In this trade, the Nationals got two upper-level starting pitching prospects, something the organization needed.
Matt Chico's been a little bit up and down since being taken in the third round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander started well enough, striking out a batter an inning in his pro debut, then starting out even better in 2004 in the Midwest League (2.57 ERA, .190 batting average against, 89 strikeouts in 87 2/3 IP). The Diamondbacks leaped Chico an extra level to Double-A with bad results (5.78 ERA in 14 games) to end the season.
He began the year in Double-A again in 2005 (this time in the Southern League as the Diamondbacks' affiliate switched from El Paso to Tennessee). But after 10 starts and a 5.98 ERA, Chico got moved down to the Class A Advanced California League. To his credit, he bounced back and went 7-2 with a 3.76 ERA in the hitter-friendly league. He picked up his strikeout rate after seeing it drop in Tennessee, striking out 102 in 110 Cal League innings.
This year, the move to Double-A has gone a little more smoothly for Chico, now 23. After beginning the year back in Lancaster and posting a 3.75 ERA, he got another crack at Double-A. This time, he stuck, going 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts. His 112 combined K's in 131 1/3 IP won't have fantasy players flocking to get him for his strikeouts, but when compared to his 32 walks, it's a nifty ratio. He was second in the Diamondbacks organization with the 112 K's, behind only to his partner in this trade, Garrett Mock, while his 2.81 combined ERA was good for fourth in the organization. Chico uses a fastball that can hit as high as 93-94 mph along with a curve and changeup.
While Mock was leading the system with 117 strikeouts in 131 IP, other parts of his 2006 performance were uneven. He had yielded 144 hits and 50 walks en route to a 4.95 ERA in his 23 starts. In just his second full season after being drafted in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, the University of Houston product wasn't much of a strikeout artist in his summer debut (51 strikeouts in 77 1/3 IP). But he whiffed 160 in 174 1/3 California League innings while walking just 33 in 2005, finishing with a 14-7 record and 4.18 ERA, though he allowed 204 hits in the process.
The big (6-foot-4) right-hander's stuff has always graded out well, making the high hit totals even stranger. His fastball can reach the mid-90s and he's got a cutter, a slider and a curve to boot. Like Chico, he's just 23. Both will pitch for Double-A Harrisburg, the Nats' affiliate in the Eastern League.
If Washington's player development people can get something to click, both could be ready to contribute in the big leagues at some point in 2007. The pair automatically become Washington's top starting pitching prospects, especially at the upper levels. They may be back end starters when all is said and done, but there is one thing important to note: This is the first trade involving Nationals' Assistant GM Mike Rizzo and his former team, the one he served as scouting director so successfully for years. No one is infallible, but if he sees something in this pair of starters he initially drafted, there's probably something to it.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.