The Washington Nationals figure they are one big bat and one top-of-the-rotation pitcher away from reaching respectability, perhaps even contending. Many believe, though, that were it not for former General Manager Jim Bowden, there would be no hole in the rotation to fill.
They point to the 2007 MLB amateur draft when the Nationals—who were holding a coveted number-six pick—drafted lefthander Ross Detwiler from Missouri State. There were many highly respected players still available when the Nationals seemingly picked Detwiler’s name out of a hat.
Almost four years later, Detwiler has yet to mature and some believe he never will. Was Bowden wrong in choosing the lanky lefty or was Detwiler the appropriate pick that year?
Many forget that the Wentzville, Missouri native was considered the second best left-hander in the draft, behind only uber-prospect David Price who went first to the Rays. But perhaps more importantly to Bowden and the Nationals, he was rated as being the third-closest prospect to the major leagues.
So really, Bowden’s choice made perfect sense.
Coming out of college, Detwiler had a four-seam fastball that topped out at 94 mph and a solid two-seam sinker. His 12-6 curve buckled knees and his change—when he threw it—was still a work in progress.
In his last two seasons in college, Detwiler went 11-9 with a 2.51 ERA, allowing just six hits per game while striking out 12. Scouts liked his deceptive delivery and his cerebral pitching style.
It was believed that while he would never be a number-one starter, he would be a solid number-two, something Washington desperately needed.
Looking back on the choice, some think that Detwiler was chosen too early, that perhaps Bowden was after a player polished enough to make it to the major leagues quickly while not costing the team a great deal of money.
It turns out that was totally untrue. Listed below are seven of the most respected mock drafts from 2007 showing where Detwiler was predicted to be drafted:
Mymlbdraft.com: Fourth (Chicago Cubs)
Outsidethebeltway.com: Second (Kansas City Royals)
John Sickels: Eighth (Colorado Rockies)
Jonathon Mayo, Mlb.com: Fifth (Baltimore Orioles)
FuturePhillies.com: Fifth (Baltimore Orioles)
SI.com: Fifth (Baltimore Orioles)
Yahoo.com: Fifth (Baltimore Orioles)
Sportingnews.com: Second (Kansas City Royals)
Of the eight mock drafts, only one had Detwiler going to a team who picked after the Nationals. There is little doubt, then, that Detwiler was a well-respected player who most considered a top-five talent.
With the Nationals' sixth pick, these mock drafts predicted that Washington would select either Phillipe Aumont, Matt Wieters, Beau Mills or Max Scherzer.
I’m not sure why so many think that Ross Detwiler has not played well thus far in his career. Over four minor league seasons, his record is 17-17, 3.79, 10.1/3.5/8.1. Last season, splitting time with Class-A Potomac, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, Detwiler went 3-2, 2.27, 10.0/1.9/8.0.
With the Nationals, he pitched well last season up until his last start when the Phillies clobbered him. Before that game, Detwiler had a record of 1-2 with a fine 2.52 ERA, striking out 15 in 25 innings. Even with that horrid game against Philadelphia, his ERA was still a solid 4.25.
So to those who believe that Detwiler was a bad pick, I ask who is it the Nationals should have selected? There were 24 players taken after Detwiler in the first round. Let’s see if we can find a better choice.
Remember, Bowden was not necessarily locked in on a pitcher. In fact, he said later that had they been available, he would have taken either Josh Vitters or Mike Moustakas instead. “Pitchers,” Bowden explained, “come with a much higher risk of injury than position players.”
Vitters made it to Double-A last season and batted .247-10-39, and was ranked as the 70th best prospect by Baseball America. Moustakas is ranked 80th and batted .293-15-48 for the Royals’ Triple-A club.
So both of Bowden’s first choices are doing well enough, but neither has yet to play in the major leagues like Detwiler.
Here are the 24 players taken after Detwiler:
7—Matt LaPorta is now 25 and has batted .232/.307/.388 with 19 homers in 162 major league games with Cleveland.
8—Casey Weathers has a 2-3, 3.63 record in 88 minor league games. Last season, he walked 8.2 batters per nine innings while striking out 12.1. He has yet to make it to the major leagues.
9—Jarrod Parker has done well thus far, going 17-11, 3.31 in 44 career minor league starts. However, he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2010. He was the 36th best prospect prior to his surgery. He hasn’t pitched in the majors.
10—Madison Bumgarner made it to the majors in 2010 and went 7-6, 2.90 for the San Francisco Giants. He allowed just 2.2 walks per nine innings while striking out 7.1.
11—Phillippe Aumont was traded to Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade but has yet to have any real success. In three minor league seasons, Aumont has gone 9-21, 4.57, 8.7/4.8/8.8.
12—Matt Dominguez hit .252-14-81 in Double-A last season and has a career .257 batting average. He has no major league experience.
13—Beau Mills batted .241-10-72 with a .312 on-base percentage in his second year of Double-A ball last season. He hasn’t played in the major leagues yet.
14—Jason Heyward is the one player who stands out in this draft. He joined the Braves last season as a 20-year-old and batted .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI.
