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Zimmermann: Dominance On Field No. 3

I don't want to make the mistake of waxing all poetic about a pitching performance that happened on a minor league field today against a lineup of guys like Chris Barnwell and Mark Saccomanno and Tommy Manzella. That said, I'm going to do it. The aforementioned players are members of Houston's soon-to-be-Class AAA squad. They came, today, to minor league Field No. 3 in Viera to play a game against Washington's (Mostly) Soon-To-Be-Chiefs.

After watching five innings of this game, this much became apparent: Houston's most developed minor leaguers cannot hit Washington's top prospect, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. In his latest bid to convince the Nats of his big league readiness, the right-hander breezed through five innings, playing games with the entire lineup. He threw 58 pitches, 44 strikes, striking out eight and walking nine none. One batter managed a hit. Those who watched, including some Nats coaches, would watch Zimmermann get ahead of guys 0-2, and then the armchair prediction game would begin: "Watch him put this guy away with a low-and-away curve."

What do you know, it happened almost every time.

Zimmermann's fastball, today, topped out at 94. His changeup hovered between 82-85. His slider normally touched 86. His curve ranged between 77 and 78.

"I was locating all of my pitches," Zimmermann said. "My slider was really good today, and the progress on my changeup is really coming along. And I threw a lot of good changeups today, and I'm really happy."

There were several games going on simultaneously -- Dmitri Young was playing in another game on the abutting Field No. 2 -- but most of the eyes were on Zimmermann. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire observed from a two-story watchtower about 50 feet behind the backstop. Coaches Pat Corrales and Jose Cardenal watched from golf carts. At one point, just as the game was starting, Corrales pulled the ump aside and said, "Use major league balls when this guy is out there. Let the other guy (Houston's starter) use minor league balls." Read into that what you want.

Zimmermann actually teamed up with a major league catcher, Jesus Flores, who's totally recovered now from a right elbow injury. Flores caught all five innings for the right-hander, and batted third in a funky, fluid lineup. Ryan Langerhans led off with a home run, and Wily Mo Pena, then Flores, followed. (Others in the lineup: Brad Eldred... Pete Orr... Joel Guzman... Justin Maxwell.)

But as the game went along, a funny thing happened. Pena batted every inning. He was the No. 2 hitter and the No. 7 hitter, on and on in a cycle. By the end of the fourth, he was 2-for-4. Two ground ball singles. Several swings and misses on breaking balls. Houston's pitcher, by the way, didn't have a breaking ball as tough as Zimmermann's.

By Chico Harlan  |  March 26, 2009; 3:24 PM ET
 
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Comments

Please be none and not nine....please be none and not nine...
"He threw 58 pitches, 44 strikes, striking out eight and walking nine. "

Posted by: Section138 | March 26, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

...and if I just did some math, I would be able to see that he could of only walked three batters, since he only threw 14 balls.

Posted by: Section138 | March 26, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

9 walks??

Posted by: usmc53 | March 26, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Newposted:

Rick Monday* OF
Steve Chilcott C
Ron Blomberg 1B
Tim Foli SS
Jeff Burroughs* OF
Mike Ivie C
Danny Goodwin C
Dave Roberts 3B
David Clyde P
Bill Almon SS
Danny Goodwin C
Floyd Bannister* P
Harold Baines* OF
Bob Horner* 3B
Al Chambers OF
Darryl Strawberry* OF
Mike Moore* P
Shawon Dunston* SS
Tim Belcher P
Shawn Abner OF
B.J. Surhoff* C
Jeff King 3B
Ken Griffey, Jr.* OF
Andy Benes* P
Ben McDonald P
Chipper Jones* SS
Brien Taylor P
Phil Nevin* 3B
Alex Rodriguez* SS
Paul Wilson P
Darin Erstad* OF
Kris Benson P
Matt Anderson P
Pat Burrell LF
Josh Hamilton* OF
Adrián González* 1B
Joe Mauer* C
Bryan Bullington P
Delmon Young OF
Matt Bush SS
Justin Upton SS
Luke Hochevar P
David Price P
Timothy Beckham SS

* denotes All-Stars

It is too early to tell on David Price and possibly Luke Hochevar, but do you really like your odds on Stasburg when the winningest pitcher you can put up is Mike Moore (sub .500 by the way) against names like Baines, Stawberry, Dunston, Surhoff, Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, A-Rod, Burrell, Hamilton, Gonzalez, Mauer...

