The Nationals announced yesterday that the final two slots of the Major League pitching rotation will officially be given to the young prospects Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis. While both pitchers entered camp with a presumptive chance to compete for one spot in the back end of the rotation against more experienced and likely candidates, the pair of 21 year olds earned their spots on the mound this March by out producing everyone.
Upon breaking camp, Nationals manager Manny Acta made it clear that the top three spots would go to John Lannan, Scott Olsen, and Daniel Cabrera. The remaining two spots were to be compete for by reconstructed superhero Gustavo Chachin, up and down starter from last year Jason Bergmann, oft-injured Shawn Hill and up and coming Collin Balester.
The favorites to win the position were the one time Nationals ace Shawn Hill and the young starter Collin Balester. Hill had been a member of the organization since the days of Montreal and has had past Major League success at a young age. Since the transition to Washington however he has had trouble staying healthy for a full year. Frustrations within the front office stemming from the constant disappointment of his injuries was cause for Hills abrupt release this spring, taking him out of the competition for the rotation spot.
Balester is a former organizational top prospect who broke into the bigs last season with solid success. The big righty threw 80 innings with a 5.81 ERA and 50 strikeouts. Many expected him to make the obvious progression to become the Nats fourth starter in 2009. He simply did not look ready in Florida this spring however. In 20 innings he had a 6.75ERA with 7walks and only 9 strikeouts.
Zimmermann and Martis however excelled above everyone's expectations. Many believed these two starters to be the most potential filled in the Nationals system, but few felt they had the seasoning and the experience to be effective yet at a Major League level. Martis answered with an extremely strong spring posting 1.42 ERA in 18 innings pitched; where Zimmermann was flat out dominant in his campaign. For most of the spring Zimmermann was simply the best starter in the Grape Fruit League finishing with a 3.14 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 14.1 innings.
Zimmermann was a second round draft pick for the Nationals in 2006 from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens-Point. He has dominated the minors on his raise through the system, surprising many scouts who questioned his smaller frame and lack of a dominant pitch. He was listed as the systems top prospect this year and wasn't expected to make the show until at least June.
Martis broke onto the scene in 2006 when he threw a no-hitter for the Netherlands' in the World Baseball Classic at the age of only 19. The young righty brings two high powered fastballs with a lot of movement and has the ability to overpower hitters.