Nats look to add quality with Draft

Nats look to add quality with Draft

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals improved their farm system dramatically by drafting quality athletes during the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

Players such as outfielder Michael Burgess and Jordan Zimmermann are already in the fast track to the big leagues.

The Nationals go into this year's Draft believing their selections will improve their farm system even further. They have the ninth overall pick, but unlike last year, the team doesn't have extra picks because of free-agent defections. No problem, says assistant general manager Mike Rizzo.

"We attack all the Drafts the same," Rizzo said. "We scout all the players and do our due diligence on every guy we have on the board. The difference is, we are picking from a smaller pool of players because we have less picks. It doesn't change the way we do our business."

The Nationals' scouts, as well as Rizzo, general manager Jim Bowden, amateur scouting director Dana Brown and assistant general manager Bob Boone have been traveling non-stop trying to find the best players for their farm system. But the team isn't giving up any clues as to who it will draft.

Washington loaded up on pitching last year, and it's no secret that it needs more offense in the system. Burgess, Mike Daniel, Chris Marrero and Justin Maxwell are the only hitters who could make an impact on the Major League side.

But the shortage of bats does not mean the team will select nothing but hitters. Both Rizzo and Brown said the team will never have enough pitching.

"You don't ever attack the amateur Draft by need in an organization," Rizzo said. "Some years, it's a stronger pitching year. Some years, there is more depth as far as position players go. We have to take every Draft class and see where the strengths and weaknesses are and draft accordingly. If the right player is there at No. 9, we are going to take him."

Said Brown, "You always have to take the top player available. You always have to go by the strength of the Draft. It's pretty balanced this year. Last year, there were a lot more high school pitchers drafted high, other than that, it's very similar."

In five of the last six years, the Nationals have drafted a pitcher. Will that be the case in '08? Who knows. Bowden loves to draft for bats, but Brown loves to draft pitching and Rizzo, who is in charge of the Draft, goes for the best player available.

Bowden, Brown and Rizzo declined to say who they have interest in, but baseball sources indicated that they have looked into players such as Tanner Scheppers from Fresno State, infielder Brett Wallace from Arizona State and pitcher Brian Matusz from San Diego.

Originally a shortstop, Scheppers has a fastball that is clocked between 92-95 mph, but he still needs to improve his slider.

Wallace is an RBI machine. He already has 70 RBIs in 190 at-bats. To top it off, he is hitting over .400 for the season.

Matusz is 10-3 with a 2.86 ERA, but what's impressive is that he has struck out 163 batters in 123 innings.

"We are picking ninth in the country and there are 10 top-quality players, and we know we are going to get one of the 10," Bowden said, "so we are pleased with the kind of talent and depth that will be there at nine."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.