- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

The Washington Nationals yesterday signed 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez, one of the top prospects in Latin America, to a contract that includes a $1.4 million signing bonus.

The Nationals outbid the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins for Gonzalez, who later this week will report to one of the club’s affiliates in the Dominican Summer League.

“We need all the talent we can get, and by all accounts this is an incredible talent,” Nationals president Stan Kasten said. “But even bigger is the announcement we’ve made today, not just to our fans, not just to the rest of baseball, but to the people of the Dominican who develop these players. The Washington Nationals are now big-time players. We will compete with any team any time for any player.”

The switch-hitting Gonzalez has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal.

Jose Rijo, one of general manager Jim Bowden’s special assistants, discovered him two years ago in the Dominican Republic when he was 14 and attending Rijo’s baseball academy.

Last year, Rijo called Bowden and asked him to send scouting director Dana Brown and assistant general manager and director of player personnel Bob Boone to the Dominican Republic to see Gonzalez.

“[Brown and Boone’s] assessments were the same: definite first-round talent, definite potential star in the big leagues, incredible shortstop,” Bowden said.

Yesterday was the first day teams were allowed to sign international players who will turn 17 before September. At midnight yesterday, Gonzalez and his representatives worked out a deal with Brown, Rijo, Bowden, Kasten and owner Mark Lerner. By 2 a.m., Gonzalez was with the Nationals.

“I love you, Washington, D.C.,” Gonzalez said.

Said Bowden: “It’s not very often that you can go and compete for the very best talent in the world. His glove is spectacular. He does the Ozzie Smith flips. He can do a standing flip backwards. Everything you can imagine Ozzie doing with a glove he does, and yet he can hit from both sides of the plate. Electric. Line drives, shots. It’s a special talent.”

Short takes

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Wednesday and may start against Florida Marlins rookie right-hander Anibal Sanchez that night at RFK Stadium. Rookie left-hander Mike O’Connor is scheduled to start for the Nationals on Wednesday. Armas (6-4, 4.44 ERA in 15 starts) threw in a bullpen session yesterday. …

The rehab assignment of injured outfielder Alex Escobar is scheduled to end Wednesday, and he could be activated later this week.

• Staff writer Mark Zuckerman contributed to this article.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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