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06/07/06 10:44 PM ET

Nats' focus turns to signing draftees

GM Bowden ecstatic about new collection of talent

WASHINGTON -- General manager Jim Bowden was sitting in his office, giddy about the players the Nationals selected in the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday and Wednesday.

They drafted 52 players, and Bowden felt it was the most talent he has seen since he was working for the Pirates in the mid-1980s. During that period, Pittsburgh drafted players such as Barry Bonds and Moises Alou.

"I think, on paper, it was an extraordinary draft. We have a tremendous amount of players in this draft," Bowden said. "The key to the draft will be the signing of the players, not the drafting. I've never been part of a draft in 20 years with so many quality players. I've had big quality players like Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, but not this many players with this much upside."

In the Day 2 of the draft, scouting director Dana Brown felt he picked players with upside in the later rounds. On Tuesday, the Nationals selected mostly pitchers, 21 in all. The most intriguing are right-handers Samuel Dyson and Austin Hudson from Florida, but they could be tough to sign. Unlike the past four drafts, the Nationals were not working with a limited budget, and they had the option of giving these players big money.

Dyson's fastball has been clocked at 96 mph, but he may be a tough sign because he has a letter of intent to the University of South Carolina.

Hudson also is planning to go to college. His fastball has been clocked at 93 mph.

"We took a lot of guys, and if they changed their minds this summer, we could make a run after them," Brown said. "We are going to be aggressive in signing the best player in each round. That makes us happy."

The Nationals also took players who have relatives in baseball. Shortstop Burt Reynolds, taken in the 32nd round, is the cousin of Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.

Reynolds, whose real first name is Alfredo, is considered a good shortstop, but stills needs work with the bat. He is slated to go to junior college, but the Nationals are hoping he can improve his game before going to school.

As a courtesy, Washington selected catcher Joshua Rodriguez, whose father is bench coach Eddie Rodriguez, in the 47th round and Kyle Page, the son of hitting coach Mitchell Page, in the next round.

Both fathers have raved about their sons' abilities. During the last three years, Joshua has been often spotted on the field working out with the Nationals/Expos coaching staff and learning the art of catching. Eddie has said that Joshua more than likely will go to a junior college.

Page already attends the Brevard Community College. He tried out for the Nationals on May 28 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Mitchell predicts that his son will be a good hitter one day. It's uncertain if Page will sign with the Nationals.

The main focus is to sign at least their first six picks of the draft.

In the first round, the team had two first-round picks, selected third baseman Chris Marrero with the 15th pick and right-hander Colton Willems with the 22nd selection, while right-hander Sean Black, outfielder Stephen Englund, shortstop Stephen King and left-hander Glenn Gibson were the team's next four picks -- all of them are projected to be big-league ready in three or four years.

Of the six, Black and Englund may not sign with the club. A published report said that Black was going to Seton Hall University if he wasn't picked in the first round, but Black told MLB.com that the report is false.

"I'm open to signing with the Nationals," Black said. "I haven't talked to anyone from the Nationals. They called to congratulate me."

Asked if he wanted a lot of money from the Nationals, Black said, "I wanted to go in the first round, but being in the second round is just as exciting for me. If we can work out something that would fit both of our needs, I feel we could make a deal."

Brown is planning to pay Black and his family a visit soon.

"I'm very optimistic that we are going to sign him. I think what happens a lot is, kids are promised that they are going to be taken in certain rounds in the draft and the team bypasses him, he gets a little frustrated. [Black] has made clear he wants a lot of money, but we'll try to talk through it, try to get a feel what it's going to take."

King was slated to be a first-round pick, but he fell to the third round because of a minor left knee injury. It ended up hurting his performance on the diamond. King, who worked out for the Nationals on May 28 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, already has signed a letter of intent to play for LSU.

"He slid under radar, and we were able to get him. I anticipate him being the toughest," Brown said. "He went to workouts before the draft and wasn't able to run the 60 time. So some teams backed off. But we saw him swing the bat early this spring, so we knew what he was."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.