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ZIMMERMAN CONTINUES TO IMPROVE

[May 19th] -- There has been far too much pressure placed on young Ryan Zimmerman this year. By me, that is. Zimmerman, just one year out of the University of Virginia, was the first draft pick of the "Washington Nationals." General Manager Jim Bowden, heaped so much praise on the third baseman that I even wondered why he was heading to the minor leagues in the first place. "His defense is major league ready right now." said Bowden, adding, "I wouldn't be surprised to find him playing RFK later this year." His "cup of coffee" in September, when hit nearly .400, showed us that he could play at the major league level when things were going well, but what would he do when pitchers found his weakness?

Adjust. Mr. Zimmerman would adjust.

His first full season has been a series of ebbs and flows, a great game followed by a lousy one, a long home run followed by a three-pitch strikeout, a "Brooks Robinson" like play at third followed by a "Alfonso Soriano" like play. But such is the learning curve in the major leagues. All of his fellow first round picks from last year are still in the minor leagues, a few at the Triple-A level, but the majority of them remain in the low minor leagues, hoping that one day soon they can be where Zimmerman is now: the major leagues.

A month ago, Zimmerman was on pace to hit 20 home runs, drive in 100 runs, and strike out 180 times. Today, with a quarter of the season gone, Zimmerman's "good" and "bad" numbers are improving. At his current pace, he is on pace to hit the following:

Games:160 ~ AB:612 ~ Runs:80 ~ Hits:160 ~ 2B:28 ~ 3B:0 ~ HR:28 ~ RBI:88 ~ Walks:68 ~ K's:144 ~ SB:12. He currently has a .261 batting average, a .333 on base percentage and a .444 slugging average. Do you remember what most of us were predicting he would hit before the season started? We all guessed in the range of .260-13-60, give or take.

And he's a rookie with less than a half-season of minor league ball under his belt.

For a rookie, Zimmerman is playing pretty darn well. The Phillies had a rookie third baseman a few years ago who batted .196-18-52 as a 23 year old rookie. His name was Mike Schmidt. Chipper Jones, also 23, batted .265-23-86 as a rookie. Scott Rolen batted .283-21-92 his first year. He was 22. So, compared to other rookie third baseman who matured into some of the very best in major league history, Zimmerman is not only holding his own but in many cases playing even better.

He's a special player. Solid offense with superb defense, the kind of guy who comes around only once in a great while. Hopefully, Stan Kasten will take a page out of the Cleveland Indians' playbook and sign Zimmerman to a long-term deal, keeping them 1) affordable and 2) here.


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