Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Conversation With Bobby Williams

This past Sunday night, a celebration was taking place at The Potomac Nationals 14th Annual Hot Stove Banquet and Silent Auction. The Mills Cup--The Carolina League Championship Trophy--was on display. And not lost on most of those in attendance at The Hyatt Fair Lakes in Fairfax, Virginia, was the very fact that The Potomac Nationals success of 2008 reflected well on the still growing Farm System of Our Washington Nationals. A barren system just a few short years ago that now--at least for the first time since The Franchise moved from Montreal--is on the verge of developing some impact players for The Major League Team on a more consistent level.

On hand to meet and greet The P-Nats faithful at The Hot Stove was not only Washington Senator Great--Frank Howard, but also Bobby Williams--The Director of Player Development for Our Washington Nationals. Mr. Williams was there to update some of Potomac's most faithful fans--assuring them that even more young, quality talent is coming up through Washington's System. Some of whom will be playing in Woodbridge, Virginia this year for The P-Nats. After the program and presentations had all ended, Bobby Williams sat down with me for an engaging interview. He had 10 Minutes and we attempted to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

With that, here we go with My Conversation With Bobby Williams--The Director of Player Development for Our Washington Nationals:

The Potomac Nationals are celebrating tonight a Championship Season with their fans, but many times that’s not the goal of the minor leagues—It’s developing talent for The Major League Roster. How do you balance improving that talent, but still building a winning system when there is so much player-shuffling going on? (SBF)

“We did have a lot of players come through Potomac last year (68) and probably more than normal years. But we battled so many injuries at the upper levels, which forced us to move some players up to fill those spots. We have talent now. We have depth in our system now--which has allowed us to fill those holes here at Potomac with quality players. So, there is not a drop in performance and the level of play is still high. That's great credit to our advanced scouting system now in place.”

“It was a great year for us last year on a number of levels—especially here in Potomac with the championship. We are trying to develop players for Washington, Major League Players—that’s our top goal. But, we also want to develop winning players--Championship players that understand how to play under pressure. So when they get to Washington, they’ve experienced winning and they know what it’s like. Hopefully, they can continue that at the Major League Level.”

Team President Stan Kasten has stated over the past few days that this is the very first year, since the Nationals arrived in Washington, that the Minor Leagues players in the system are on the cusp of truly benefiting the Major League Roster. (SBF)

“We had some outstanding drafts in ’07 & ’08. The Scouting Department has done an outstanding job, not only by drafting the right players, but signing them and getting them into our system--allowing our development people to continue the development process. Some of these guys are now starting to move up the ranks and are very close. Guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis (who we actually got in a trade). Michael Burgess is getting there. It’s exciting to see these youngsters progress and move through the system quickly.”

I know it’s only a rumor right now, but the word is out that Jack McGeary (left-handed pitcher) may forgo his final two years at Stanford to play professional baseball full time with The Nationals. What kind of talent is he? People here in DC don’t really know that much about him. (SBF)

“He really is a tremendous talent. He has a very good arm, a plus curveball. His fastball is 88MPH to 91MPH with good command. He is also developing a change up. He’s got outstanding makeup and work ethic. He’s got the desire to succeed. He knows what it takes and he’s willing to put in the time. McGeary is trying to be in school at Stanford and still trying to prepare for professional baseball. He’s been able to balance both and put in the time to improve as a player--and I am looking forward to seeing him this spring.”

You just mentioned a topic that I think is pretty important and many other baseball people say the same thing—make up. You can have all the talent in the world, but how important is make up to becoming a Major League Player? (SBF)

“Make up is extremely important. It can be a separator for a player that’s got all that talent as you say but he may not have the work ethic. He may not have the heart, the desire, the determination, and the passion for the game. So, I think make up is extremely important in a player and in many respects, it’s the sixth tool (hit, hit with power, run, throw and field are the standard five).”

You’ve mentioned young players many of the fans may already know about—Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Burgess, Ross Detwiler even--are there some lower level players that may even be coming to Potomac right now, or very soon, that fans may not know about—but you think are pretty solid talents? (SBF)

“Derek Norris is a good looking young catching prospect in our system. He had a very good season this past year in Vermont. He has a really strong arm and hits with power. He has a very good approach at the plate. He knows the strike zone. He gets on base and draws walks. His receiving and blocking (of pitches) are improving. He works hard at that. He’s got a chance to move through the system quickly once he really locks in on his defense.”

We have a young left-hander that pitched well for us last year in Vermont—Will Atwood. He’s a good-looking lefty that has three quality pitches he can throw for strikes. He’s a guy that’s got the chance to also move through the system pretty quickly.”

Jim Bowden and Dana Brown have in many respects concentrated on pitching early on in each of the past drafts. Do you feel the system is getting better balanced with a better grouping of prospects all over the field and not just on the mound? (SBF)

“I think it will. We just didn’t have a whole lot of talent in our system a few years ago. And pitching and defense wins championships. We just didn’t have the pitching depth in our system. So that was our focus in the past few drafts. Since we now have depth in pitching, yeah, I think you will see us looking elsewhere on the field.”

Everyone knows The Nationals have the Number One pick in this year's draft. And you have the 10th thanks to Aaron Crow declining to sign last summer. Stephen Strasburg is highly touted. That pick aside, what is the goal for Washington in this year’s draft? (SBF)

“We are going to take the best player available. When it’s our turn to pick the best player on the board will be chosen—regardless of position. Hopefully, all will pan out.”

I understand building the farm system; others want to see faster development on The Major League Roster. Is there a medium.” (SBF)

“It takes time. It takes time to build an organization—especially from where we are coming from. We are building from the ground up. It’s scouting. It’s drafting players and then getting those players into the system and developing them through your player development system. We are trying to get those players to Washington as quickly as we can. It does take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. We are making progress. The Farm System has come along way in a few years. So, I think the Major League team is going to start seeing some of these youngsters soon.”

Mr. Kasten said this afternoon at NatsFest that fans need to have more patience because he believes fans may not see all the development going on in the Minors, but the franchise is actually getting there. (SBF)

“With Potomac winning the champion here last year and The Dominican Summer League team winning two years in a row—there are players coming up that people in Washington may not be familiar with yet, but they are coming and it’s exciting.”

I know that Dana, Mike Rizzo and even Jose Rijo with his Academy in The Dominican Republic have been looking for some good young latin talent. Supposedly, Washington found one in Esmailyn Gonzalez. Are any of those type players close to breaking out? (SBF)

“Gonzalez has made huge progress. Huge Progress!! Last year, he had an outstanding year in the Gulf Coast League. He was the Batting Champion in the GCL. His defense continues to get better. He’s starting to get stronger, mature physically and he’s showing a little more pop in the bat. He’s hitting some doubles and triples. He hit two home runs last year. He really is making a lot of progress. He's maturing, not only physically, but also he’s showing more leadership ability. His English is still not fluent, but he’s working at it, getting better, and I expect him to be ready for a full season at Hagerstown this year. I am really pleased with how far he’s come along and am looking forward to seeing him this year.”

A long-term guy that actually may pay off--you believe? (SBF)

“Yeah, and you’ve got to remember he just turned 19 (years of age). Still very young, but extremely talented.”

That concluded My Conversation With Bobby Williams.

Clearly, The Farm System for Our Washington Nationals still has some holes to fill. But, progress has been made since the 2006 Season. And for first time since that Inaugural Season of DC Baseball in 2005, there is a light to be seen at the end of what was a long dark and empty tunnel. Some talent has now been drafted and is currently being developed. Hopefully soon, some of that work will pay off and make a serious impact on The Major League Team called Our Washington Nationals.

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