Yesterday's Major League Baseball draft took on a Beltway feel, with area prospects linking up with area clubs.

The Washington Nationals, choosing fourth and making the first pick in club history, chose third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who grew up in Chesapeake, Va., and attended the University of Virginia.

The Baltimore Orioles, picking 13th, chose catcher Brandon Snyder from Westfield High in Chantilly. And to keep the theme going, the Nationals' next pick -- which came in the fourth round -- turned out to be Justin Maxwell, a center fielder at the University of Maryland. The prize of the draft -- shortstop-center fielder Justin Upton, also of Chesapeake -- went to the Arizona Diamondbacks with the first pick, as expected.

Something in the water?

"We're going to take the best player," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said of Zimmerman. "It's a blessing that he's also from this area. You'd like to have local players that you can sign and develop and have what we call homegrown talent. It's special when you can do it."

The Nationals thought highly enough of Zimmerman that they began meeting with him this winter, and Zimmerman said Monday night he knew he would go to Washington with the fourth pick. The team announced that it had agreed to terms with Zimmerman almost immediately after the draft, and he'll likely sign his contract -- for a bonus that baseball sources said is worth $2.975 million -- at a news conference today at RFK Stadium.

Zimmerman, 20, said he was excited to be chosen by his new local team. He'll begin his career at Class AA Harrisburg within the next two weeks.

"They're close to home," Zimmerman said in his conference call with reporters. "It's a perfect fit. . . . It's almost too perfect to be true."

Bowden, scouting director Dana Brown and special assistant Bob Boone all believe Zimmerman is ready to play defense in the majors right now, and he drew comparisons yesterday to Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson and Scott Rolen -- as lofty as it gets.

Snyder, The Post's All-Met Player of the Year, was the first Washington area position player drafted in the first round out of high school since Chancellor High shortstop Matt Halloran was picked 15th overall by San Diego in 1996.

"It's been the most nerve-racking day of my life," Snyder said yesterday from his family's home.

"I went out and played nine holes this morning with some buddies to just try and take my mind off of things. I knew, from the reports, I could go anywhere from 12 to 27. But that's really all I knew."

Snyder received a call a five minutes before the draft started from his agent, Larry Reynolds, who had good news: The Orioles planned to take him with the 13th pick.

"I was excited, but I didn't believe it until I saw it," Snyder said, "and then I just hugged my dad and cried. It was a very emotional moment for me and my family. The best thing is it's the Orioles. I don't have to go very far."

Snyder's father, Brian Snyder, pitched briefly with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners in the late 1980s and is a former teammate of Orioles Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations Jim Beattie. He owns a baseball school in Manassas.

Brandon Snyder solidified his status as a first-round prospect last summer, when he led the Ohio-based Midland Redskins to the Connie Mack World Series championship. He then played for the USA Baseball junior national team in the International Baseball Federation's AAA World Junior Championships in Taiwan, where he batted a team-high .421.

Although Snyder played most of his high school career at shortstop, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-handed power hitter also spent time this season at catcher -- the position he's most likely to play professionally.

"It's nice to get a catcher," Beattie said.

"You don't go out there and draft by position. He's going to give us a lot of options, because his bat is going to play in a lot of places. He can play a lot of different positions. It's nice to get someone that can be a catcher, but at the same time, he's a baseball player."

"I'm so excited," Snyder said. "I hope we can get a deal quick and I can sign it and get into camp. I can't wait. But I still have to go to school tomorrow."

Staff writer Jorge Arangure Jr. contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.