I'm a firm believer in winning with pitching, but I believe that you end up with great pitching staffs by drafting quantity in rounds 1.5-10 and see which pan out. If you have the top pick in the draft, you pick the most talented position player available. History has proven time and time again that taking a pitcher #1 will not change the future of the club, but taking a Junior, Chipper, A-Rod, and even possibly Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez and Joe Mauer can change the future. We will not know until early June if Green, Ackley, or someone else has the chance to at least be mentioned in the same breath as Strasburg but I'm guessing that there will be some position player that has separated themselves throughout the spring.

Posted by: NeedANatsFix | March 26, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"...striking out eight and walking nine."

I'll go out on a limb and say this is a typo. I'll go out on another limb and say that spamcastin will find a way to turn it into a food reference.

Posted by: MikeH0714 | March 26, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I take it you mean "walked none" ?

Posted by: mlantry | March 26, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

San Diego Padres want Strasburg and he wants to stay local. Trade his pick to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez who could be the Nats 1st baseman stud for the future.

The Nats retain pick #10 which will get another great prospect, and like NANF said get your pitchers in rounds 1.5 and after.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 26, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the giggle with your BB pleas, 138.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 26, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

"At one point, just as the game was starting, Corrales pulled the ump aside and said, "Use major league balls when this guy is out there. Let the other guy (Houston's starter) use minor league balls." Read into that what you want. "

I read into that that the beat writer might want to explain what the difference is between major league and minor league balls for those of us who don't cover baseball for a living and might not know. I also read into that that the beat writer must not know himself and was probably too embarrassed to ask. Am I reading too much into that?

Posted by: spamcastin | March 26, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I still don't get it. We've had way, way, way worse than spamcastin' around here in terms of attacks and general obnoxiousness.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 26, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

"San Diego Padres want Strasburg and he wants to stay local. Trade his pick to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez who could be the Nats 1st baseman stud for the future."

As has I think been pointed out here many times before, you can't trade draft picks in baseball like you can in the NFL.

Posted by: spamcastin | March 26, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

@NeedaNatFix:

Since the Nats are contemplating drafting a college position player #1, here's a better list:

Rick Monday
Dave Roberts
Bill Almon
Danny Goodwin
Bob Horner
BJ Sufhoff
Jeff King
Phil Nevin
Darrin Erstad
Pat Burrell
Tim Beckham

These are the position players drafted #1 from a college. I think that makes a difference. Very talented hitters tend to develop better if they sign and start swinging a wood bat when they are 17-18 years old, I believe.

The hitter list drafted from college is only marginally better than the pitcher list. It doesn't appear that there is a HS position player near the top of the draft board for 2009, unless the Nats want to go for Donovan Tate who appears to be rated 6-10 by most people. Therefore, this is the comparison that should be made.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 26, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

NatsNut,

I just think you are way to nice of a person to understand why.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 26, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

"I still don't get it. We've had way, way, way worse than spamcastin' around here in terms of attacks and general obnoxiousness.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 26, 2009 3:45 PM"
------------
Yes.

And most are now missing.

I'm just saying . . .

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 26, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

#4 - last year, tim was high school, gordon was college, right?

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 26, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

You can pick Strasburg and trade him.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 26, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Can't trade him for a year.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 26, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Bullington, Hochevar and Matt Anderson were all signability picks not the best player in the draft.

And if you know which of the draft-eligible position players is a stone cold lock to be the next Pujols or A-Rod please give Mike Rizzo a call. I'm sure he'd like to know.

Posted by: traderkirk | March 26, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Can't trade the choice in advance of the draft, either.

Posted by: deMille_Ondefloss | March 26, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

All this crunching of past #1s miss an important difference betwen the MLB draft and other leagues. In MLB, the #1 is frequently not the best player in the draft. Last year, for example, Pedro Alvarez was thought to be the best. On that list, I don't believe Luke Hochevar or Brian Bullington were thought to be the best, either.

What does that mean for the Nats? If they are risk averse and think they need more players they can count on, the Greens and Ackleys come back into the picture, even if they are not the best players. A 5 tool SS with a track record of success is tempting, especially if you project him as being able to start in 2010. A good hitting athlete who projects as a CF is also tempting. Even if Strasburg turns out to be Roger Clemens without the 'roids, the Nats will get little criticism if the guy they do take is a multi-year star.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 26, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Skipping Strasburg to pick a bat this year would be at minimum foolish.

