GOOD NEWS FROM THE STREETS OF SANTO DOMINGO
Bill Ladson is reporting over at the team's official website that Dominican Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez has signed with the team. Because he just 16, he won't be able to begin playing in the Nationals' organization until next year, after he turns 17.
The team is comparing his glove to that of Ozzie Smith and his bat, once he matures, could be similar to Miguel Tejada's. That seems more praise than a 16 year old deserves, but considering that all of Ryan Zimmerman's praise turned out to be reality, I'm not going to question it just because it sounds too good to be true.
But none of that is important. Sure, it'd be nice if the kid turns out to be a Smith/Tejada clone as the team is suggesting, but more of those "can't miss" kids turn out to be car salesmen or managers of sporting good stores than hall-of-famers. What is important, however, is the fact that the Washington Nationals, once the cheapest team in the Major Leagues, just spent $1.4 million dollars (the same amount paid to first round pick Colton Willems) on a player with the knowledge that, even if he does make the team one day, it won't be for another five or six years. Further, several other teams were after him (including the Yankees) and he chose to sign with Washington.
It's a big step forward for the club. Stan Kasten promised us two things. One, he wasn't going to dabble in free agency for the forseeable future, and two, that money the team would have paid to those free agents would be pumped into the farm system. Thus far, he's been true to his word. In the past couple of weeks, the Nationals have paid nearly $5 million dollars to three young baseball players, none of whom will help the team for many years. The Nationals are indeed building for the future.
When I was a Braves fan (Dale Murphy was a member of my church so I rooted for Atlanta from the early 80's until 2004), I got such a kick watching the team's young players blossom with the Braves. Chipper Jones' rookie year was good, but Ryan Zimmerman is on pace to have a much better one. Just a day or two after being called up from Richmond, Ryan Klesko hit a home run in the 9th inning that bounced off the top of the left field wall and over the fence for a game winning home run. Javy Lopez was the first "real" catcher the Braves had in all the years I watched the team. Andruw Jones, Marcus Giles, Johnny Estrada, David Justice, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Langerhans, Jeff Francoeur, and many others, at first turned the Braves into winners, and then kept them there. Some, like John Smoltz and Estrada, came from other organizations. Others were Braves born-and-bread. Wouldn't it be great if the Nationals were able to bring up as many players as they needed from the minors to help solidify the major league roster? Slowly, it's starting to happen.
Today, Larry Broadway and Kory Casto seem like sure things. There are few others who "could" make a difference at some point, but most of the team's minor league system is "filler," guys wearing uniforms because one of the rules in baseball is that you have to field nine players at a time.
Help's on the way. Thank goodness.
NATIONALS BEAT TAMPA BAY 6-2: It was a nice Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium as the Washington Nationals did what was expected; beat a team that they should have beat (though to be sure they some fine players on their team). Ramon Ortiz pitched very well again, allowing just four hits and one run in seven strong innings. He also struck out four. With each solid outing, Ortiz increases the chances of his being dealt before the July 31st deadline. I think he'd be a great 5th starter for a team trying to win a pennant. Ryan Zimmerman continues to make that 1-27 slump a distant memory. Zimmerman hit a line-drive home run that reminded me a lot of Frank Howard's homers, never getting very high and able to take someone's head off if they didn't get out of the way. Jose Guillen got two more hits as well, and may get hot enough to allow the Nationals to get some decent offers for him before the trade deadline at the end of the month.
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