Mailbag: Predicting prospects' potential

Mailbag: Which young star will shine?

The Nationals made a lot of moves this offseason and fans want to know if Washington will be better in 2008. Here are some answers to their questions.

Looking ahead, who would you rate as a can't-miss prospect in the Nationals organization?
-- Jon A., Springfield, Va.

I would have to say that Chris Marrero is a can't-miss prospect. He has a beautiful swing. The first time I saw Marrero play was during the accelerated camp games, where Marrero hit a mammoth home run. I immediately called general manager Jim Bowden to tell him what I saw, not realizing that Bowden was at the game. Bowden and I spent the next 10 minutes talking about Marrero, who most likely will be a first baseman.

The team also brags about outfielder Michael Burgess, but I have to see him in action for myself in order to make a judgment call.

What's your take on outfielder Austin Kearns? Give me a reason to root for this guy.
-- Billy B., Woodbridge, Va.

I'm going to give you more than one reason to root for him. What I like most about Kearns is that he doesn't come up with lame excuses when he is in a hitting slump or having a bad year. That goes a long way with me. Kearns plays hard and is an excellent right fielder.

There is no question that he must produce with the bat this year. I would like to see him hit 35 home runs and drive in 110 runs. I've been told many times by members of the Nats' front office that Kearns is the club's second-best player behind Ryan Zimmerman. Now it's time for Kearns to put up Zimmerman-type stats. I hope the second half of the 2007 season was an indication of what Kearns is capable of, as he hit .285 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate the Nats' offseason acquisitions in terms of effectiveness in meeting their specific needs?
-- Aidan E., Bethesda, Md.

I would give the team a nine. They addressed their needs on offense and I applaud them for not giving silly contracts to veteran pitchers who are on the free-agent market. I would like to see them take their chances on the Shawn Hills and John Pattersons of the world. I also believe the Nationals are a much more athletic team than they were in the past.

Are the Nationals in pursuit of a top-notch starter to sign? Why wouldn't Johan Santana work best for the Nationals?
-- Tom T., Virginia Beach, Va.

Have a question about the Nationals?
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The Nationals would love to have a pitcher like Santana, but that would mean they would have to give up a lot of prospects, and that doesn't make sense at this point. The Nationals are still trying to build farm system. They are far from done.

Do you think Tim Raines or Andre Dawson would be honored on the Washington "Ring of Fame?" Thanks for upholding the Expos heritage.
-- Brent A., League City, Texas

Probably not. The Nationals have been honoring the Washington greats such as Frank Howard, Josh Gibson and Walter Johnson. But you will continue to read about the Expos on Nationals.com, when it's appropriate.

What are the options for reliever Saul Rivera other than coming in during the fourth inning every time. I think the guy has great stuff to be a closer one day.
-- Raul R., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Rivera is another workhorse and he is not a long reliever. He comes in during the sixth or seventh innings. Plus, he picked up three saves in 2007. I expect him to be one of the setup guys this year. As far as Rivera being a closer, I don't know. I think he is best suited as a setup man.

Which Nationals prospect do you think will help the team most in 2008?
-- Susan B., Great Falls, Va.

That is a tough question. I no longer consider John Lannan a prospect because he has big league experience. I would like to see what Garrett Mock can do during Spring Training. The Nationals have high hopes for him.

Will the Mitchell Report cause any distractions for Paul Lo Duca and the rest of his teammates?
-- Philip G., Brandywine, Md.

That's a good question. Knowing Bowden, Zimmerman, manager Manny Acta and first baseman Dmitri Young, the team will not be distracted because Lo Duca's name is in the Mitchell Report. There's too much at stake this year. The team expects to win this season.

I can understand why the Nats would have nothing to lose by going to arbitration with Felipe Lopez, but why does Washington think it can win against Jon Rauch? Why subject him to hearing anything negative in front of the arbitrator? Rauch has done everything the Nats have asked and more. They should do anything to keep him happy.
-- Joe T., Silver Spring, Md.

There is no question that Rauch has done a good job for the Nationals the past two years. Keep in mind that Washington could sign him before the two sides reach the arbitration table.

Coming from Virginia, I want to take the Metro Orange Line to the Capital South Station and walk to the new stadium. Has the District taken steps to improve the safety and security of that 15-minute walk? Do you expect a significant number of walkers to make that trek (i.e. safety in numbers)?
-- Richard C., Vienna, Va.

I sent this question to team president Stan Kasten and here is what he said: "Yes, the District has made plans to make the entire area around the Nationals Park cleaner and safer, including the neighborhood between the Capitol South station and the ballpark. We're sure some fans will use that Metro station but we won't know how many until our fans have an opportunity to do a little experimentation."

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