Nationals Notebook

Nationals Notebook: Club Is in Position to Have Twice the Impact in Draft

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

With baseball's amateur draft just more than a month away, no team has more to look forward to -- and no team has more to prepare for -- than the Washington Nationals. They hold both the first and 10th overall picks. A convergence of circumstances has turned this year's draft into a seminal moment for the franchise.

The Nationals, on June 9, can draft San Diego State pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg with the top pick. And they can use the 10th pick to compensate for last year's epic failure -- the inability, despite furious last-minute negotiations, to sign first-round pick Aaron Crow.

"Well, certainly it's much different, because not only do you have the first two, the high picks in the first round, but also the first pick in every round," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We're starting to finalize our targets for one and 10 and beyond, and that's kind of the mode we're in right now -- putting the final touches to our list."

On Friday night, both Rizzo and scouting director Dana Brown were in Columbia, S.C., to watch South Carolina play Vanderbilt. In previous years, when Rizzo was Washington's assistant general manager, he traveled to evaluate hundreds of possible draft picks. This time, with his eye focused on the major league roster, Rizzo hopes to watch any player the Nationals are considering for No. 1 and No. 10.

Because of the Strasburg-related hype -- barring an injury, Washington will almost certainly select the right-hander first overall -- the 10th pick tends to get overlooked. But Rizzo said today that the talent pool runs deep enough that No. 10 should produce an "impact player."

"I think the consensus is that it's pretty good up top," Rizzo added, "and then it thins out a little bit. But I feel we'll get a solid pick at number one and at number 10."

Rizzo did not rule out the possibility that the Nationals would again draft Crow, currently a member of the independent league Fort Worth Cats. Evaluating Crow has been difficult; the Cats play their first exhibition game on Monday. That night, Washington will have at least one scout in attendance.

Caught Napping

Second baseman Ronnie Belliard was scratched from the starting lineup yesterday after showing up late to work. "Ronnie has been great for us for three years," Manager Manny Acta said. "He just overslept. Rules are rules. He was apologetic about it. But no hard feelings."

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