I understand what folks are trying to say but you cannot pass on Strasburg. He is head and shoulders above the next guy on the list. Dustin Ackley, Grant Green and Donovan Tate are not in the same class as Strasburg.

Posted by: Brian_ | March 26, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Ackley has yet to play CF regularly for UNC. He is coming off of elbow surgery. The reports I've read have Green moving off of SS once he goes pro. Most likely 2B.

Posted by: Brian_ | March 26, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I wonder whose rule that is, not being able to trade a pick for a year. I'm not sure that it helps either players or management.

It would make perfect sense for the Yankees to call the Nationals and say, "You pick Strasburg first and trade him to us and we'll give you XXXXX & YYYYY and possibly ZZZZZZ."

Or with the Nationals (apparently) flush with young pitchers, trade Strasburg for an established first baseman on a team trying to go young (or to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez so he can remain home).

Not saying I'd do any of those deals, just saying I don't understand why we can't.

Anyone know the background of this rule?

Posted by: rushfari | March 26, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

JCA:

I don't think it misses any points. The fact that the Nats might pass on Starsburg for sign-ability reasons has been a factor in some of these other drafts as well, particularly the more recent ones. The conditions are the same, therefore analyzing who was chosen is appropriate.

The point I'm making is that they shouldn't "count on" Green or Ackley much more than Strasburg. These #1 position players from college aren't a whole lot better than the pitchers. That's what the record shows.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 26, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

For those wondering Major League Balls are a little harder and have lower seams then Minor League or colleage baseballs.

Posted by: bigcountry22 | March 26, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

jca:

You're right. Beckham was HS.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 26, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Fair enough #4, but here is a crazy thought...how about the Nats take a high school position player at #1 and draft a college player at #10.

I know that everyone around here wants the Nats to contend for the playoffs in 2010 (personally I prefer 2009, but am realistic that they will fall just a few games short) with a starting staff of Strasburg, Lannan, Zimmermann, Martis, Olsen, etc. Sounds great to me, but what happens if Strasburg is more like David Price...close but not quite. He ends up in the minors for a season or two and starts in April 2011.

High school position players with their MLB debut:
'87 Junior - Apr 1989
'90 Chipper - Sep 1993
'93 A-Rod - Jul 1994
'99 Hamilton - Apr 2007
'00 Gonzalez - Apr 2004
'01 Mauer - Apr 2004
'03 Young - Aug 2006
'04 Bush - N/A
'05 Upton - Aug 2007

Other than Josh Hamilton (who wandered beyond baseball for a while) most of these players were making their debuts within a few seasons. If the Nats start to put together a few winning seasons and make a playoff appearance or two they could have a potential star coming up after they have a season or two of playoff experience. This might be the catalyst needed to take them from a winning team to a world championship.

Posted by: NeedANatsFix | March 26, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

hmmm, my comment disappeared but MLB balls have lower seams then MiLB or College baseballs.

Posted by: bigcountry22 | March 26, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

whoops, nevermind.

Posted by: bigcountry22 | March 26, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

When I lived in Seattle in 1978, the Mariners had the 6th pick in the draft. They also had a very cheap/poor ownership group and was worried about signing bonuses.

The Mariners pased on the likes of Kirk Gibson, Tom Brunansky, Ryne Sandberg, Cal Ripkin Jr. and Nick Esasky and signed a high school outfielder by the name of Tito Nanni.

Nanni wasn't even considered a first round pick.

Ah, but he was signable.

His best years were at the 'A' level and looked bad at 'AAA' Salt Lake City (where today he's a sales rep for Saia Motor Freight).

The point is, if the Nationals don't sign Strasburg and go with someone with a smaller dollar requirement, we may just end up with Tito Nanni II.

Posted by: rushfari | March 26, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

NeedaNatsFix:

If there were a HS position player who was considered as good a prospect as Strasburg, I'd be right with you. Every report though is that the gap between Starsburg and the next prospect, college or HS, is huge.

I do return to Boswell's article which in his defense did NOT say, don't draft Strasburg. It said don't overpay him. Before I started looking at all this, I felt the Nats should draft him and give him what he wants. I'm less sure now. They should be willing to go to $15-18 million though.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 26, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I think the rule about not being able to trade draft choices and/or trade a drafted player for a year is in the CBA. The idea is to keep teams from trading away draft choices for cheap roster filler, as the Cleveland Cavaliers did years ago in the NBA.

