- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate a baseball issue. This week: Which team has a chance to contend sooner, the Nationals or Orioles?

MARK ZUCKERMAN: A year ago I would have said the Nationals were absolutely in better long-term shape than the Orioles, who had no hope. But the moves Andy MacPhail has made since taking over have been quite dramatic and have completely reshaped the organization’s fortunes. The Nationals have done a commendable job of restocking their farm system, especially with pitchers, but most of their top-tier talent remains at the lower levels of the minors and is several years from making it. The Orioles, meanwhile, already have Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Luke Scott and Garrett Olson on their major league roster.

BEN GOESSLING: The Orioles have done a good job getting things turned around. But can we legitimately say either team is close enough that a few more pieces on the major league club are worth a huge difference? When one of these two teams makes the playoffs, it will likely be with a full complement of young players, and I think the Nationals have a better chance of seeing a large group of prospects pan out at the same time. They have the 10th-best farm system in the game, according to Baseball America, and while their prospects (particularly in the middle infield) aren’t close, they could make an impact by 2010 - which is probably as soon as we could expect either of these teams to contend.

MZ: I agree that neither team is about to win its respective division soon. The problem facing the Nationals, though, is that there’s no way all of those top prospects are going to pan out. It’s more likely that only one, two or perhaps three of them will become impact players in the big leagues. So they need some building blocks already on the big league roster. Who does Washington really have right now? Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores, John Lannan, maybe Lastings Milledge. This club may indeed reach the promised land someday, but to me that day remains well off in the distance.

BG: There are certainly going to be some misses in the Nationals’ farm system, but the more prospects you have, the better chance a few are going to pan out. Assistant GM Mike Rizzo was the architect behind Arizona’s successful youth movement, and he has proved himself to be one of the game’s top talent evaluators, which is another good sign for the Nationals. But the Orioles have more pieces in place now. Jones, Sherrill, Scott, Olson and Nick Markakis are all legitimate building blocks, and some of their young arms could be, too.

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