After posting back to back 100 loss seasons, prospects in our “Nation’s Capital” are starting to look up for the Washington Nationals. For at least 48 hours, the Nats will be the most talked about team in Major League Baseball, and a very welcome change it will be.
The Nationals are now on the clock with the first pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Fans will be able to watch the Draft live Monday night on MLB Network and MLB.com at 7 p.m., as Commissioner Bud Selig announces each of the first-round selections. The Draft will be held for second straight year at the MLB Network’s “Studio 42” in Secaucus, N.J.
Barring some sort of major last minute glitch before Commissioner Selig walks to the podium, the first name he’ll read will be Bryce Harper, the 17 year old, much-heralded catcher from the College of Southern Nevada. Harper has been referred to as, “The Chosen One,” “The LeBron James of Baseball,” and “The Natural” because of his 500 foot home runs, his speed that allows him to steal bases like Rickey Henderson, and his ability to use his 96 mile per hour throwing arm to gun down runners at second base. Under normal circumstances, Harper would be about to enter his senior year of high school, not yet eligible for the draft, but he took the extreme measure of getting his G.E.D. and entered junior college so he could qualify for the 2010 Draft. Scouts project Harper will be a Major League catcher for the Nationals on or around his 20th birthday or, perhaps, even earlier.
Tuesday, it’s Stephen Strasburg’s turn to take the national stage against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The young pitcher’s 100 mph fastball and 94 mph curve have caused quite a stir, fueling comparisons to players such as Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan. Between 250 to 300 members of the media from all over the country will be on site for his debut, resulting in the largest media turnout for a non-record breaking regular season sporting event in recent memory.
The Washington Nationals are owned by the Lerner Family, one of the richest ownership groups in Major League Baseball, and are proving that they want to continue to build through the draft while adding veteran free agents. It is the same template that team President Stan Kasten used to build the successful Atlanta Braves dynasty.
One of the owners, Mark Lerner, is also a minority owner of the Washington Capitals, a team that has become one of the NHL’s most successful teams, both on the ice and at the gate. Lerner definitely hopes that a strong team build-up through the draft supplemented with free agents will work for the Nats in the same way it has for the Caps.
An additional plus for Washington this year is that they are considered a major player by super agent Scott Boras, who represents both Strasburg and Harper. Boras remarked, “there is no doubt that Washington is going to be a premier franchise in baseball very soon.” Certainly, his two clients will help move things along.
And as if that weren’t enough, Astros star pitcher Roy Oswalt told his agent that he would waive his no-trade clause with Houston if Washington became interested in dealing with him. “They’ve been playing well,” said Oswell. He continued, “they’ve got a good offensive club, I saw where they have Strasburg coming up. He should make an immediate impact, especially, because no one’s seen him in the league, early. There’s always a little adjustment period there.”
Presently, the Nationals stand at 27-30, and while a far cry from contention in the unpredictable NL East, they are ahead of schedule on their rebuilding. With young guns coming up, they’ll no longer be the laughing stock of the majors.
ESPN kicks off the action Tuesday at 3:30pm with a special edition of ESPN Baseball Tonight with Karl Ravech, Tim Kurkjian, and Orel Hershiser, live from Nationals Park. The MLB Network will also be live from Nationals Park with MLB Live at 5:30p.m. Both networks will also do post-game shows from Washington, DC.