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Callis said Marrero could be ready for the majors by the end of 2010 and Burgess by early 2011, since each player has only played one full professional season.

The lag time with Detwiler is more puzzling, since he came to the Nationals out of college and made his big league debut at the end of the 2007 season.

Assistant general manager Mike Rizzo said Potomac pitching coach Randy Tomlin spent most of the season working with Detwiler on not throwing across his body, the “kind of small tweaks” that could expedite Detwiler’s path to the majors.

“I’ve talked to four or five major league scouts that have come up to me and said he’s one of a handful of left-handed pitchers in all of baseball with the stuff he possesses,” Rizzo said. “He’s recognized among baseball as one of the elite prospects.”

Callis isn’t as sure that Detwiler, or any of the Nationals’ pitching prospects, can be an ace.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Zimmermann ends up being the best,” Callis said. “It’s a good group. I like those guys, but don’t think there’s necessarily a No. 1 starter in that bunch, where people are saying, ‘Washington, you’re not going to be able to touch them.’”

Hope still plentiful

Taken as a whole, however, the state of the team’s system still has Rizzo and Boone excited.

They talk about how Washington will have a prospect at shortstop at every level of the minors next season, from Gonzalez to Ian Desmond at Class AAA Syracuse to Dominican talent Esmailyn Gonzalez at Hagerstown.

They said the same is true at catcher and center fielder, and the lessons absorbed by their teenage hitters should take effect soon.

“[Fans] can’t feel what I feel,” Boone said. “When I come [to the ballpark], I’m excited. Yeah, I’m frustrated with the kind of year we had, but I’m really excited with what I know is going to happen.”

Rizzo, who receives credit around baseball for building the 2007 NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks, has said this rebuilding project might be ahead of that one.

To him, it’s a matter of having enough patience to wait for it to pay off.

“There are eight or 10 players that are coveted by many major league teams in our minor leagues,” Rizzo said. “[General manager] Jim [Bowden] fields calls all the time on trade proposals, and all he tells them is, ‘We’re just trying to follow the plan.’”