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02/02/12 4:09 AM EST

Nationals lauded for top Minor League system

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' Minor League system was named the best in Major League Baseball, according to Baseball America, on Monday.

The annual analysis of Minor League programs by Baseball America placed the Nats as the premier Minor League system among MLB's 30 franchises, and placed a number of the team's prospects in the Top 100. Washington's No. 1 ranking stands in stark contrast to the 2007 season, when Washington's system ranked 30th.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the honor reflected the commitment of the organization to rebuild a system that was among MLB's worst when it was transferred from Montreal to Washington, D.C.

"I cannot begin to say how proud I am of the Nationals scouting and player development staffs," Rizzo said in a statement. "The Lerner family told me they intended to build the Nationals from the ground up, and we took it seriously.

"The scouting and player development departments worked tirelessly and effectively to sign the best prospects to make a Major League roster and to give us the ability to either play the best or trade for the best. That's the recipe for building a successful organization."

Nats scouting director Kris Kline remembered when the farm system wasn't producing a lot of prospects, but that started to change in 2009, when Rizzo became the general manager and hired Doug Harris to become the farm director.

"When we first got here -- and I'm not going to name any names -- but you could see that things weren't the way they were supposed to be," Kline said. "When Riz hired Doug Harris and all of his men, I realized ... we were in a different element. There was an energy level and the positive things [the instructors] were saying to the players.

"The cool thing about it for me was the kids were feeding off all of this stuff. The instructors were teaching the kids how to play the game the right away, which is great. That's the way it is supposed to be. I always say, when we draft and sign these players -- and we give them to Doug and his guys -- all the pressure is off. We can all sleep at night knowing that they are being provided for and taken good care of. They are being taught the right way to play the game. Then when they get to [manager] Davey Johnson, they are already ready to roll. Davey doesn't have to teach them anything. That's a recipe for success."

Key signings over the past five years -- including Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen and Anthony Rendon -- coupled with the recent trade of four prospects for All-Star Gio Gonzalez, demonstrate how the scouting and player development strategy of the Nationals should position the organization to better compete in 2012 and well into the future.

"It continues well beyond those guys," Harris said. "We see some later Draft picks for us like [infielder] Blake Kelso, [catcher] David Freitas and [pitcher] Danny Rosenbaum -- some guys who worked hard to be high-profile guys. That's a credit to our scouting and player development system."

The farm system ratings were compiled and published just before the recent Gonzalez trade, which sent four prospects (A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock) to the A's, further demonstrating the value of the team's program.

"We desperately needed talent we could either develop to improve our roster or that provided the assets to trade for proven talent from other rosters," Rizzo said. "We are definitely on the right track."

"The Nationals have come a long way in our organization rankings in a short time after ranking dead last just five years ago," said Jim Callis, Baseball America's executive editor. "They've been as aggressive as any team in the Draft, which is the best way to build a team and a farm system. They've gotten the No. 1 player in our Draft rankings for three years in a row with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, and they've added a lot of quality depth around them."

At one time or another, 11 current Nationals have been listed by Baseball America among the club's Top 10 prospects -- Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Cole Kimball, John Lannan, Chris Marrero, Wilson Ramos, Strasburg, Storen, Ryan Zimmerman and Zimmermann.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.