Posted by: deMille_Ondefloss | March 26, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

It also gives agents one less tactic to use during the negotiation process..."Give my guys x dollars, or hey, trade him to the yankees who will. Otherwise, he won't sign." Now, they up the ante in advance, like "Hey, give my guy $50m or don't even bother drafting him."

Posted by: dclifer | March 26, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"I wonder whose rule that is, not being able to trade a pick for a year. I'm not sure that it helps either players or management.

It would make perfect sense for the Yankees to call the Nationals and say, "You pick Strasburg first and trade him to us and we'll give you XXXXX & YYYYY and possibly ZZZZZZ."

Or with the Nationals (apparently) flush with young pitchers, trade Strasburg for an established first baseman on a team trying to go young (or to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez so he can remain home).

Not saying I'd do any of those deals, just saying I don't understand why we can't.

Anyone know the background of this rule?"

I don't know exactly how it came about but I know it involves the Expos drafting Pete Incaviglia and then promptly trading him to the Texas Rangers. I don't remember all the details but it was something to the effect of Incaviglia wanting to play right away in the majors and the Expos refusing. Afterwards the MLB insitutied a Rule where players couldn't be traded until one full year after they signed (note you can use a PTBNL exception, i.e. that way if you signed a draftee in June you could trade him that next Dec-Jan. and designate him as a PTBNL, thats how the Tigers got Bonderman from the A's). The rule was intended to keep players from refusing to sign/play for bad clubs that drafted them...it meant the player would have to wait a full year to be drafted again (i.e. Crow). The end result hurts players and teams, players need to wait a full year and before and teams have to wait for a compensation pick instead of getting a prospect.

Honestly I know you picked the Yankees b/c they will pay for anyone but I don't know if their are 3 players in their system that are worth Strasburg. Seriously Brackman, Hughes and A. Jackson might not be enough.

Posted by: Steveo11 | March 26, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"I read into that that the beat writer might want to explain what the difference is between major league and minor league balls for those of us who don't"

The seams are tighter on the big league ball. It makes throwing the off speed stuff a tad more difficult

Posted by: JDB1 | March 26, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Also as for Zimmermann's start today, its nice and all but beating up on the Astros AAA line-up doesn't say much. Other teams Low Single A line-ups would have been more impressive. The Astros have by far the WORST farm system in baseball and most of their best prospects are in A-ball. Not to take anything away from Zimmermann it wasn't his fault that the other team was so bad, i'm just saying you can't look at this start and say "oh he has dominated the minor leagues and is ready for the show".

Posted by: Steveo11 | March 26, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

#4, I agree that if Strasburg is without a doubt the best, AND the Nats believe he can be signed for $15M or less then they need to take him. The only point I am trying to make is that even with all of the hype about Strasburg there is no guarantee he is going to be the next Walter Johnson. Boz is correct that it would be more devastating to the franchise if they pay him $50M than it would be to not take him at all.

And don't forget that most college teams are just starting to play mid-week games and a lot of high school seasons are just underway. These kids can change a lot in one year, so come May there might be a position player or two that has elevated their status above all others.

Also, I was looking back over the first round selections over the past 10-15 years...it is truly depressing to see how many busts are taking in the first round.

Posted by: NeedANatsFix | March 26, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

It's "none," not "nine." Fixed that.

I asked Dave, who happened to be at my desk, about the difference between major and minor league balls. He hadn't heard of any. He thought, as I did, that Corrales might have meant to let Zimmermann throw new balls. But I bow to the superior knowledge on NJ.

Posted by: traceeh | March 26, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I guess you could say ZNN had some major league balls out there today.

Posted by: BobLHead | March 26, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

If the best baseball player doesn't go first in the draft, the system is broke. All other major sports have reasonable rookie salary structures, why can't baseball hop on board?

Posted by: patrick15 | March 26, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Come on, you illiterates, questioning nine walks! Can't you see the line through the word "nine"???? hahaha. Also, section 138, it's "could HAVE only walked three batters," not could OF only walked three batters. Gee, and I didn't even graduate from school yet!

Posted by: Pete433 | March 27, 2009 7:32 AM | Report abuse

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