Notes: Nationals sign Gonzalez
Sixteen-year-old shortstop thought to have bright future in DC
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals agreed to terms with shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez of the Dominican Republic on Sunday. The switch-hitting Gonzalez, 16, will earn a $1.4 million signing bonus and report to the Dominican Summer League Nationals this week.
The signing is considered significant for the Nationals because it demonstrates that they intend to compete with the Braves, Yankees and Red Sox for the best talent in Latin America. In fact, incoming president Stan Kasten considers the Gonzalez signing the equivalent to the Braves signing outfielder Andruw Jones and shortstop Rafael Furcal in 1993 and 1996, respectively. Jones and Furcal are now stars in the big leagues.
"This is an important signing," Kasten said via telephone. "We can now compete for the best talent in Latin America. We will have a presence there."
Kasten also said that Latin America isn't the only place the Nationals will be looking for baseball talent. They will also be eyeing talent in Japan and Korea.
Gonzalez cannot start playing professional baseball in the United States until next year, though general manager Jim Bowden didn't rule out Gonzalez playing above the rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals in 2007.
The Nationals compared Gonzalez's glove to Ozzie Smith's and say he could potentially have the bat of a Miguel Tejada.
"He is a switch-hitter that could hit at the top of the lineup," scouting director Dana Brown said. "I saw a guy that could really field -- [he's] outstanding with the glove."
Gonzalez, whose nickname is "Smiley," was discovered two years ago by Jose Rijo, the team's special assistant to the general manager. Gonzalez played at Rijo's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic for a year before Gonzalez's advisor, Basilio Vizcaino, took him out of the program and put him in his own baseball academy.
Soon thereafter, the Twins, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers were after Gonzalez's services. Rijo thought the Nationals had no chance of signing the player because of their limited budget. But when the team was sold to the Lerner Group in early May, it gave the organization a chance to sign Gonzalez.
Gonzalez made it clear that he wanted to play for the Nationals because of his relationship with Rijo. In fact, Vizcaino paid for Gonzalez to fly to Washington on Saturday to work out a deal.
After midnight on Sunday morning, Bowden, Rijo, Brown, Kasten and principal owner Mark Lerner met with Gonzalez and Vizcaino at the Capital Grille and put together a deal two hours later.
"He's a definite starter in the big leagues," Bowden said. "He's an incredible shortstop."
Both Bowden and Kasten said there were opposing teams who tried to sabotage them from signing Gonzalez. They would not name the organizations in question, but Kasten said the Nationals are considering taking the matter to the league office.
"I don't know how I'm going to react," Kasten said. "I wanted [our front office] to keep their eyes on the ball and get the deal done [with Gonzalez]."
This and that: After Sunday's game, manager Frank Robinson was asked if there was something wrong with catcher Brian Schneider. For three consecutive games, Schneider didn't run to first base after a strikeout during which the ball got past the catcher to the backstop. After Schneider struck out against Travis Harper in the eighth inning on Sunday and the ball went to the backstop, Schneider quickly walked toward the Nationals' dugout. He didn't realize what had happened until he was halfway toward the dugout, but he continued into the dugout with a gesture of resignation. Robinson acknowledged the problem and plans to talk to Schneider about it on Monday. Schneider was not available for comment. ... Tony Armas Jr., on the disabled list due to a right forearm strain, had a bullpen session on Sunday and didn't feel any pain while rotating through his arsenal of pitches. He hopes to be taken off the disabled list this week. ... Livan Hernandez said his right knee is feeling better after tweaking it against the Devil Rays on Saturday. He is still planning to get the knee checked out.
Coming up: The Nationals open a four-game series against the Marlins on Monday night at RFK Stadium. The last time these two teams met was in early May, also at RFK, with Florida sweeping the two-game series.
In Game 1, right-hander Pedro Astacio will get the start for Washington, while right-hander Ricky Nolasco will get the nod for Florida.