Draft Preview: Nats eyeing their prizes

Nats will take two pitchers in top 10

WASHINGTON -- Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo called the 2009 First-Year Player Draft the most important in team history, and for good reason.

The team has two top 10 picks, including the No. 1 selection. The Nationals already announced that San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg will be the first pick, barring injury.

To Washington, Strasburg is head and shoulders above the rest of the field of available players. He is 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts this season.

"I'm not trying to hide anything or avoid the question: If the Draft were today, Strasburg would be the player," Rizzo said. "That's how I answer the question. He is the top guy on our Draft board."

MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 6 p.m. ET on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.

Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.

Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.

Here's a glance at what the Nationals have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
The team has scouts trying to decide which players best fit the club. But one thing is certain -- don't look for the Nationals to draft a position player until at least the second round. According to a source, the club doesn't feel there is a hitter in the high school or college ranks who is first-round-worthy.

The scoop
"The Draft is huge for this organization because it's the first time in history a club has two top 10 picks in the Draft. We feel we are going to get two dominant guys who are going to be two big pieces to win a championship. So it's big." -- Scouting director Dana Brown

First-round buzz
There is no question the Nationals are going to select Strasburg with the first pick. The only question is, can they sign him? Rizzo and Strasburg's advisor, Scott Boras, have a good relationship. Only time will tell.

Also look for the Nationals to tab a pitcher with the 10th pick in the Draft. Washington doesn't expect to select right-handed pitcher Aaron Crow, its first-round pick last year. The team expects him to go earlier in the first round.

The Nationals could select right-hander Chad Jenkins of Kennesaw State, who is 8-1 with a 2.54 ERA and hurled 98 strikeouts in 92 innings. Jenkins was the Atlantic Sun Conference's Pitcher of the Year this season.

Shopping list
The Nationals continue to be short on hitters and loaded with pitchers. From the offensive end, Michael Burgess, Danny Espinosa, Chris Marrero and Justin Maxwell are the only hitters who could make an impact on the Major League side soon. But the shortage of bats does not mean the team will select nothing but hitters after the first round. The team still wants to add more pitching to the organization.

Trend watch
In six out of the last seven years, the Nationals/Expos have selected a pitcher in the first round. The trend will continue with Strasburg, who is expected to go to the Minor Leagues once he is signed. Brown's attitude is, "You never have enough pitching."

Recent top picks
2008: The Nationals couldn't reach an agreement with Crow last season when money turned out to be the sticking point. The two parties were $900,000 apart -- the difference between $3.5 million and $4.4 million -- from reaching a deal. Several sources familiar with the negotiations said that neither Jim Bowden, then the general manager, nor Crow's advisors, Alan and Randy Hendricks, would budge to get a deal done.
2007: Left-hander Ross Detwiler is currently in the Major Leagues because of a shoulder injury to southpaw Scott Olsen. Detwiler was supposed to get one start and return to Triple-A Syracuse, but he has pitched well enough to become a mainstay in the rotation.
2006: Marrero and pitcher Colton Willems are not close to becoming big leaguers. Marrero is currently with Class A Potomac. While he can hit, the Nationals are trying to figure out where he is best suited with the glove. He was drafted as a third baseman and put in left field when he started his professional career, but he didn't have the instincts to stay there long. Marrero is currently playing first base, where he is a liability. Willems was injured to start the season, but joined Potomac in early May. He is off to a slow start, putting up a 1-4 record with a 7.50 ERA thus far.

Rising fast
The bullpen is the No. 1 reason the Nationals have been a sub-.500 team. If they need help, Washington can no look no further than Double-A Harrisburg where right-hander Zech Zinicola is pitching.

Zinicola, a sixth-round pick in the 2006 Draft, struggled the last two seasons but now has his act together. He has given up four runs in 18 1/3 innings. Don't be surprised if Zinicola is in the big leagues after the All-Star break.

Cinderella story
Right-hander Erik Arnesen, a 17th-round pick in the 2006 Draft, is off to the best start of his career. He is a combined 6-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 10 games with Harrisburg and Potomac.

In The Show
The 2007 Draft features two guys who are already in the Nationals' rotation. Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, a second-round pick, was the first to make it. He has had his ups and downs, but he leads the team in strikeouts with 47.

Detwiler hasn't done anything to warrant a ticket back to the Minor Leagues. If he continues to throw strikes, Detwiler most likely will stay in the big leagues for the rest of the season.

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