- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

When Brian Schneider walked into the Class A Potomac clubhouse to begin his rehab assignment earlier this week, he saw a couple of familiar faces.

One sat in the manager’s office. He and Randy Knorr were teammates with Montreal in 2001. Another former teammate, Tony Blanco, is with the team in Woodbridge, Va., working to hopefully be reunited with Schneider and the Nationals in the future.

Blanco was a Rule 5 selection from the Cincinnati Reds in December of 2004. For the Nationals to keep him, he had to stick on the 25-man roster for the entire season. So Blanco, then a 23-year-old with only 220 at-bats above Class A, earned a spot with the club during spring training (he would have been offered back to the Reds for half of the $50,000 Rule 5 price if he didn’t make it) and spent 2005 with Washington.

“Those guys treat me the best, man. No complaints,” Blanco said shortly after Schneider came over to tease him during an interview. “They told me I was the lucky rookie in the big leagues last year. I would [mess] around with them and they would say ‘You are the lucky rookie. Are you going to tie my tie or what?’ Stuff like that.”

It was the second time Washington general manager Jim Bowden acquired the Dominican Republic native. Blanco signed with the Red Sox at age 16 and became the Red Sox’s top position prospect, according to Baseball America, by 2002. He went to Bowden and the Reds after the 2002 season as a player to be named for Todd Walker.

“When I heard [about the Rule 5 selection], I was real happy. I was jumping in my house. Jim Bowden had traded for me from Boston and then he picked me in the Rule 5. I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got to go to work hard now.’”

Blanco spent the 2005 season as a reserve for the Nationals. He was 11-for-44 with a home run (a three-run shot in Toronto) and seven RBI before going on the disabled list in July after a bout with vertigo that stemmed from a sinus infection.

He went on a lengthy rehab assignment with Class AAA New Orleans and hit .281 with a pair of homers in 16 games before returning to the Nationals in August and struggling in the season’s final two months. He was 0-for-18 after being activated from the disabled list.

Blanco’s best asset is his raw power. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Blanco has a muscular frame he said was sculpted naturally.

“This year they want me to go to the gym more,” Blanco said. “The year before and this year I have been working a lot at the gym. But I’m not really famous in the gym with like, the bench press. [My strength] is just natural, man.”

In 2004 Blanco had a breakout season in the minors and translated some of the power into production. He slugged 29 home runs while splitting the year between Potomac (then the Cannons and part of the Reds organization) and Class AA Chattanooga.

Blanco had shoulder surgery in January that prevented him from doing much during spring training. He is allowed to be a designated hitter, but has yet to start throwing in order to play in the field, where he is expected to be an outfielder.

He hit .290 with two home runs in two weeks with Class AA Harrisburg at the start of the season, but teams in the Eastern League only deploy a DH when an American League-affiliated team is involved. So the organization moved Blanco to Potomac and he can DH every day (or at least when a guy like Schneider isn’t around to rehab). Back in the Carolina League, he is hitting .246 with three homers and nine RBI in 69 at-bats.

Once Blanco is healthy enough, he probably will return to Harrisburg. He lost some development time while sitting on the bench in Washington last season, but there aren’t many players in the system that can hit with his type of power.

“Things are starting to go pretty good,” Blanco said. “I’m starting to find myself at home plate. My shoulder is feeling great, and I think pretty soon I’ll be able to play in the field.”


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