With Deadline Approaching, Smoker Signs

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Washington Nationals yesterday signed high school left-hander Josh Smoker, one of their two remaining high-round draft picks, granting a $1 million bonus to the player selected 31st overall in the June draft just more than 36 hours before tonight's deadline.

Smoker joins lefty Ross Detwiler, selected with the sixth overall pick and signed to a $2.15 million bonus in July, as one of the organization's top pitching prospects.

"When you're building an organization, you're always looking for quality starters," said scouting director Dana Brown, "and when they're a left-handed starter, it's a special thing."

Had the Nationals not signed Smoker by the deadline at 11:59 tonight they would have received a compensatory pick -- No. "31B" -- in next year's draft.

"We were scouting 31B pretty hard," General Manager Jim Bowden said.

Smoker will report on Saturday to the team's rookie-level Gulf Coast league affiliate in Viera, Fla., and then will pitch in the club's fall instructional league.

"I'm just glad to have it over with," he said. "This is what I've always dreamed of."

With 19 of their top 20 picks signed, the Nationals were still working on the last -- lefty Jack McGeary from Massachusetts. McGeary, who fell to the sixth round because most teams believed he would honor a commitment to Stanford, is considered a first-round talent by some Nationals evaluators. The two sides were still negotiating yesterday, but the process is complex. The Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, is new to Major League Baseball. Signing a sixth-round pick for first-round money, which is likely what it would take to land McGeary, would be frowned upon by MLB.

Though top officials wouldn't comment on the McGeary negotiations, most weren't optimistic. Still, owner Mark Lerner said he is ecstatic over what he believes is significant progress made by Bowden and his staff.

"Most people who evaluate this kind of thing and understand talent in baseball would rate the Nationals among the top three drafts," Lerner said. "That's great. But we've got to do this every year."

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