a #1 starter in just one season. The rest of the team's future depends on how well the Nick Johnsons and Brad Wilkersons and Jose Vidros perform, and also on how much money the new owners are willing to invest in free agents.

One thing's for sure. Ryan Zimmerman will be the key to that future.

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