"There's no question that, to succeed in baseball, you need to have a very strong foundation," says Nationals' President, Stan Kasten. "That includes your entire player development department from the players down to the scouts, instructors, coaches and coordinators. You need to be strong in all those areas to groom those players into major leaguers. I've never seen a team be successful without a strong farm system so that's where we need to start. In addition, we've taken new steps in the Dominican Republic where we really have to get more active. So, all those types of things are being done as we begin the process of building our foundation."
That plan, as laid out by Washington's president, appears to be quickly taking shape. Of course, it is still in its preliminary stages, but the fingerprints of the new ownership are already present. The organization has begun making personnel changes in the player development and scouting departments while retooling their minor league coaching staff as well. Most importantly, however, is the renewed interest in the Dominican Republic, where the team hopes to reel in the island's top talents year after year and make a statement in the baseball world.
"Its not just about talent," Kasten explains, "but we'd also like to send a message to the rest of baseball and to all the people in the Dominican Republic that the Washington Nationals
now have to be taken seriously as a real player in the market for these top guys."
The signings of talented Latin American players like Richard Hidalgo and Wuillys Bravo, who both were signed prior to the new team ownership, can't be accredited to this new farm system rebuilding plan, but are good examples of what the organization would like to continuing adding. Bravo, a 19-year-old left-hander, starred in the Gulf Coast League in his first summer pitching on American soil and the Nationals couldn't be more optimistic about his upside. Hidalgo, a 19-year-old outfielder, struggled offensively in his first sampling of pro ball, but "tools" is the word that his future is riding on.
"In the GCL, we have a player named Wuillys Bravo who is an 19-year-old left-handed pitcher and he has not been pitching for very long," Nats' Assistant Director of Player Development proclaimed. "He is about 88-90 MPH right now and has a good ability to command his fastball, which is a rarity at that level."
"Richard Hidalgo is an outfielder that is very raw," Manno continued. "He is 19-years-old and in the United States for the first time, but he does have some tools. Our job is to help him get the most out of those tools so that sometime soon, it translates into performance."
Bringing in international talent wasn't the only way that the Nationals proved they could put together a top tier group of talent in 2006. The draft class they crafted in June also contributed a great deal of talent to an exciting Gulf Coast squad. Throw first rounders Chris Marrero
and Colton Willems
into the mix and it becomes easy to see why the organization is enthused about this new core of young players beginning their ascent up the minor league ladder.
"Chris Marrero looks like he knows what to do with the lumber in his hands and carry a team in the middle of the lineup," Minor League Field Coordinator, Scott Little recently told CapitolDugout.com."
"He is an impressive looking hitter, who has an approach that is very advanced for the GCL," Nick Manno added. "He can drive the ball to all fields and has a good understanding of the strike zone for someone his age."
First round selections tend to get most of the attention, but the Nationals were also able to pick up superb talents in the following rounds in 2006. Second round selection, Stephen Englund
, and eighth rounder, Sean Rooney
are just two examples of players that the Nationals feel could have impact potential in the not so distant future.
"Englund is still very raw," Nick Manno explained. "You can definitely see his natural ability, he just needs more repetition."
"I really like Sean Rooney," Manno continued. "He was the triple crown winner in his JUCO league this past year and basically taught himself how to switch-hit. He is working very hard in the GCL on his catching with Bobby Henley and has made great strides both physically (receiving and blocking) and mentally (calling a game)."
So, should the enthusiasm among fans and people within the organization for these players be somewhat tempered? Being that they are just beginning a long journey up the minor league ladder, the answer is absolutely. But, compared to years past, this year's core of GCL prospects is certainly a group for the organization and fans alike to get excited about.
A common sign for an organization that has a minor league system on the rebound is the presence of high upside talent at the short-season levels. While much of it is raw and unrefined at this point, there's no denying the upside of many of the Nats' youngest prospects.
The Nationals' have shown great excitement over the organization's youngest group of talent.
Rooney taught himself to switch-hit.