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So far, very good for Nationals

So far, very good for Nationals

WASHINGTON -- It was almost like Nationals scouting director Dana Brown was in a state of shock. After the team made its first four picks in Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft, Brown was at a loss for words during the team's press conference. For example, he mentioned that outfielder Stephen Englund was the Nationals' first pick in the second round, when it was actually right-hander Sean Black.

Brown was in another world for a reason. He has been in charge of the organization's draft since 2002, and for the first time, he is not thinking about selecting the most signable player because of a limited budget. Under the orders of the Lerner group, Brown and the rest of his think tank drafted the best players available. In fact, their first six picks were high school players.

The team had two first-round picks and selected third baseman Chris Marrero with the 15th pick and right-hander Colton Willems with the 22nd selection, while Black, Englund, shortstop Stephen King and left-hander Glenn Gibson were the team's next four picks. These players are projected to be big-league ready in three or four years.

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"I was like a kid in a candy store. If you noticed, we took six high school players in a row. We have not been able to do that [in the past]," Brown said. "A couple of them are signability issues, but in building for the future, I think we are going to go all out and [general manager] Jim Bowden made it clear that we are going to take the best player available each time we picked and not worry about signability being an issue."

Brown said the player that will be toughest to sign is King. He was slated to be a first-round pick, but he fell to the third round because of a minor left knee injury. It ended up hurting his performance on the diamond. King, who worked out for the Nationals on May 28 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, already has signed a letter of intent to play baseball for LSU.

"He slid under the radar and we were able to get him. I anticipate him being the toughest," Brown said. "He went to workouts before the draft and wasn't able to run the 60 time. So some teams backed off. But we saw him swing the bat early this spring, so we knew what he was."

Brown believes the Nationals will not have any problems signing Marrero or Willems.

The right-handed-hitting Marrero also worked out for the Nationals on May 28 and impressed the organization. He went to Monsignor Pace High School in Miami and hit over .400 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2006. Four of those homers came in the postseason and he was awarded state 4-A-1A first-team honors.

Some in the Nationals' think tank wanted outfielder Chris Parmelee with their second-first round pick, but he was already taken by the Twins with the 20th pick. Willems turned out to be a great choice. He played for the East club in the AFLAC All-American Classic last August, striking out four batters in three scoreless innings of relief. This past fall, Willems earned Most Valuable Pitcher honors at the '05 World Wood Bat Association's 17-and-under National Championship, tossing a three-hit shutout in the semifinals. The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder went 6-2 with a 1.68 ERA as a junior in 2005 to earn first-team all-county and Class 2A all-state honorable mention honors. He also had 69 strikeouts while allowing just 14 hits in his 53 2/3 innings.

"He is a big guy [6-4] with fastball command. He has a really good slider," Brown said of Willems. "We had Willems ranked higher than [Kyle Drabek]. Willems is a more physical pitcher and he had better fastball command."

While the Nationals are happy with the players they selected, they were hoping shortstop Emmanuel Burris would be available in the second round, but the Giants took him with the 33rd pick in the draft.

Washington doesn't have a solid leadoff hitter in the organization. Burris, who attends Kent State and is from the D.C. area, could have solved that problem, for he has speed and patience at the plate.

"He was in our mix, but we were able to get a power arm [in Willems]. I thought there was a chance, but we knew it was a slim chance. But we need to get staring pitching in the organization."

Incoming president Stan Kasten said it was important to draft pitching, and the Nationals followed that edict by drafting 13 pitchers. Brown is really high on Black and right-hander Zechry Zinicola, who went in the sixth round.

Black went 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA and one save for Lenape (N.J.) High as a prep senior. Black throws three pitches: a fastball, curve and changeup. His fastball has touched 95 and, thus, he averaged 14 strikeouts per nine innings his senior season.

"He was still on the board with the second round. He has that type of talent that can really help your system," Brown said.

Zinicola is a closer for Arizona State. He is 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA, and has struck out 45 batters in 43 1/3 innings.

"I saw him throw 90-95 miles per hour with a really good slider. We have taken some relievers that could get there quick. He could be a fast mover. He has closer makeup," Brown said. "He is one of my favorite picks after the fifth round."

Here's a round-by-round list of Tuesday's selections:
Round 1: Chris Marrero, 3b, Monsignor Pace High School: Washington compared Marrero's bat to Marlins slugger Miguel Cabrera, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez or Brewers outfielder Carlos Lee. Washington thought Marrero would be gone when it was its turn to pick, but Marrero suffered a hamstring injury during the season and his stock dropped soon thereafter. He ended up missing two games.
Round 1: Colton Willems, RHP, John Carroll Catholic High School:
A man of few words, Willems arm says a lot more. His fastball is clocked as high as 97 mph.
Round 2: Sean Black, RHP, Lenape [NJ] High School
In a head-to-head match up with shortstop Bill Rowell (Baltimore's top selection) earlier this season, Rowell went hitless in three at-bats. Black has signed a non-binding letter of intent to attend Seton Hall University, which happens to be the alma mater of Brown's.
Round 2: Stephen Englund, RHP, Bellevue (Wash.) High School:
He batted .352 with four home runs, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases in just 54 at-bats this season for Bellevue. Englund, who is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, played shortstop during his high-school career, but was drafted by the Nationals as an outfielder. Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones are examples of players that played shortstop in the prep ranks, but enjoyed All-Star seasons and careers at other positions.
Round 3: Stephen King, SS, Winter Park (Fla.) High School:
The right-handed hitter earned All-Metro Conference honors and All-Central Florida Team honors this season after batting .355 with five home runs and 23 steals.
Round 4: Glenn Gibson, Center Moriches (N.Y.) High School
Round 5: Cory VanAllen, LHP, Baylor University
Round 6: Zechry Zinicola, RHP, Arizona State
Round 7: Samuel Brown, RHP, Millbrook (N.C.) High School
Round 8: Sean Rooney, C, Saddleback Community College
Round 9: Joey Rosas, LHP, Yavapai Community College
Round 10: Marcus Salmon, RHP, Miami Sunset High School
Round 11: Desmond Jones, RHP, Middle Georgia College
Round 12: Cole Kimball, RHP, Centenary College
Round 13: Hassan Pena, RHP, Palm Beach Community College
Round 14: Brett McMillan, 1B, UCLA
Round 15: Dustin Dickerson, 3B, Midway (Tex.) High School
Round 16: Patrick Nichols, C, Old Dominion University
Round 17: Erik Arnesen, RHP, Grove City College
Round 15: Adam Carr, RHP, Oklahoma State University

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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