- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

— Neither Jim Bowden nor Stan Kasten attended the Washington Nationals‘ exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium on Saturday, absences that normally might have caused a brief stir but nothing more.

The Nationals’ general manager and team president don’t typically travel to every spring training road game. There are other baseball matters that need to be tended to from the club’s base in Viera, some two hours up Interstate 95 from this facility.

These days, though, Bowden’s physical whereabouts is news unto itself. Any lack of sighting of the embattled GM causes team personnel and media members alike to wonder whether the move that this entire camp has expected for days - Bowden’s firing - has come to pass.

That regime change didn’t take place Saturday. Bowden and Kasten stayed back instead as a “B” squad of Nationals hosted the Italian World Baseball Classic team in another exhibition.

Club sources still believe the move could come in the next day or two, perhaps Monday on the Nationals’ day off.

Unlike his bosses, assistant GM Mike Rizzo made the trip to Jupiter. He stood alongside Bob Boone at the batting cage during pregame workouts and watched the game with his fellow assistant GM from a few rows behind the plate.

The subject of much praise and attention in the last week, Rizzo’s public profile has been raised.

“I don’t want to comment on my profile,” he said. “I’m part of the Washington Nationals organization. We sink and swim together. I’m happy where I am in my career. At this time, I think we have to be about ‘we’ instead of ‘me.’ ”

Rizzo is happy to talk about the collective work he and others in the front office have performed in the 2 1/2 years since he joined the organization after a six-year stint as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ scouting director.

Rizzo’s background in player development earned him his job, and he speaks optimistically about Washington’s farm system even as it has endured criticism. A year ago, Baseball America deemed the Nationals’ system the 10th-best in the game, but that ranking is expected to fall into the bottom third this year. A recent ranking of the top 100 prospects in baseball included only one player from the organization: pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (rated No. 41).

Despite the Nationals’ dip in Baseball America’s standing, Rizzo doesn’t think the system has taken a step back.

“Beyond what the public perception of [the ranking] means, it meant absolutely nothing to me,” he said. “I know exactly what we have. If you tell me Chris Marrero is not one of the top 100 minor league prospects in baseball, we could have a very spirited discussion on that. And that goes with several of our players in the system.

“I know what baseball people are telling me, people that evaluate for their own organizations. Based on what people ask for in trades and stuff like that, we’re certainly in the upper third of what baseball people think baseball players are.”

When he remains in his position or gets promoted to GM as many expect, Rizzo will play a key role in Washington’s draft preparations this spring. Owners of both the first and 10th overall picks in the country, the Nationals have a rare opportunity to draft two players who could have a major impact on the club’s long-term fortunes.

“It’s a watershed moment, and I’m not trying to overdramatize it,” he said. “Anytime you’ve got the first pick in the draft overall, it’s a monumental decision to make in your organization’s history. … It’s going to be a vital draft for us, and working up to the draft is going to tell a big part of the story of how we do in the near future.”

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