- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was sitting by the phone early Tuesday morning, waiting — hoping — that it would ring and general manager Mike Rizzo would be on the other end with good news. At 12:15 a.m., the phone rang and Rizzo gave Johnson exactly what he was looking for: Washington had signed all of its top picks, including the top four for about $16.2 million.

“I was excited,” said Johnson, who was the team’s representative at the MLB draft in June. “I knew how good a draft it was, and I knew how good the last two years had been and this year had a chance to be even better than that if we signed all of them. … I congratulated him and the organization.”

The euphoria from draft-signing deadline night had yet to fade at Nationals Park by Tuesday afternoon.

But the question remained: With No. 6 overall pick, third baseman Anthony Rendon, No. 23, right-hander Alex Meyer, No. 34, outfielder Brian Goodwin and No. 93, left-hander Matt Purke locked up as Nationals, where do they go from here? The answer wasn’t immediately clear. All of the newly signed picks will report to the Nationals’ complex in Viera, Fla., in the near future. A team source said that Rendon and Purke would not be appearing in any games for an affiliate before the end of the season. Chances are good that none of the new signees will play in any organized games for an affiliate before the minor league season ends.

“They’ve only got two weeks, so there’s not much they’re going to do as far as going and playing,” Johnson said. “I’m sure some of them are going to the Arizona Fall league.”

Purke is expected to arrive in Washington this week to sign his deal and, presumably, Rendon will as well before heading to Viera to be checked out by Nationals personnel.

Rendon and Purke, who both signed major league deals, are advanced enough that they’ll be considered for the Arizona Fall League, and almost all of the new draftees will attend the team’s instructional league from mid-September to mid-October in Viera. The Nationals did something similar in 2010 when they sent Bryce Harper to the AFL after he signed moments before the midnight deadline. The Arizona Fall League has made a rule adjustment this season to allow two more Single-A players to attend, giving the Nationals leeway if they intend to send one or both of their touted picks from the 2011 draft.

There are differing schools of thought on the Aug. 15 signing deadline, with some feeling that the delayed date forces young players to miss two pivotal months of development time in the minor leagues while they hold out for bonus money. Others realize that most of these players have gone through grueling seasons, particularly in college, and the time off is relatively harmless to their development. The Nationals have examples of both cases in their clubhouse in Ryan Zimmerman, who signed shortly after he was drafted in 2005, and Danny Espinosa, who went down to the deadline in 2008.

In Espinosa’s case, he did not feel that waiting affected him developmentally — and his quick rise through the minors is evidence of that. As for Zimmerman, any money he forfeited by not holding out until the deadline he certainly has made up several times over in his five-plus seasons in the big leagues, and he got his first professional season started sooner.

As for the man stewarding the Nationals, he had his own signing story and it involved Baltimore Orioles officials camped out on his lawn one night in 1962. Johnson arrived home at 11 p.m. By 2 a.m., he was an Oriole.

“I kind of liked that the team that wanted me most was there the earliest,” Johnson said. “But I didn’t have [agent Scott] Boras. If I had Boras, it probably would have taken a little longer.”

NOTES: Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, on the disabled list with a strained right oblique, was at Nationals Park on Tuesday and did some light throwing but did not take any swings. He was meeting with medical personnel Tuesday evening but planned to throw again Wednesday and hopefully build up to swinging.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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