- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

The pipeline between major league general managers, scouting directors and other front-office officials rarely is as active as it is in the final days leading up to the June draft.

By the time draft day comes around, teams usually have a good idea how the first 10 to 15 picks are going to shape up, which means GMs usually know whom they are going to select themselves.

The 2008 draft class, though, appears to be an anomaly. The consensus around the sport heading into today’s event is only that there is no consensus.

There is a strong belief around the sport that the top two picks (owned by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates) will be Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham and Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, respectively.

For the remaining clubs in the top 10 - like the Washington Nationals, who pick ninth - there is much uncertainty.

“Besides the first two players, there’s a group of eight after that that’s extremely talented,” Washington GM Jim Bowden said. “We’re going to get one, and unfortunately the eight teams in front of us are going to help make the decision for us. But at the end of the day, we’re still going to have to make a tough choice.”

The second-tier of players waiting to be drafted behind Beckham and Alvarez are a diverse bunch. There are high school position players Eric Hosmer (first baseman from Plantation, Fla.) and Kyle Skipworth (catcher from Riverside, Calif.). There are several college hitters: Florida State catcher Buster Posey, Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso, Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham (no relation to Tim) and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.

There is less pitching depth this year, though there are a handful of top prospects who could be in the Nationals’ sights: Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow, San Diego left-hander Brian Matusz and Tulane right-hander Shooter Hunt.

Having loaded up last year on pitching talent - Ross Detwiler, Josh Smoker, Jordan Zimmermann and Jack McGeary are all among the organization’s top-ranked prospects - common sense says the Nationals would look to stockpile offense this time.

But Bowden cautions against that line of thinking.

“We [take the] best player,” he said. “We’ve done it since I got here. Best player on the board. High school, college, junior college, it doesn’t matter.”

There is considerable pressure on the organization to get its top pick right because unlike a year ago - when the club owned five of the draft’s first 70 picks - there are no compensatory picks this time, only one selection a round.

The Nationals, though, are making a point to emphasize later rounds just as much as the first round. To that end, assistant GM Mike Rizzo and scouting director Dana Brown have spent the last three months crisscrossing the nation, trying to get good looks at as many players as they can to make informed decisions in the second, third and fourth rounds and beyond.

“The first round’s one thing. It’s the later picks that make your living,” Bowden said. “It’s being able to draft throughout the draft. It’s not the first pick. The first pick will get all the PR. But it’s when the [John] Lannans make it and the [Stephen] Kings make it and the [Jordan] Zimmermanns make it and the [Michael] Burgesses make it, that’s when you have a strong staff.”



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