- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

The Washington Nationals completed the three-day MLB draft Thursday with a run of pitchers, four of them from Texas high schools and some of them highly unlikely to sign with the team. But scouting director Dana Brown said if the Nationals have an extra two months to evaluate the players before deciding whether to offer them contracts or let them continue with their college plans, the picks could pay dividends.

It’s not a new strategy for the Nationals. But in a year when the team loaded the top of its draft with college players, it could result in a couple of late-round surprises.

“A lot of times, high school players are so tough to sign,” Brown said. “Later on, like in the teen rounds, high school players were decent, but they were going to be tough signs.”

Brown said J.P. Ramirez, an 11th-round pick last year, fit into the “summer follow” category. The Nationals gave Ramirez a $1 million bonus at the Aug. 15 signing deadline to keep him from going to Tulane.

Brown offered the requisite stamp of approval to the just-completed draft, but this season there’s extra reason for the Nationals to be happy: In their two first-round picks (Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen), as well as second-rounder Jeff Kobernus and third-rounder Trevor Holder, the Nationals got four college players who they feel can move to the majors quickly.

In Storen’s case, the rise could be even more rapid because he already has signed a contract that will put him at Class A Hagerstown by this weekend.

“Of course Strasburg [can move quickly] because he’s got power. Storen has a chance to move fast through the system; his stuff is better than [former Nationals closer Chad] Cordero,” Brown said. “Kobernus, he’s playing in a really good league [with California in the Pac-10]. And Holder was a guy that we loved last year. Right before the draft, he had a minor [shoulder] injury. We felt very fortunate to get him.”

One-day position swap

A day after plugging Josh Willingham in as the right fielder, the Nationals had him back in left Thursday afternoon, moving Adam Dunn to first base and resting Nick Johnson. Austin Kearns was in right field.

Willingham dropped a fly ball in his first career start in right Wednesday night, but manager Manny Acta said he was happy with Willingham’s play there overall.

“I thought he did well,” Acta said. “He had some good at-bats. He read the ball good in the outfield. He dropped one, but it wasn’t like he misplayed it. It takes a lot of character and courage for a guy like him to make the decision to take a few days and be out there game time and get it done.”

It’s unlikely Willingham will see much time in right on the Nationals’ upcoming road trip: They likely will use Adam Dunn as a designated hitter, start Willingham in left and play Kearns in right in six interleague games against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees.

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