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"Balester Galactica"

[December 12th] -- "You want Javier Vasquez? Throw in Collin Balester and you've got a deal." "Alfonso Soriano? Sure, as long as Balester is part of the package."

And so it went. Collin Balester, along with Potomac infielder Kory Casto, was the most sought-after prospect in the organization during the just completed Dallas winter meetings. I know all about Casto, but who's this other kid?

Balester was the Expos/Nationals 4th round selection in the 2004 amateur draft. Straight out of high school, the 18 year old was sent to that place reserved for young, talented but inexperienced players, the Gulf Coast League.

And he did well.

Balester went 1-2, 2.19 in 2004. In 24 innings, the Californian gave up 20 hits, and struck out 21 while walking only 5. Although not dominant, he played well enough to earn a promotion to class 'A' Savannah the following season. Balester had a record there of 8-6, 3.67. He struck out 95 and walked 42. Good numbers. What impresses me most is his hits to innings ratio. In 125 innings, he allowed only 105 hits. Ryan Drese would kill for those kind of numbers. He'll probably start 2006 at high-'A' Potomac, but will likely have a bus ticket to Harrisburg in his back pocket, just waiting for the call. There's no question that he's the "real deal." Baseball America has tabbed Balester as the Nationals number 2 prospect behind only Ryan Zimmerman.

Collin Balester was another of those Expos' 'bargain-basement' buys. He didn't have a good senior season, and was out of shape during the tryout camps. Expos scouting director Dana Brown predicted the night of the 2004 draft that Balester would be in the team's starting rotation well before the end of the decade. Balester is called 'projectable' by the scouts. In other words, his size [6'5", 180] and arm action [loose & easy] help project the kind of pitcher he'll be in the major leagues.

He constantly throws 91-92 mph, and tops the radar gun at 95. His curve has extreme late movement, making his burner look even faster. His control is tremendous for his age as his career 116 - 46 strikeout to walk ratio indicates.

There are many decent pitchers in the major leagues today that sport a 95 mph fastball and a biting curve. Most of them have ERA's well over 4.00. Balester has to develop a third pitch to be a top of the rotation guy for the Nationals.

That said, the Nats believe that he has the talent and desire to learn that third pitch, and he indeed will become that front of the rotation guy right around the time the new stadium opens its gates.

The Nationals could have sent Brad Wilkerson & Collin Balester to the Rangers for Soriano or Wilkerson, Sledge and Gallaraga. They chose the latter, which indicates just how important Balester is to the team's future.

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