- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When the Washington Nationals announced their organizational player and pitcher of the year Tuesday, they honored two players whose paths crisscrossed throughout the season but whose trajectories to this point couldn’t have differed more.

One of them, outfielder Leonard Davis, had toiled in the lower minor leagues for four seasons, struggling to get used to something as basic to the major leagues as swinging a wooden bat. The other, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, started a level higher in the system than he expected and advanced quickly enough to make his presence in the major league rotation a decent possibility next year.

But however they got there, both players appear a lot closer to the majors than they had been.

Davis and Zimmermann, named the Nationals’ player and pitcher of the year, weren’t on the short list of the club’s top prospects at the beginning of the season. But each has arrived there now - Davis by hitting .310 with 25 homers and 76 RBI across three levels and Zimmermann by going 10-3 with a 2.89 ERA for Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg.

For Davis, the honor comes after two position changes that moved him from second base to third and then to the outfield. He hit .300 for Class A Vermont in 2005 but could never muster consecutive strong seasons. He said the adjustment from aluminum bats in college to wooden bats in professional ball gave him trouble.

“Aluminum bats, you can get away with a lot of things,” Davis said. “Like the pitch inside, you can get jammed and get the jam shots over. But with wood, on that same pitch, the bat would break. My hands had to be a lot quicker.”

Zimmermann, the Nationals’ second-round pick in 2007, had a 2.38 ERA at Vermont last year and much to his surprise skipped Class A Hagerstown and started the year at Potomac.

He became the talk of Washington’s organization with his start at Potomac (3-1 and a 1.65 ERA), developing a change-up to go with his fastball, slider and curveball and winning seven games once he was promoted to Harrisburg.

The former Wisconsin-Stevens Point pitcher didn’t reach the majors this September after developing biceps tendinitis, but general manager Jim Bowden hinted that Zimmermann stands a good chance to make the Nationals’ rotation next spring.

“It’d be nice,” Zimmermann said. “It’d be quite the feat, I guess, for someone that got there that fast. I’ve just got to keep working hard this offseason, come to spring training ready and see what happens.”

The Nationals also selected players and pitchers of the year for each of their affiliates: Outfielder Roger Bernadina and left-hander Mike O’Connor won the awards at Class AAA Columbus, while catcher Luke Montz and Zimmermann were the selections at Harrisburg.

Davis and right-hander Adrian Alaniz won at Potomac, outfielder Michael Burgess and right-hander Colton Willems won at Class A Hagerstown, catcher Derek Norris and right-hander P.J. Dean won at Class A Vermont and shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez and right-hander Jack McGeary won for the rookie Gulf Coast League Nationals.

Guzman scratched

Shortstop Cristian Guzman was scratched from the Nationals’ lineup Tuesday after he came to the ballpark with the flu, manager Manny Acta said.

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