Nats draft Zimmerman at No. 4
Virginia third baseman signs, will report to Double-A Harrisburg
WASHINGTON -- University of Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made history on Tuesday afternoon in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft by becoming the Washington Nationals' inaugural first-round pick.
A few minutes later, both parties agreed to terms on a $2.975 million Minor League deal, with more than $800,000 up front as a signing bonus. Zimmerman will report to Double-A Harrisburg and then play in the Arizona Fall League once the Minor League season is over. Zimmerman also will report to Spring Training in 2006.
Zimmerman is expected to visit the Nationals on Wednesday.
Zimmerman said he signed right away because he didn't want to lose at-bats during the summer and didn't want to have a reputation of being a person that is looking only for the money.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys that sits out the whole summer," Zimmerman said. "It was real important to be out there. I'm already so close to where everyone's goal is. They are going to send me right to Double-A. It wouldn't be smart to go out and get more money. It's not really the kind of player that I am. I don't know how I could deal without a summer of baseball."
Interim general manager Jim Bowden said he wouldn't be afraid to call Zimmerman up to the big leagues this year, but that Zimmerman needs to perform at Harrisburg in order for the promotion to happen.
"This will be a player in the fast track to the Major Leagues," Bowden said. "This decision was almost unanimous from this organization. That's rare to find. But that's how the draft played out. This is one of the easiest first-round picks I've been involved in.
"When I took [Reds pitcher] Ryan Wagner [in 2003], I brought him to the big leagues in eight days. That's not going to happen with Zimmerman. We'll put a player where he can succeed. If we feel we have an injury and he can help us in the big leagues, we are not afraid to promote him, if we can do it. But once he goes out and plays, Zimmerman is the one who tells us how quick he can get to the big leagues, not us."
Zimmerman was the fourth overall pick, behind Virginia high school shortstop Justin Upton (Arizona), Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon (Kansas City) and USC catcher Jeff Clement (Seattle).
The Nationals had a chance to select Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who was projected by some to be the third pick in the draft. But it was unanimous within the organization that Zimmerman was a better choice.
Bowden said the team likes Zimmerman's makeup on and off the field. The organization has already compared him to the likes of Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Troy Glaus, and they believe that Zimmerman has the agility to play shortstop, if needed.
"He is a leader," Bowden said. "As you build a baseball team, makeup and character is extremely important. He is also a very special defensive player. There are not a lot of special defensive third basemen that ever get to play in the Major Leagues. This player is one of those players. He's a great defensive player and he has a great arm."
When asked about those comparisons, Zimmerman said, "I just try to play like me. I always tried to be consistent in the games that I've played. You know what you are going to get every day when I come to the park."
Zimmerman became the first position player to be drafted by the Nationals since 1998, when the Expos drafted shortstop Josh McKinley with the 11th pick. For the next six years, the organization drafted pitchers, with closer Chad Cordero being the only one playing the big leagues.
As for Zimmerman, he stands 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and hails from Virginia Beach, Va. He hit .393 with six home runs and 59 RBI this season for the Cavaliers.
A second team All-ACC selection in 2005, Zimmerman established a new school record for hits in a season (92), breaking a record (90) he set in 2004. He hit .400 (6-for-15) with four RBIs to garner a spot on the 2005 ACC All-Tournament Team.
Position: 3B B/T: R/R
H: 6'2" W: 210
Born: 1984-09-28 Class: 4YR
Strong, athletic build on a large build. Similar to Aaron Boone. Quick, line-drive stroke. Drives ball w/ regular contact. Gap-type power. Soft hands. Good instincts. Fun to watch.
A .355 career hitter with 47 doubles and 140 RBIs in three seasons at Virginia, Zimmerman helped the Cavaliers earn NCAA bids each of the last two seasons to end the program's eight-year postseason drought. Despite playing just three collegiate seasons, Zimmerman is ranked among Virginia's all-time top 10 in hits, doubles and RBIs.
Bowden feels that Zimmerman will hit home runs in the future as long as he doesn't change his swing to do so.
Zimmerman's baseball experience expands far beyond the college level. He was named MVP at the FIFU II World University Games, played last summer in Taiwan.
For the summer, Zimmerman led or tied for the Team USA club lead in all three Triple Crown categories, hitting .468 with four home runs and 27 RBIs. For his efforts, Zimmerman was named USA Baseball's Athlete of the Year in 2004.
While playing for Team USA, Zimmerman was teammates with Gordon, who went two picks ahead of him to the Royals. Zimmerman's defensive propensity at the hot corner forced Gordon's shift to first base for the summer.
Zimmerman (.468, four home runs, 27 RBI) also outhit Gordon (.388, four home runs, 12 RBI) in the summer using wood bats.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.