15—Devin Mesoraco reached Triple-A last year and hit .231 in 58 at-bats. Splitting time at three different levels, he batted .302/.377/.587. He has no major league experience.
16—Kevin Aherns has struggled throughout his four-year career, averaging .239/.309/.348 showing little power or speed.
17—Blake Beavan went 14-8, 3.90 last year while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. For his career, he is 33-22, 3.58 in three minor league seasons. He has yet to play in the major leagues.
18—Pete Kozma has a career minor league batting average of just .243 with a .319 on-base percent. He has yet to play above the Double-A level.
19—Joe Savery went 1-12, 4.66 for the Phillies Triple-A team. He hasn’t played in the major leagues yet.
20—Chris Withrow played in Double-A in 2010, going 4-9, 5.97.
21—J.P. Arencibia batted .143/.189/.343 For the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010.
22—Tim Alderson went 11-9, 6.03 while playing at Class-A and Double-A in the Pirates organization. He has a career 4.13 ERA in the minor leagues.
23—Nick Schmidt has gone 12-18, 4.85, 9.2/4.4/7.9 in four minor league seasons.
24—Michael Main has won 14 games with a 4.83 ERA in four minor league seasons.
25—Aaron Poreda has pitched in 14 games in the major leagues with a 2.70 ERA. He was the 63rd best prospect in 2009.
26—James Simmons had a 7-7, 5.72 record in Triple-A last season and has won 16 games in three minor league seasons. He has no major league experience
27—Rick Porcello was certainly the best player available when Washington chose Ross Detwiler but he and his agent made it clear that they were looking to break new ground with their bonus demands. Ultimately, Porcello ended up costing Detroit almost $11 million in bonus money and guaranteed major league contracts. Porcello has won 24 major league games with a career ERA of 4.43.
28—Ben Revere has played 10 games with Minnesota, batting .179/.233/.179. He has a career .328 minor league batting average but with little power.
29—Wendell Fairley has a career .267 minor league average with six home runs. He has yet to play above Class-A.
30—Andrew Backman was 10-11, 3.90 in Double-A last season, striking out 8.1 batters per nine-innings. He has yet to play in the major leagues.
So six players drafted after Detwiler, Matt LaPorta, Madison Bamgarner, Jason Heyward, J.P. Arencibia, Rick Porcello and Ben Revere, have played in the major leagues and only two—Heyward and Porcello—have succeeded. The rest have either failed to this point or simply don’t have enough games under their belt to be able to render a decision.
A few of those still in the minors—players like Jarrod Parker, Devin Mesoraco and Blake Beavan—look like they could become quality major leaguers but are still a year or more away from being ready.
And just too many of these first rounders seem headed to the minor league scrap heap. A great many of them are still at the Double-A level and a few still haven’t gotten out of Class-A.
Detwiler, on the other hand, hasn’t pitched at the Single-A level for two years.
The difference between a prospect and a player is that the prospect’s statistics get better as he is promoted and faces better competition.
In 151 innings at the Class-A level, Detwiler went 10-10, 4.64, 10.1/3.5/8.1. In his time with the Harrisburg Senators (Double-A), he improved considerably, going 2-5 but with a 2.90 ERA. His walks per nine-innings dropped to 2.6 and his strikeouts improved to 8.8. With Triple-A Syracuse, Detwiler went 5-2, 2.98 in 13 starts.
In his first 10 starts in the major leagues, Detwiler looked very much like the rookie he was. He went 0-5 with a 6.40 ERA, allowing a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging mark of .322/.379/.457.
Since then, however, Detwiler has pitched extremely well for Washington. In his last ten starts (since September 2009), he has crafted a fine 3.22 ERA and has allowed just a .252/.339/.330 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging. In those ten games, he has had just one poor outing, against the Phillies.
Detwiler has had to deal with two problems since joining the Nationals’ organization. First, the organization tried to change his unconventional delivery which caused him to lose some of his effectiveness. But they allowed him to return to his old form and he’s been sharp ever since.
Second, his hip surgery last spring caused him to lose half of the 2010 season. But he is 100 percent healthy now and should be ready to compete for a spot in the Nationals’ rotation.
And here’s the thing: he deserves that spot. He has the baseball skills to be an effective major league pitcher, and has succeeded over the last year. Going back to the minor leagues isn’t going to help him in 2011. He needs 30 starts to prove his worth to the Nationals.
Is there a chance he will fail? Sure, but the team needs to find that out now.
Yes, it would have been nice to have a more experienced starter join the rotation, but I am perfectly content going into 2011 with a starting five of Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Yunesky Maya (with Livan Hernandez as the go-to guy if someone falters or is injured).
Ross Detwiler, in spite of what we’ve heard, was the right pick with that sixth spot in the draft. Sure, Jayson Heyward seems to be the elite of that first round, but remember that 13 other teams failed to choose him as well. And the only other player who has outperformed Detwiler is Rick Porcello which the team couldn’t have signed even if they did draft him.
No, Ross Detwiler made sense, both then and now. If given the chance, he can be an effective number-three or four starter, they kind of guy who can give a team 12-13 wins and an ERA around 4.00.
Now let’s see if he’s given that chance instead of being derailed by some guy with a little more experience and an ERA over 5.00.