The rest of the 2011 season may not appear to have much meaning to the casual Nationals fan. With Washington 22.5 games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies and losers of six straight, at first glance, September seems like a meaningless month of baseball in the nation's capital.
Despite the bleak outlook for the rest of the season, Nationals fans should not blow off the last month of the baseball season.
September is the time for minor leaguers who have excelled all season to be rewarded with a month in the majors, and the Nationals certainly have a few players who deserve this reward.
Although the Nationals will not be making a playoff push this September, these ten players I am about to introduce you to could all play key roles next year, a year when the Nationals should consider themselves a threat to the Phillies and Atlanta Braves.
So, Nationals fans, don't abandon your team just yet this season. Stick around for another month and get a look at the future of your franchise. It is certainly a bright future.
At 29, the former first round pick of the Cleveland Indians is on the verge of becoming what's known as a four-A player, a player who has already proven himself at Triple-A but cannot quite put it together at the major league level.
Michael Aubrey has had a cup of coffee in the majors, in 2008 with the Indians and 2009 with the Orioles. He has yet to stick in the big leagues with any club.
Aubrey's problem in the minor leagues has been his inability to stay on the field. In nine minor league seasons, he has played only 625 games, an average of less than 70 per season.
When he has been on the field, Aubrey has put up very healthy power numbers. He has 89 homers and 386 runs batted in in his 625 career games. Averaged over a 162 game season, those numbers equate to 23 HR and 100 RBI.
Michael Aubrey is past the age where he can be labeled a prospect. Right now, he is hanging on, waiting for a shot. The Nationals should give him a chance at the end of this season. The Nationals have plenty of first base prospects in the minors, but Aubrey could be a good power bat off the bench in the future.
Shairon Martis has already been a September call-up for the Washington Nationals. He got the call in 2008 after a successful minor league season and started the 2009 season in the team's starting rotation.
Martis was not awful during his time in the majors, but he was not great either. His 6-6 record and 5.33 ERA showed that he still had a lot of work to do before he would be a major league ace.
The Nationals also thought he had some growing up to do. The Nationals did not think Martis was doing all the right things required to be a major leaguer, like eating right and staying conditioned to handle the grind of the long season.
Martis has gotten his act together over the past two minor league seasons and appears to be ready to handle the jump to the majors. He recently pitched a seven inning no-hitter and has a 2.81 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg while striking out close to four batters for every walk he issues.
The Nationals should reward Shairon Martis' hard work with a few late season starts. His hard work has paid off at the minor league level. Now it is time to see if the same is true at the major league level.
Centerfield has been a weakness for the Washington Nationals for awhile now. The team simply has not been able to find a consistent answer at the position.
That is why it cannot hurt the Nationals to give Archie Gilbert a chance to audition for the position over the course of September.
Gilbert possesses a unique blend of speed and power. Over his minor league career, he has consistently stolen close to 30 bases a season while approaching double figures in home runs. In centerfield, he has excellent range thanks to his speed.
At 28, time is running out on Archie Gilbert's major league dream. He has done enough this season for Harrisburg, batting .309 with 31 stolen bases on 35 attempts to go along with 11 homers to warrant a major league promotion.
Zech Zinicola has been a mainstay in the bullpens of the Washington Nationals minor league teams for six seasons. The hard-throwing right hander has finally put it all together the past two seasons while splitting time between Harrisburg and Syracuse.
Zinicola has been very good this season with a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings. He has racked up 43 strikeouts against only ten walks.
Zech Zinicola has some closing experience in the minor leagues. He will not be asked to fill that role in Washington, but he has served his time in the minors and is ready to be a contributing member in what is one of the league's best young bullpens.
The Nationals made Chris Marrero their first late season call-up on Saturday when they recalled their 2006 first-round pick to replace injured pitcher Ryan Mattheus.
Marrero was certainly deserving of the promotion. At only 23 years old, the first baseman with the sweet swing has progressed quickly through the Nationals' minor league system after being drafted out of high school.
Throughout his minor league career, Marrero has provided consistent power numbers. While he could stand to hit a few more home runs, especially for a first baseman, his swing and build appear to indicate 20 to 30 home run potential.
Marrero has struck out over 100 times in each of his full minor league seasons, but if the power comes as expected, that number can be accepted. In the field, Marrero has shown a slick glove.
The Nationals have a potential logjam on their hands with Michael Morse, Chris Marrero, and Tyler Moore all having the potential to play first base in the majors. Morse is already entrenched at the major league level but has experience playing outfield. Marrero has the first chance to prove he can be the answer at first base for the Nationals.
