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Reading Between The Lines

[February 19th] -- I love talking politics with my friends and neighbors here in Idaho. I was sitting in church last week when a good friend sat down next to me. "Can you believe what the governor said last week?" he asked me as the music began to lower and our clergyman began to speak. "How could he think such a thing!."

Well, Cloy, he couldn't. And he didn't.

Idahoans, good folk who live in a narrow strip of America that connects the deserts and mountains of the Wasatch Front with the cedar-green hills of the Pacific Northwest, are wonderful human beings, but they aren't politically savvy. They believe what they hear. If the governor said it, he must mean it. My 20+ years spent inside the beltway gives me a bit more understanding of why people say what they say. They say what needs to be said, not what they think or feel. It's all about raising, or lowering the bar of public opinion. When Gerald Ford took over for the disgraced Richard Nixon (I was standing outside the White House that August day -- how cool it was to be a Washingtonian), he said to the American people, "Remember, I'm a Ford and not a Lincoln." Man, talk about lowering the bar. The same thing happened to Dan Quayle. America hoped he could put on matching socks every morning. I mean, c'mon, that's what's meant by "inside the beltway." It's insight.

Credit manager Frank Robinson and general manager Jim Bowden for quickly learning the way things work in D.C.

Let's first rewind to last June, the day of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. With the 5th selection, the Nationals' chose Ryan Zimmerman, a third baseman from Charlottesville's University of Virginia baseball team. At the time, Bowden said, "Ryan Zimmerman's defense is ready for the major's today. He is a gold-glove caliber third baseman. Offensively, he is so mature that he just might be playing in Washington this September." Zimmerman's play reflected Bowden's prediction. Splitting time between low 'A' Savannah and 'AA' Harrisburg, Zimmerman batted .336 in 250 at-bats, whacking 11 home runs and 38 RBI's. He had a .377 OBP and a .564 SLG average. In 58 at-bats with the Nationals in September, Zimmerman did even better, batting .397 with 10 doubles. He had a .419 OBP and a .569 SLG average. He played so well that to make sure that the ever-loyal Frank Robinson didn't bury Zimmerman in the team's depth-chart, Bowden traded incumbent Vinny Castilla to San Diego for starting pitcher Brian Lawrence.

Zimmerman is "the guy" in 2006.

So what is Robinson and Bowden saying about their prized rookie this spring? Is he a shoe-in for rookie-of-the-year? Will he put up stellar numbers for the Nationals?

Well, no.

Bowden and Frank Robinson expect Zimmerman to play quality defense while producing "enough" offense. How much offense? Well, they himmed, they hawed, but both seemed to indicate that a .260-.270 batting average, 10 or so homers, 60 or so RBI's will be just fine. That is, if he stays with the club. "If he doesn't produce, we have other options" said Bowden. That would be 25 year old Brendan Harris, who played stellar ball in the Arizona Fall League in 2005, leading the league populated with baseball's top prospects in batting for much of the season.

Probably, both Robinson and Bowden are expecting Zimmerman to produce somewhere in the area of .280-15-80. They just can't say that. Too much pressure on the kid. So they lie. Well, not lie, they "lower the bar of expectations."

My guess is that he'll start slow and begin to question his abilities. But a hot spot in late May or early June will allow Zimmerman to reach that .28-15-80 plateau.

Or not.

We'll just have to wait and see.

.280-15-80 would be a very good season for young Dutch. I think he'll start fast, though, and will likely slump in late June-July as pitchers start to figure out the holes in his swing. The real indicator of whether he'll be a Scott Rolen (great all around) or an Edgardo Alfonzo (good, but not great) type 3B will be in August-September. If he can adjust to the pitchers' adjustments then we'll have something to get excited about. If he remains in a slump, I'll be a bit more worried. I'll bet my money on .290-12-65 for Zimm '06.
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