Friday, June 8, 2007

So the Nationals didn’t take my recommendation and take a position player with the sixth selection in yesterday’s baseball draft, but only because the two position players they had targeted that high — Mike Moustakas and Josh Vitters — were already taken.

Sometimes, though, things have a way of working out, and the Nationals’ selection of left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler in the sixth slot was absolutely inspiring.

The only thing better would have been if his name was John instead of Ross. Then we could have heard this every time he took the mound years from now at the new ballpark: “Go Johnny, go, go. Johnny B. Goode.”

Why? Because Ross Detwiler today is the second most famous person to come out of Wentzville, Mo.

The first? Chuck Berry. Yes, the father of rock ‘n’ roll.

Maybe they could just play the Wentzville song for Detwiler. Yes, this small railroad town of about 18,000 people had a song written about it by George Thorogood — a tribute, of course, to Chuck Berry called “Back to Wentzville.”

I’m goin’ back to Wentzville/

Have myself a really good time/

Back to Wentzville/

Leave these Memphis blues behind.

Can he pitch? Today he can. They all can hit 50 home runs and strike out 20 guys on draft day. Who knows whether he will be able to pitch two or three years from now. But the Chuck Berry connection is cosmic. How can he fail, baby?

If that isn’t enough karma, how about this connection — the mascot at Detwiler’s high school in Wentzville is an Indian. Hail Hail Rock and Roll and Hail Victory.

You can’t get this kind of scouting report in Baseball America.

But for those heathens who couldn’t care less about Chuck Berry, Detwiler is a big, skinny left-hander who struck out 244 batters in 216 innings over his college career. His won-loss record this season was not good (4-5), but his team, Missouri State, had a down year as well. He had a 2.22 ERA in 14 starts and 110 strikeouts in 89 innings.

His coach at Missouri State, Keith Guttin, said Detwiler — who wasn’t even drafted out of high school — was a kid who dramatically improved and developed major league qualities while at college.

“He always had a very good arm,” Guttin said. “But his command of pitches improved dramatically, as well as his consistency with his change-up and curve ball.

“He is a very level-headed young man. Off the field, he is very calm and relaxed. On the field, he is very competitive, but not overly emotional. He was very well respected by his teammates and people at school.”

And he has rock and roll in his soul.

Don’t dismiss Missouri State as some little two-bit program, either. Brett Sinkbeil, a pitcher on last year’s team, was drafted in the first round by the Florida Marlins. And a few years ago, when it was called Southwest Missouri State, they had a pretty good young hitter named Ryan Howard.

It appears the Nationals did well yesterday, on paper anyway. They grabbed a high school pitcher, Josh Smoker, with the 31st pick, and he was high on everyone’s board. And they feel they got a steal with outfielder Michael Burgess as the 49th pick. Burgess comes out of Hillsborough High School (the alma mater of Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden and Elijah Dukes — not exactly Character High) with tremendous power. He had slumped in his senior year, but the Nationals saw enough of him and spent enough time with him that they were elated when he was still available at No. 49. They had considered taking him with the 31st pick.

“It felt like a bonus,” said Dana Brown, director of scouting.

Added assistant general manager Mike Rizzo: “This guy has a high upside. He has tremendous power.”

Their pick at No. 67, a right-handed pitcher from Wisconsin-Stevens Point named Jordan Zimmermann, pitched with a broken jaw. You’ve got to love that.

“He was pitching with his jaw wired together,” Brown said. “He is that kind of competitor.”

And with the 100th pick, they selected a high school infielder from Cascade, Wash., named Steven Souza. That was a choice close to the hearts of Nationals scouts, because Souza had been found and scouted by Doug McMillan, who died last month. McMillan had signed top prospect Kory Casto and outfielder Stephen Englund, the Nationals’ second-round pick in last year’s draft. His son Brett McMillan is a first baseman with the Nationals’ Class A team in Hagerstown.

“For us as a group, it was special to have [Souza] fall into place here,” Rizzo said. “Doug McMillan was a special guy for us, and this was his gut-feel kid. We feel we got him for Doug.”

I got a gut feel, too, about yesterday and the kid from Wentzville:

Maybe some day your name will be in lights/

Saying Ross Detwiler tonight.

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