Is "The Plan" regressing? The latest round-ups of top prospects show that the gears are stuck in neutral, at best.
When Uncle Teddy Lerner took control of the Nats, the first comments out of his silver-plated mouth focused on player development. That's an admirable goal, especially as the franchise tried to recover from Omar Minaya's plundering and MLB's complete inattentiveness to the franchise's long-term health.
It's also one of the rare cases where Uncle Teddy put his money where his mouth was. The Nats hired an extensive network of scouts, ramping up their player development operation. For a while, it looked like it worked.
Their 2007 draft, in which they drafted SP Ross Detwiler and OF Michael Burgess, was universally lauded. Baseball America, which is the bible of the industry, said they had the best draft. And when it released its farm team rankings, the Nats had climbed all the way up to No. 9. That was a dramatic improvement for a formerly barren farm system.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 14 straight division titles.
Last season, just about anything that could go wrong, did. Ross Detwiler, the top pitching prospect, threw batting practice at single-A. Chris Marrero, the top hitting prospect, didn't excel, and his season ended halfway through thanks to a bone-shredding slide into home plate.
Many other Nats prospects struggled, with only Jordan Zimmermann developing to a point where he's MLB ready.
And those farm system rankings from last year? Well, let's just say that the Nats won't be trumpeting them quite as loudly this year.
Baseball America dropped them back down to 21. Baseball Prospectus sees only three impact players in the minors. John Sickels sees only a few guys with much potential. ESPN'sKeith Law -- who clearly had Jim Bowden do something nasty to a family member -- dropped them all the way to 29th.
All isn't lost yet. There's still potential down there, but for a bunch of these kids, like ColtonWillems, this could be a make or break year.
If the Nats vaunted plan is to succeed, they'll need a whole lot less breaking this season.