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THE NEWEST NATIONAL

[June 24th] -- The Nationals announced that the team's second first round pick, pitcher Colten Willems, has signed with the club for a reported $1.4 million dollar bonus. He will immediately report to the team's extended Spring Training facility in Viera, just a stone's throw from his home in Fort Pierce. He had committed to the University of Florida, but told friends and family that he anticipated signing to play with the Nationals "if an agreement could be reached."

First, kudos to Willems, who has shown that, like Ryan Zimmerman before him, money is important, but is certainly isn't everything. He probably could have squeezed a few more ducats out of Jim Bowden and Dana Brown, but he realized that being on the field, and not at the bank, would enhance his potential as a professional ballplayer.

Willems, only 17, was listed as the sixth best high school pitcher in this year's draft. Over the past two seasons at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, he amassed a 13-3 record with a 1.18 ERA. Unbelievably, he allowed only thirty-three hits in over 100 innings in his junior and senior year. He has a moving fastball that averages 92-93 mph but can touch 97 when needed. His "heater" was ranked third best among high school pitchers. The problem, however, with having such a devastating fastball in high school is that you don't need any other pitches, and as a result, his curve and other off speed pitches need a lot of work. His slider will in time be his #2 pitch, with his curve a distant third. Luckily, he has "pinpoint" control, so once those other pitchers catch up to his fastball, he will be able to dominate the opposition.

At this point, Willems is slated to be a #3 starter in the major leagues, and needs about four years to get there. So, with luck, he'll appear at the new park sometime in 2010. Now, all of this sounds wonderful, but remember, there are three guys at Class 'A' Potomac that came into the profession with similar press clippings, perhaps even better, and have struggled mightily thus far. Will Willems follow a fast path to Washington, or will he struggle like Colin Balestar, Mike Hinkley and Clint Everts?

Time will tell.

Comments:
What do you think of the school of thought that says signing High School pitchers is basically just rolling the dice on a pure crapshoot? Isn't that the Moneyball position, that HS stats are useless predictive indicators and a high majority of HS pitchers end up flaming out for one reason or another (injury, can't master other pitches, lose MPH on the "heat" that they got by on, etc) before they make the big club?
 
I'm a firm believer of drafting college players, even to the point of getting a guy who's not going to have quite the upside of the high school player. Another problem: They don't have to sign. Look at what J.D. Drew did to the Phillies a few years back. I think his injury-prone career is payback by the baseball gods.
 
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