COMMENTARY | The list of Washington Nationals first-round busts isn't especially long, in part because they've only been drafting for nine years but also because they've been unusually successful in the draft.
They landed Ryan Zimmerman with the franchise's first draft pick, and spent the two No. 1 picks they've had on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. They've also selected twice at the No. 6 spot and grabbed Ross Detwiler and Anthony Rendon there. Outside the safety of these early picks, however, there are some noteworthy busts.
Here's a quick top five of their biggest misses:
Although the jury is still out on Marrero, for the time being he qualifies as a miss. Drafted 15th overall straight out of high school in 2006, Marrero has struggled with injuries and only appeared in 31 major-league games since he was picked. He's having a good year in Triple-A, but he's also nearing his 25th birthday and unlikely to make the team this year unless injuries open the door. There could be a future in the big leagues for Marrero,but after seven years, it's not clear how that will materialize.
4. Michael Burgess
Picked midway through the supplemental round in 2007, Burgess never got above Double-A in the Nationals organization before he was shipped off with a couple other prospects for journeyman pitcher Tom Gorzelanny. Despite some flashes of power, he's still in Double-A ball in the Houston Astros' farm system and hitting just .209 this year.
3. Josh Smoker
Like Burgess, Smoker was a 2007 supplemental round pick, going 31st overall. Outside one decent season in High-A ball, Smoker hasn't shown the Nationals much to get excited about. He barely pitched last year, hasn't pitched this year, and has a 4.90 ERA for his minor-league career.
2. Aaron Crow
Although he's had some success in the big leagues, Crow qualifies as a bust simply for not putting his signature on a contract. After the Nationals spent the ninth overall pick on Crow in 2008, he held out for more money, and then-general manager Jim Bowden wasn't willing to give it to him.
Crow ended up signing with an independent team and got drafted again in the first round by the Kansas City Royals in 2009. Fortunately, for the Nationals, their failure to sign Crow actually benefited them. After struggling as a starter in the minors, Crow was eventually converted to a reliever. While he made the All-Star team in 2011 as the obligatory Royals representative, he's had a fairly average career since then. The Nationals gained a supplemental pick after they couldn't sign Crow and spent it on Drew Storen, who was an effective closer in 2011 and has put up better career numbers.
1. Colton Willems
A highly touted prospect coming out of high school, the most noteworthy moment of Willems' career was his surprise decision to retire at the age of 21. The Nationals picked him up with the 22nd selection in 2006, seven spots after Marrero, and hoped he could grow into a starting role with the team.
Despite showing early promise, he bounced around between the Rookie League and Single-A throughout his career and pitched only 36.1 innings in his final two seasons. Although he was struggling with some mechanical issues and posted a 9.49 ERA in his abbreviated final year, Willems was still healthy when he shocked the organization by walking away in 2010. The Nationals left the door open for a possible return, but he hasn't pitched professionally since.John Cannon is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Washington Nationals.
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