- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

That the Washington Nationals selected University of Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman with the fourth pick in yesterday’s amateur draft was no surprise.

That they had Zimmerman signed minutes later was.

Neither the Nationals nor Zimmerman wanted a protracted contract dispute. So the two sides wasted no time settling on a $2.975 million signing bonus and announcing the 20-year-old from Virginia Beach will begin his professional career at Class AA Harrisburg.

“I didn’t want to be one of those guys that sits out the whole summer,” said Zimmerman, who will be introduced to the crowd at RFK Stadium before tonight’s game against the Oakland Athletics. “It wouldn’t be smart for me to sit out and try to get more money. That’s really not the kind of player I am.”

Which is why Washington couldn’t wait to draft him.

The Nationals had been scouting Zimmerman actively since last summer, when he led Team USA with a .468 average, four homers and 27 RBI. The courtship continued over the winter, when scouting director Dana Brown met him and his family. By the time special assistant Bob Boone saw him hit .393 with six homers, 59 RBI and a .581 slugging percentage in 61 games at Virginia this year, the Nationals were convinced he was their man.

“This decision was almost unanimous from everyone in the organization,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “This was one of the easiest first-round picks I’ve ever been a part of.”

Though he’s projected as a .300 major league hitter with 20 to 30 home run potential, Zimmerman ultimately might become better known for his play in the field. He already has drawn comparisons to the likes of Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen.

“This guy’s right there with them,” Boone said. “He’s very impressive.”

The Nationals had Zimmerman rated third overall on their draft board, behind Chesapeake, Va., shortstop Justin Upton and University of Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon. As expected, those were the first two players drafted yesterday, with Upton going No. 1 to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Gordon going No. 2 to the Kansas City Royals.

The Seattle Mariners threw a curveball of sorts with the No. 3 pick, selecting Southern Cal catcher Jeffrey Clement. That left Long Beach State third baseman Troy Tulowitzki there for Washington’s taking, but Bowden said his club had Zimmerman ranked much higher all along.

Tulowitzki wound up going seventh to the Colorado Rockies. The Baltimore Orioles selected catcher Brandon Snyder of Chantilly’s Westfield High School.

None of the aforementioned players figures to start his career at such a high level as Zimmerman, but the Nationals believe he’s ready for the challenge. They haven’t determined exactly when Zimmerman will report to Harrisburg, but it figures to be in a matter of weeks. He also will play in the Arizona Fall League, then get a chance to compete at the major league camp next spring.

If all goes according to plan, Zimmerman could make his major league debut as soon as next year and almost certainly by 2007, when third baseman Vinny Castilla’s contract expires.

“This is a player that’s going to be on the fast track to the major leagues,” Bowden said.

The Nationals had some time to rejoice over Zimmerman’s selection because they didn’t pick again until the fourth round. (They lost their second- and third-round picks after signing free agents Castilla and Cristian Guzman.)

Once they got back to work, the Nationals acquired another player with local ties: University of Maryland outfielder Justin Maxwell, selected in the fourth round. They added Texas high school outfielder Ryan Delaughter in the fifth round and Long Beach State right-hander Marco Estrada in the sixth round.

By day’s end, Washington had drafted 16 players in 18 rounds, eight position players and eight pitchers. The rest of the draft will be completed today.

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