Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Washington general manager Jim Bowden yesterday stayed true to incoming president Stan Kasten’s plan for building a team, as the Nationals selected two 17-year-olds with team’s two first-round picks and six high school players with the club’s first six picks in the draft.

With the 15th overall pick, the Nationals drafted third baseman Chris Marrero of Miami’s Monsignor Pace High School. Seven picks later, the Nationals chose right-handed pitcher Colton Willems of John Carroll Catholic High School in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“The five guys that we took, all at some point in the last 12 months, were first-round projected players,” Bowden said. “High school guys have a tremendous ceiling. College players when you draft them are pretty close to what they are going to be, sometimes they get a little better. High school players have a chance to get a lot better. That was Branch Rickey’s theory a long, long time ago and it’s the way it’s been.”

Marrero, who was rated by Baseball America as the second-best high school prospect going into the season, hit .410 with 11 home runs, 33 RBI and 23 runs and received first-team All-Florida 4A-1A honors. With rookie Ryan Zimmerman expected to be the Nationals starting third baseman for at least the next decade, the club plans to convert Marrero to a corner outfielder.

“My brother [Christian] is a good outfielder. He’s signed with the White Sox now, and he can teach me some stuff I’ve got to learn about outfield,” said Marrero, who has signed a letter-of-intent to play at Miami. “I think it will be fun playing the outfield.”

In the second round, the Nationals chose right-hander Sean Black (59th pick) of Lenape High School in Medford, N.J., and outfielder Stephen Englund, who turned 18 yesterday, with the 70th overall pick.

Marrero, Englund and seven other high school players worked out for the Nationals on May 27 at RFK Stadium after Washington’s 3-1 win over the Dodgers.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson said of Marrero: “The ball jumped off his bat.”

“He impressed me on every swing he took,” Robinson said. “He made real good solid contact. I know it’s batting practice. But the other kids … it took them a while to adjust. This kid walked in the first pitch and made solid contact. He hit the ball all over the ballpark. This kid, in that environment, stood out head and shoulders above everybody else.”

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Willems was 7-1 with an 0.68 ERA in 511/3 innings last season. He had 99 strikeouts and just eight walks. Willems gave up just 19 hits all season and held opponents to a .103 batting average.

“His fastball goes from 93 to 97 miles per hour,” Nationals scouting director Dana Brown said. “Really good fastball command with an above average slider.”

Willems has signed to play at Florida, but like Marrero, is eager to start his professional career. Both likely will begin their careers with the Nationals affiliate in the Gulf Coast rookie league.

Bowden doesn’t think signing either Marrero or Willems will be a problem now that the Lerner family owns the Nationals.

“I had an idea that I was about to get drafted by them because at the end they were real interested,” Willems said. “They came over to my house last night for like two hours and talked to me. I want to play pro ball, but if anything, I’ll play pro ball and take classes online probably.”

The Nationals drafted shortstop Stephen King in the third round and Glenn Gibson, son of former big leaguer Paul Gibson, in the fourth. In the fifth, they selected their first college player of the draft — left-hander pitcher Cory Van Allen from Baylor.

Eight of the Nationals’ first 12 picks were pitchers, and Bowden said that was by design.

“We had two goals in mind in this draft, number one, starting pitching, to have a tremendous upside with chance to be number one or two starters in the big leagues, and impact bats in the middle of the lineup that can hit 30 [home runs] and drive in 100 [runs],” he said. “We feel that our first five picks that each player fits in one of those two categories.”

In the later rounds, the Nationals chose UCLA first baseman Brett McMillan (No. 421 overall); third baseman Dustin Dickerson (No. 451) from Midway (Texas) High School; Old Dominion catcher Patrick Nichols (No. 481); right-hander Erik Arnesen (No. 511) of Grove City College, and Oklahoma State right-hander Adam Carr (No. 541).

• Staff writer Mark Zuckerman contributed to this article.

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