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Nats building from the ground up

Nats building from the ground up

WASHINGTON -- On May 4, 2006, the day Major League Baseball announced that the Lerner Group would be the new owners of the Nationals, incoming president Stan Kasten told the local media that the team's top priority was to fix the farm system.

It was no secret the system was depleted of talented players because then-Expos general manager Omar Minaya traded prospects such as outfielders Grady Sizemore and Jason Bay and pitcher Chris Young for veterans during his three years at the helm.

Almost two years later, as part of its soon-to-be-released 2008 "Prospect Handbook," Baseball America announced on Thursday that the Nationals now have the ninth-best farm system in baseball. Washington's No. 9 ranking stands in stark contrast to last season, when the Nationals' system ranked 30th in baseball. The leap of 21 slots was the second-largest since Baseball America began producing its "Prospect Handbook" in 2001.

"The Nationals' march up our prospect rankings isn't unprecedented, but it's extremely impressive," said John Manuel, who is Baseball America's top editor. "It shows a commitment to building an organization, not just a team, and to building it creatively, through trades for prospects, through the Draft and through international signings. The Nats have shown that with the resources they now have, they intend to be players for top amateur talent."

The Nationals improved their farm system significantly by drafting quality athletes during the 2007 First-Year Player Draft last June. Washington feels, in fact, that impact pitchers such as Ross Detwiler, Josh Smoker, Jordan Zimmermann and Jack McGeary, along with a power bat like Michael Burgess, will start a winning tradition in the nation's capital.

Washington was able to select Burgess, Smoker and Zimmermann because of extra draft picks it received after free agents Alfonso Soriano and Jose Guillen signed with the Cubs and Mariners, respectively.

"We came from 30th to No. 9, and it shows the amount of attention and resources that ownership has put forth to us," said assistant general manager Mike Rizzo. "To jump that fast and that far, to me, is outstanding. We are not stopping here. We plan to be No. 1, not only in publications, but on the field. We want to build this organization from the ground up. When you have leadership like the Lerners, Stan Kasten and [general manager] Jim Bowden, it filters down to every employee we have."

Amateur scouting director Dana Brown said teaming with Rizzo is another reason the Nationals had successful Draft this past year. From 2002-06, Brown was in charge of the First-Year Player Draft until Bowden hired Rizzo in July '06. Draft experts following the Nationals thought that Rizzo and Brown would have a tough time getting along, but the duo has proven otherwise.

"Rizzo and I have such a respect for each other," Brown said. "With this Draft, we were in harmony and we were consistently working together to get the best pick to build a championship team. It's a tribute to the way we work together."

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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