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A YEAR LATER, NATS MINOR LEAGUE SYSTEM STILL THIN

[April 23rd] -- The Washington Nationals, embarking on their second season in D.C., seems to be a "top down" team. The major league roster continues to be too thin to contend in the National League East. But while the Nationals are looking better than they did ten days ago, their isn't any real hope on the horizon. Their minor league system seems bereft of any "cant miss" guys. Instead, you come accross a bunch of career minor leaguers just enjoying the opportunity to wear a baseball jersey one more time.

What happened? Lots of things. During the 1980s and early 1990s, no major league team produced more quality home grown players than the Expos. Gary Carter. Andre Dawson. Warren Cromartie. Larry Walker. Moises Alou. Rondell White. On and on it went. Their high point came in 1994, when the Expos were leading the NL East with a bunch of career Expos players. Of course, the strike erased their first place standing and, as attendance dropped in the years that followed, those quality players were sold and traded to keep the team afloat. Since then of course, the franchise has suffered from a lack of money and an featured an ownership group who suffered from a lack of caring. They traded all of their stars for prospects who never seemed to pan out. Then, Omar Minaya became the GM of the Montreal Expos.

With the team just a couple of games over .500 in 2002, Minaya believed the team was in a pennant race and traded 3 prospects to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. The Expos ended the year winning 83 games and Colon was gone with the free agent wind. How are those "prospects" doing? #1] Grady Sizemore hit .289-22-81 with 22 steals last season for Cleveland. TSN scouting report: Sizemore is a 5 tool talent who will make several all-star squads during his career. #2] Cliff Lee has become a dominant pitcher, going 18-5, 3.79 in 2005. TSN scouting report: Quality 4 pitch arsenal with heat in the low 90s. Consistent 15 game winner in the bigs. #3] Second baseman Brandon Phillips was considered to have the most potential of the three prospects, but he has yet to make an impact at the major league level. TSN scouting report: Can line the ball all over the field and is developing good power for a middle infielder. Has the tools to be an "elite" infielder. Earlier in the season, Maniya acquired Lou Collier from the Mets for a promising outfielder. #4] Jason Bay, OF, Pirates. Bay was "Rookie of the year" in 2004 and had a tremendous season in 2005, going .306-32-101. TSN scouting report: A quality player who will continue to get better. While he's just under super-star status, he will have a tremendous major league career.

Collier was hitting .252 at Milwaukee when the trade came down. He had spent parts of several seasons with the Brewers, so his ceiling level was well known. He played at Ottawa for the rest of the year and was then cut. He was cut by the Phillies last December and has yet to sign with any club. His TSN scouting report: "A light hitter who has an especially hard time hitting righthanders. A borderline utility player." At the time of the trade, Jason Bay was at AA where he was on pace to hit .294 with 17 homers and 80 rbi's.Why do you trade a player with tremendous potential for a player who has already shown that he doesn't have what it takes to be a regular in the major leagues? Because Omar Minaya thought he needed a utility infilelder for his pennant run. Less than six months later, Collier was cut. Less than 2 years later, Jason Bay was the NL Rookie of the Year. Ouch.

The good news is this happened when the team was still in Montreal. Jim Bowden's major league mistakes haven't permeated the minor leagues yet. the 2005 draft, overall anyway, was pretty good. The system isn't ready to make a difference yet, but it will be.


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