WASHINGTON -- By selecting Ryan Zimmerman as the fourth overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, the Nationals feel they have their third baseman of the future.Interim general manager Jim Bowden said the team likes Zimmerman's makeup on and off the field. The organization has already compared him to the likes of Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Troy Glaus, and they believe that Zimmerman has the agility to play shortstop, if needed. "He is a leader," Bowden said. "As you build a baseball team, makeup and character is extremely important. He is also a very special defensive player. There are not a lot of special defensive third basemen that ever get to play in the Major Leagues. This player is one of those players. He's a great defensive player and he has a great arm." Had Zimmerman been drafted earlier in the round, the Nationals most likely would have selected outfielder Jay Bruce, who impressed the organization during a workout last Saturday. Most draft specialists believe that Bruce, who is from Beaumont Texas, will hit 40 home runs in a season. The Nationals did not have a pick in the second or third rounds of the First-Year Player Draft because they signed third baseman Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman to free agent contracts this past offseason. However, the money they had allocated for those rounds will now be spent on signing players in the Dominican Republic. Bowden would not say whom they are trying to sign from the Dominican Republic, but they are looking for an impact player on offense. "We are going to be better with the way we have done it. We are very excited about that," Bowden said recently. "I don't want to make the other 29 clubs aware who we are going to sign. Unlike the United States, there's no draft when it comes to signing players from Latin America." However, the Nationals went on to draft 48 players, 32 of them were selected on Wednesday. Of the 32 that were picked, scouting director Dana Brown is expected to sign only eight of them.
"They are mostly draft and follows," Brown said. "They are going to go to a junior college or we will follow them during the summer to see if they get better. For the most part, the better players are off the board. The ones that are left are usually tough signs or are injured."
Of all the players they selected on Wednesday, the Nationals are really high on left-hander Scott Barnes and right-hander Robert Leonhardt.
Barnes, who went to Cathedral (MA) High School, is expected to go to St. John University in the fall. The Nationals think he has a chance to throw harder in the summer. "A lot of times, those guys don't warm up until after May. We may make a run at him," Brown said.
Leonhardt nearly priced himself out of the draft. But Brown believes that he's fifth or sixth round pick.
During the two days, the Nationals drafted 15 outfielders with power including center fielder Justin Maxwell of the University of Maryland and right fielder Ryan DeLaughter of Billy Ryan High School in Denton, Texas.Maxwell missed most of the last two seasons because of injuries, and he's is still recovering from a hamate bone injury. He is expected to be out another six weeks and recover at the Nationals' Spring Training facility at Brevard County in Florida. Brown was impressed on how Maxwell performed in the Cape Cod League and believes that Maxwell is worth the risk. "We were fortunate to get a couple of reports early in the year," Brown said. "He slipped to the fourth round and we were happy to get him." DeLaughter hit over .300 and led his high school in home runs and RBIs, and most of the scouts compare him to former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner. "DeLaughter has good arm strength and power. He is from Texas where we know a lot of good players come from," Brown said. "I saw him play in an All-Star Game and we feel that he's a power bat that will play a corner position." Right-hander Marco Estrada of Long Beach State University and Jack Spradlin of USC were the Nationals' top two pitchers. Both pitchers are expected to be starters in the minor league system. Spradlin, a left-hander, was 6-3 with 4.14 ERA. He struck out 92 batters and walked 29 113 innings. Estrada, a right-hander, was 8-3 with a 2.43 ERA in 18 games. Opponents hit .212 against him. "Spradlin has a really good curveball. He may be a No. 4 starter," Brown said "When Estrada gets to the big leagues, he will be an innings eater and a fifth starter-type guy. He has value because of his pitch ability. He really throws a lot of strikes. Over all, the Nationals selected 24 pitchers and only eight of them were left-handed. Surprising considering that they don't hardly have any good left-handed prospects in the farm system. John Lannan of Siena College was the other lefty they drafted in the 11th round. "It's just tough to get left-handed pitching. There were a lot of other lefties on the board, but they were relievers," Brown said. "We felt those two starters we drafted had fastball command. That's why we went after them."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.