- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

Not only is John Lannan rocketing through the Washington Nationals’ farm system, he might be pitching better for Class AAA Columbus than he was for Class AA Harrisburg.

Lannan has been the organization’s breakout star this summer, earning a pair of promotions after beginning the season at Class A Potomac. He dominated the Carolina League, going 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in eight starts.

He also pitched well in six appearances with the Senators (3-2 with a 3.25 ERA), but Lannan hasn’t allowed an earned run in two of his four starts for the Clippers and boasts a 1.57 ERA in 23 innings.

“It has been a journey to say the least,” Lannan said. “In the back of your mind you are always trying to move up, but in the spring I really didn’t expect this. I’ve just been working hard and pitching the way I can pitch, and it’s gotten me here.”

The 22-year old left-hander has catapulted himself from a fringe prospect to the front-runner for organizational pitcher of the year honors and a future building block for the big league club.

He pitched at Siena after being lightly recruited out of a New York high school and was an 11th-round pick in 2005. Last season he went 6-8 with a 4.76 ERA in 138 innings with low Class A Savannah. That was just good enough to fit him into Washington’s top 20 prospects according to Baseball America. It is safe to say he will be higher on the list next year.

“He has terrific makeup. He commands the fastball,” assistant general manager Bob Boone said. “He has a nice breaking ball and change-up that are improving. The biggest thing with him is his mechanics and being able to repeat that. He just keeps pushing.”

One point of emphasis for Lannan when he made the jump to Harrisburg was the breaking ball. His curve has lagged behind the two-seam fastball he runs into the low 90s and the change-up that plays off it. While with the Senators, Lannan focused on throwing more curveballs in games, and he’s throwing his change-up more again in Columbus.

It certainly has been a whirlwind summer for Lannan. But what about the possibility of one more promotion before this season ends?

“I really don’t want to try and think about it because that stuff can kind of go to your head and take you away from what is really important,” Lannan said. “What is really important is trying to throw strikes and get the team you are on wins.”

Balester joins Clippers

While Lannan has developed into one of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects this season, the organization’s top-rated prospect has joined him in Columbus. Collin Balester was promoted from Class AA Harrisburg during the All-Star break and likely will make his first Class AAA start Sunday against Richmond.

Balester, a 21-year-old right-hander, was 2-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 982/3 innings for the Senators. He struck out 77 and walked 25. With 24-year old Matt Chico starting to achieve success at the major league level and the duo of Balester and Lannan one level away, Nationals officials and fans can start to dream a little about the future of the starting rotation in the District.

“We hope so. We are fast-tracking them a little bit,” Boone said. “I get a little nervous, but we are pushing them pretty good, and they keep responding. A big part of their game is they have command of their pitches and themselves on the mound.

“We think we see it, but you never know until guys get there. It is a different animal when guys take the last step. It will happen when it happens. Of course everyone wants to have it happen sooner rather than later, but we are obviously very pleased with the strides both Collin and John have made.”

Another pitcher who could join them in the District someday, 2007 first-round pick Ross Detwiler, will begin his path to the majors next week. Detwiler, a left-hander who was the sixth overall pick last month and whose contract included a $2.15 million signing bonus, will make his first professional start Thursday for the Gulf Coast League Nationals.

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