Tom Milone's raw abilities do not have the scouts drooling, but you can't argue with his results. Over the past three years, there has not been a pitcher in the Nationals' system with a better record.
Since 2009 the left hander is 35-16 with an ERA below 3.00. Despite lacking a great fastball, Milone is able to get hitters out with a plus changeup and his cutter and curveball.
Perhaps the best trait Milone possesses is impeccable control. This season, he has issued only 14 walks. Combined with his 149 strikeouts, Milone possess one of the best strikeout to walk ratios in the minor leagues.
The Nationals are looking for starting pitchers to complement Stephen Strasburg in the coming years. Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan are the only pitchers in the current rotation who definitely figure in the Nationals' future plans.
There have been plenty of players who were not scouting darlings yet experienced success in the major leagues. Tom Milone is a proven winner in the minors despite lacking an exceptional fastball. The Nationals have nothing to lose in seeing if Milone can continue getting outs at the major league level.
Rafael Martin has taken a strange path to get to where he is today, on the verge of a major league call-up.
After finishing high school in Riverside, Calif., Martin worked construction and pitched in a weekend baseball league for four years. Then he spent three years in the Mexican League where he became one of its best relief pitchers.
The Nationals signed the raw reliever in the winter of 2010. Since his signing, Martin has improved rapidly. His fastball, which once topped out at 88, now sits in the mid 90's. He mixes in a very good sinker and slider to complement his fastball.
In his second season of professional baseball in America, Martin has seen the biggest improvement in his command. In 2010 he issued 3.5 walks per nine innings pitched. This season that number is down to 2.4 while his strikeout rate has stayed high at over 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
Rafael Martin has come a long way since his days of pickup baseball on the weekend. If he is able to stick with the Nationals it will be one of the better stories in recent baseball history.
Like Tom Milone, Brad Peacock has had a very successful 2011 season. Peacock, however, is the more highly regarded of the two pitchers.
He was named to Keith Law's updated top 50 prospects list. I would post a link to the list here, but it is available only to those who have access to ESPN Insider.
Peacock was named to the prestigious MLB Futures game at the All-Star break and pitched so well for Double-A Harrisburg that he was named the Eastern League's best pitcher despite starting only 14 games in the league.
Peacock has come a long way since being picked in the 41st round. He has very good velocity, touching the upper 90's with his four seam fastball. Peacock has worked hard to better his command. The results this season have made him a top prospect.
With Milone and Peacock seemingly on the way to the majors, the Nationals may have the two missing starters to bolster their rotation. They should be given the chance to make a few starts at the end of this lost season.
Steve Lombardozzi's success in the minors was one of the reasons the Nationals were willing to include shortstop Ian Desmond in a deadline deal.
It turns out the Nationals did not find the right deal, and Desmond remained in Washington. That does not necessarily guarantee his presence in the everyday lineup next season.
Lombardozzi has been a .300 hitter for his minor league career and proved this year that he can handle Triple-A pitching. Unlike Desmond, Lombardozzi's rise through the Nationals system has been smooth and without failure. He has not struggled during any of his four minor league seasons.
In the field, Lombardozzi provides a solid glove. He has made only two errors this season and carries a .996 fielding percentage. He is not flashy, but he will not cost his team runs with errors.
The same cannot be said of Ian Desmond. He has led the National League in errors each of the past two seasons, with an unsightly 34 in 2010 and 22 in just 125 games this season.
Lombardozzi appears to be a legitimate second base prospect. His arrival in the majors could allow Danny Espinosa to return to shortstop and allow the Nationals to shop Ian Desmond while he still has some value.
It seems inevitable that Stephen Strasburg will return to the Washington Nationals' starting rotation at some point this September no matter how misguided that may seem.
Strasburg is scheduled to make his final minor league rehab start on September 1. A major league start is likely to come five days later.
The Nationals want Strasburg to pitch around 50 innings this season, and right now that total sits at 14.1. With the minor league season drawing to a close, the only place left for Strasburg to log those innings will be in the majors.
I have already had my say concerning the Nationals' desire to rush Strasburg back to the majors this season, and you can read my thoughts here.
Despite the fact that it has been less than a year since Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will pitch for Washington this year.
Nationals fans have been holding their breath since Strasburg went down last summer, waiting to see if he is still the dominant phenom. Nothing could be worse than rushing his rehab process for a few meaningless end-of-season starts. Nationals' brass must be 100% certain that he is ready for the inevitable call-up.