- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

PITTSBURGH — While Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is succeeding in the major leagues, two players with whom he will be linked represented their organizations in yesterday’s Futures Game at PNC Park.

When Kansas City selected Nebraska’s Alex Gordon with the second pick in 2005, the Royals started an unprecedented run on college third basemen in that draft. Washington selected Virginia’s Zimmerman with the fourth pick overall, and Milwaukee followed by taking Miami’s Ryan Braun at No. 5.

“It’s awesome to be a part of that group and trying to live up to those expectations,” Gordon said. “It is good to see one of us up there already hitting walk-offs — especially against the Yankees. I am glad he is doing well, and hopefully we’ll join him soon.”

Gordon likely will join Zimmerman sooner rather than later.

He is hitting .301 with 11 home runs and 24 doubles at Class AA Wichita. While the Royals are struggling through another losing season, Gordon is the leader of a group of elite hitting prospects that could rejuvenate the organization. He went 2-for-3 yesterday with an RBI double in the fourth inning.

The U.S. team won 8-5 on the strength of home runs from former Virginia star and current Rockies prospect Joe Koshansky and Gordon’s teammate Billy Butler, who also singled and garnered MVP honors. Nationals representative Salomon Manriquez caught the final three innings for the World team and walked in his only plate appearance.

Considered to be the best pure hitter available in last year’s draft, Gordon has done nothing to dispel those notions. He put on quite a batting practice display at PNC yesterday, launching home runs to all fields. One prodigious blast cleared not only the right field seats but also the support towers behind them and surely landed in the Allegheny River — a feat the big league sluggers will hope to duplicate tonight in the Home Run Derby.

“Yeah I saw it, but wait until [David] Oritz gets up there,” Gordon said.

Braun might need more time in the minor leagues, but he is certainly the Brewers’ future at third base. He hit .274 with seven home runs in 59 games in Class A and already has three homers during a brief stint at Class AA Huntsville. Braun entered the game for Gordon in the sixth inning and struck out against Orioles prospect Radhames Liz.

The strong group of American born third basemen here (Josh Fields is considered one of the White Sox’s top prospects) kept the Nationals’ Kory Casto from being selected, even though he has been the organization’s most productive prospect in the first half of the season.

When Baseball America named its top 100 prospects at the beginning of the season, five of the top 19 (Gordon, Zimmerman, Fields, Cleveland’s Andy Marte and Colorado’s Ian Stewart) were third basemen, and Braun checked in at No. 49.

“That’s why I am not in the lineup,” said Fields, who was the U.S. squad’s designated hitter. “I think third base is a position that more and more people will focus on soon. I think A-Rod moving to third has brought a lot of attention to the position, and maybe some of these young guys can be the next A-Rods.”

An extra homecoming

Both of the hometown Pirates prospects in the game, catcher Neil Walker and pitcher Josh Sharpless, are from the Pittsburgh area. Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold also grew up in the area — in Greenville, Pa., about 90 minutes north of the city.

After starring at Kennedy Catholic High School, Reimold went to Bowling Green before the Orioles selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft.

“I have a lot of friends and family coming,” Reimold said. “I got 20 tickets for them, but I know there are other people just driving down.”

Reimold is hitting .258 with 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases at Class A Frederick. With Nick Markakis already with the Orioles, he is the organization’s top position prospect still in the minors.

Reimold said before the game that he told his Keys teammate Liz to walk him if they squared off. The meeting happened in the sixth inning, and Reimold flied out to left field one pitch after missing a fastball clocked at 96 mph.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page.

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