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Nov 04

The First Nationals

Once again Washington has players in the Arizona Fall League that are showcasing their skills. We thought it time to reflect back to 2004. We were in Arizona watching several Arizona Fall League baseball games. The Peoria Javelinas had several players from the now defunct Montreal Expo organization that had recently been awarded to Washington. For the first time since 1971 we got to see Washington baseball players on the field of play. They were the first Nationals.

Jerry Owens, Outfield

Owens was drafted by the Expos in 2003, a second round pick. A tall left handed batter with speed, but not much power for someone his size. He had advanced up from Vermont to Savannah, where he put up good numbers. He had potential, although at 23 slightly old for Low A, but his career had been slowed by a hernia. In 2005 he was traded to the White Sox for Alex Escobar. He did make it to the majors in 2006, spending four years there all with the White Sox. He batted .262 in 129 games.

Trey Webb Infielder

Webb was a fifth round pick in the 2003 draft out of Baylor. Webb played five games in Vermont in 2003 before being sent up to the Savannah Sand Gants. He stayed with Savannah in 2004, never a good sign. His numbers were average and his selection to the Arizona Fall League, like several others, an indication of how poorly stocked the franchise was with talented players. He did have a strong arm at shortstop and for a time was converted to a pitcher.

Shawn Norris Infielder

Norris was a ninth round pick in the 2001 draft. Norris had bounced around moving up and down the minor league ladder. In 2004 he performed well enough for Brevard County in High A, his second chance there to jump to the Harrisburg Senators. He had a good season, in 37 games batting .315 with a SLG of .500. He never really settled into a position moving from short to third and at times to second. A good bat can carry a player but Norris seemed to be the type of player who was good but not good enough to get past AA ball. In 2005 he returned to Harrisburg before being sent down to Potomac where he ended his minor league career.

Jayson Bergmann Pitcher

Jayson is well known to Nationals fans. A late round pick in 2002, he advanced up through the minors, struggling at each step on the way. In 2004 he was converted to the bullpen where he had great success with the Brevard County Manatees but was hit hard at Harrisburg. Bergmann clearly had the arm to pitch in the majors out of the bullpen; he just had to figure it out.

Bill Bray Pitcher

Bray was 11th pick in the 2004 draft. The Expos could have drafted Stephen Drew, Billy Butler, Phil Hughes or a left hander pitcher named Gio Gonzalez. He put up good numbers for William and Mary and signed for almost $2M. He struggled with Brevard County ending a short stay there with an ERA of 4.91. This was our first opportunity to see Bray pitch. It was obvious that he was destined to be the lefty specialist in the bullpen. Why would any organization use a #1 pick for that? In the talent depleted system he was destined for the fast track. On 13 July he was traded to the Reds.

One other player to mention on the Peoria team was Michael Morse, although not then with Washington. We had seen Morse play in 2003 for the Winston Salem Warthogs, a White Sox affiliate. His 2004 numbers were a decided improvement on his 2003 numbers but it was clear from his fielding that his path to the majors was not at shortstop. Our biggest memory of that team was when Razor Shines was challenged a pitcher before a game to a throwing contest. The two had a face off on who could throw the hardest, Shines won.

AFL 2004 Statistics
Games AVG HR RNI
Jerry Owens 26 .270 0 09
Michael Morse 25 .258 0 08
Shawn Norris 26 .291 1 08
Trey Webb 13 .148 0 01

GA W L ERA
Jayson Bergmann 14 3 3 3.80
Bill Bay 9 0 0 7.31

This is the first in several articles. The second will be an extract from out 2004 baseball diary.

  • Brian McKeever

    This is a reminder of just how badly mismanaged the Expos were under MLB stewardship. It likely would have taken less time to build a winner in DC with an expansion team where they wouldn’t have had to clear out all of the deadwood that was left behind. Drafting Bill Bray with the 11th overall pick was almost as bad as trading every prospect of value for Bartolo Colon the year before. It was truly miraculous that the 2005 team didn’t lose 110 games.