In a conference room between the offices of Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden and club president Tony Tavares sits a board with 500 names on it. If this was the NFL, it would be the Nationals' "war room," but the baseball draft -- which takes place today and tomorrow -- doesn't have that cachet. It is, however, every bit as important.
The draft begins at 1 p.m. today, and the Nationals have the fourth pick. Sure, they sit in first place in the National League East. But the first glimpse of the future -- the first player picked by this franchise in Washington -- comes with that fourth pick.
"This is how we build, and this pick is significant because of it," Bowden said. "This will be the first homegrown Washington National, and you have to get a player with the fourth pick. You can't miss on the fourth pick -- and we're not planning on it."
A few weeks ago, predicting the Nationals' first pick appeared easy -- University of Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The clear No. 1 pick is high school outfielder Justin Upton from Chesapeake, Va., and he'll almost certainly go to Arizona. Kansas City has the second choice, and most baseball people believe the Royals will select third baseman Alex Gordon from the University of Nebraska.
But things got a little murky recently because Seattle, which has the third pick, has wavered. The Mariners had looked to be leaning toward Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. With all that in mind, the Nationals invited high school outfielders Cameron Maybin (Asheville, N.C.) and Jay Bruce (Beaumont, Tex.) to RFK Stadium to work out over the weekend.
"You have probably seven players in the mix," Nationals scouting director Dana Brown said, "and you have to be prepared for what other teams might do."
Zimmerman, though, is still the favorite. The Nationals seem to have him rated higher than other clubs, and they believe he could be a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman who could hit 20 to 25 homers per season -- and be ready for his major league debut within two years. With current third baseman Vinny Castilla 37 years old and signed only through next year, Zimmerman could be the heir apparent. Some club officials can see the left side of the Nationals' infield as Zimmerman and shortstop Ian Desmond, currently at Class A Savannah, well into the future.
Zimmerman, whose season ended with a loss in the NCAA tournament over the weekend, hit .393 and slugged .581, driving in 59 runs in 61 games as a junior for the Cavaliers.
Nationals Notes: Major League Baseball officials began considering the incident from Saturday's victory over the Florida Marlins in which Nationals outfielder Marlon Byrd came into contact with umpire Joe Brinkman, leaving Brinkman sprawled on the ground, but no decision as to whether Byrd will be suspended is expected until later in the week.
"I haven't looked at it yet," said Bob Watson, the MLB official in charge of discipline. "I need to see it, get the umpires reports and talk to the team." . . .
First baseman Nick Johnson was named the co-National League player of the week, joining St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and becoming the first National to be so honored. Johnson led the NL in batting average and on-base percentage last week (.545 and .643, respectively).