For one who has watched the Washington Nationals since they came to D.C. in 2005, it is obscenely easy to say that Washington has come a long way since 2005. That team, led by Frank Robinson, had a hot first half at 52-36 only to fall off in the second half with a 29-45 record to finish at 81-81 and not see the right side of .500 for years until 2012 and 2013. Needless to say, the Nationals have certainly come a very long way.
There are some bright spots from those very dark days of Nationals baseball. In 2005, the face of the franchise was drafted in Ryan Zimmerman. He came up that same year and has been a mainstay on the roster ever since. Craig Stammen was also taken in 2005 and has since flourished in the Nationals’ bullpen. It takes a while for some prospects to develop, and for others it is just a matter of when they make the big leagues, not if.
The Nationals have also had their fair share of draft blunders, as every team has. Remember Aaron Crow? You may not, since he has been pitching with the Kansas City Royals since they drafted him in 2009. Of course, the Nationals were the first team to draft Crow in 2008, but they were unable to sign him that year, so Crow went back to the University of Columbia (MO) and was drafted in 2009. Now some may not care about Crow, since it was the inability to sign him that got Washington a compensation pick in 2009 which netted the Nationals Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen within the first eleven picks of the draft. Regardless, it is still a pretty big blunder when a team is unable to sign their top pick.
Sometimes mistakes are also made when a team does not pick a certain player or when they pick a player and rush that player to the big leagues. This is the case in the 2007 draft when the Nationals took Ross Detwiler with the No. 6 overall pick out of Missouri State University. Now this is with the benefit of hindsight, as the first player to be taken in that draft was David Price followed by Mike Moustakas and Matt Wieters. Throw in names like Madison Bumgarner, Jarrod Parker and Jason Heyward — all taken after Detwiler — and it’s pretty safe to say the Nationals may have been better served with a different pick.
Now by no means am I implying Detwiler was a bad pick, because that’s not what I am saying. The blunder comes after Detwiler was drafted. Detwiler was brought up in 2007 and appeared in one game where he pitched one inning and faced four batters. This was after Detwiler pitched in nine games at two minor league levels and posted a 3.51 ERA while allowing more hits than innings pitched. Detwiler did not make another appearance at the show until 2009 when he broke camp with the team and was 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA during the season. He was then demoted to the minors for the month of August where he pitched to a 3.05 ERA.
Detwiler pitched at a mediocre level for much of the next two seasons until 2011 when he posted a 3.00 ERA in 15 appearances, which consisted of 10 starts. Detwiler did much of the same in 2012, as he posted a 3.40 ERA in 27 starts for the Nationals and pitched in their most pivotal game in team history, Game 4 of the NLDS. So when it was announced yesterday that Detwiler would start the season in Washington’s bullpen it was both shocking and unsurprising. It’s just another blunder in the career of Detwiler on behalf of Washington.
The Nationals have handled Detwiler poorly from the day he was drafted. Then-GM Jim Bowden probably wanted to energize a fanbase by showing them Detwiler is good enough to make it to the big leagues the same year he was drafted. Of course the counter to that is every player has a specific amount of options between the minors and majors, and wasting one that early compromises things in the future should Detwiler struggle, which he did. Detwiler was called up too early, and there was too much pressure on him to succeed. Now he is most likely a reliever permanently all because the Nationals mishandled him early on. For fans, it’s a small reminder of dark times.