It should be pretty clear to just about everyone that the Washington Nationals are not going to be a good club in 2009. The team might win a few more games this year thanks to the addition of players such as Adam Dunn, Scott Olsen, and Josh Willingham, but there are still a lot of holes remaining and depth continues to be an issue.
The starting rotation will have an interesting look to it this season, though, as the team recently announced that top pitching prospect Jordan Zimmermann and former Giants prospect Shairon Martis have both made the club as starters. The pair joins starters John Lannan, Olsen, and Daniel Cabrera in making up the starting five to begin the 2009 season. Another promising young starter, Collin Balester, will begin the year in Triple-A Syracuse.
Zimmermann, 22, has flown through the minor leagues after being a second-round draft pick of the Nationals out of a small college in 2007. The organization has deemed him big-league ready after just 37 regular season pro appearances. Last season in Double-A, Zimmermann allowed just 89 hits in 106.2 innings of work, while posting rates of 3.29 BB/9 and 8.69 K/9. This spring, he threw up some flashy numbers with 20 strikeouts in 14 innings of work. Zimmermann allowed just 13 hits, two walks and zero home runs. He can dial his fastball up to 95 mph, although it sits in the low 90s with good sink. He also features a slider, curveball and change-up.
Martis, a Curacao native, was obtained from San Francisco in 2006 for veteran reliever Mike Stanton. Only 22 (tomorrow, March 30), the right-hander received attention after winning 14 games in High-A ball in 2007. He played at three levels in 2008, which included five games (four starts) for the Nationals. In those games, Martis allowed 18 hits in 20.2 innings and posted rates of 5.23 BB/9 and 10.02 K/9. He pitched well at both Double-A and Triple-A. This spring, Martis earned his opportunity to begin the season in the Majors by allowing just 10 hits and four walks in 19 innings. He struck out 11. Martis’ repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, a plus change-up, a curveball and a slider.
Both pitchers should be on a tight pitch count this season given their youth and relatively inexperience, which will prevent them from putting up huge numbers. As mentioned, 2009 will likely be a lost season for the Nationals in terms of wins and a playoff berth, so the team might as well take some chances on some young pitching. It could benefit the club down the line. It’s also nice to see a club resist the temptation to go cheap by delaying prospects’ arbitration clock (I’m talking to you, Baltimore and Tampa Bay).