Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond is hitting .346 since the All-Star break.
Danny Espinosa, of course, was fantastic. Beyond fantastic. He clubbed two homers, one of them a grand slam. He wound up with four hits. He's batting .563 with 10 RBI in five games and an 1.875 OPS. He received a curtain call, a pie in the face and the silver Elvis Wig.
But this goes beyond Espinosa. Look up and down the Nationals' roster. It's loaded with young talent that was either homegrown or recently acquired from other organizations.
Ian Desmond, 24, is hitting .346 since the All-Star break and making significant strides in the field. He was drafted by the Expos in 2004.
Roger Bernadina, 26, looks more and more like a legitimate big leaguer with each passing day. He was signed by the Expos out of Curacao in 2001.
Wilson Ramos, 23, hasn't seen much playing time yet, but he's going to split the catching job 50-50 with Ivan Rodriguez the rest of the way and give everyone a chance to see what he can do. He was acquired from the Twins in the Matt Capps trade five weeks ago.
John Lannan, 25, has been superb since returning from the minors in late-July and once again looks like an important, long-term piece of the Nats' rotation. He was drafted in 2005.
Jordan Zimmermann, 24, had a bit of a hiccup yesterday against the Mets but was ridiculously dominant his previous time out against the Marlins and looks fully healthy following his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He was drafted in 2007.
Drew Storen, 23, has more than held his own in his first full professional season, one that saw him reach the majors less than 12 months after getting drafted and progress all the way to the point he's now closing games in the big leagues.
Tyler Clippard, 25, despite some ups and downs, still has nine wins, a 3.01 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. He was acquired during the 2007 winter meetings from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo.
Sean Burnett, 27, has taken a big step in establishing himself as a reliable, late-inning reliever, proving he's more than just a left-handed specialist and can get guys from both sides of the plate out in the eighth and even ninth innings. He was acquired from the Pirates last summer along with Nyjer Morgan for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan.
Tonight, Yunesky Maya, 29, makes his major-league debut, hoping the success he enjoyed in Cuba translates to this level. The four-year contract he received from the Nats in July suggests he's ready for this leap.
Oh yeah, and then there's Ryan Zimmerman, 25, who merely continues to establish his position as one of the 10 best all-around players in baseball. He was drafted in 2005.
That's 10 players 27 or younger (plus Maya) who look like significant pieces of the Nationals' puzzle, not only in the long term, but right now. And these aren't simply the best of a bad lot of prospects who only were called up because the organization had nothing better in the pipeline. No, every one of these guys earned his way onto the Nats' roster, and nearly every one of them has already done something at this level to prove he deserves to stick around for a while.
After hearing about "The Plan" for more than three years, this is the payoff. They've arrived. This is the team the Nationals have been building all along, and now it's time to find out if this group is good enough to win at the highest level.
It may not happen overnight. It may not happen in 2011. But these guys are going to get a chance to prove whether they can do it. And by the time the biggest fish in the pond (Stephen Strasburg) returns from his injury in the next 12 to 18 months, we should all have a better idea whether this is the team that makes all the waiting worthwhile and brings a pennant race back to the District.
Until then, might as well enjoy the ride as this new wave of young players finishes out the most interesting and important September this franchise has experienced in five years.