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THE RETURN OF LUIS ATILANO

[August 31st] -- I noticed the name of Luis Atilano among the forty-some players who have been invited to participate in the Nationals' fall instructional league this fall in Viera. Mark Zuckerman listed the 22 year old pitcher as being "among the organization's top prospects."

The name didn't ring a bell, so I looked up his 2007 stats. He pitched 1.1 innings for the GCL Nationals, allowing 1 run while striking out 2.

What? 1.1 innings and he's one of the team's best prospects?

Then I remembered.

A year ago today, the Nationals acquired Atilano from the Atlanta Braves for pinch-hitter deluxe Daryle Ward. Here's what I wrote last August 31st following the trade:

"Atilano, 21, is a 6'3", 200 pound right-hander who appeared on a medium-fast track to Atlanta before Tommy John surgery ended his season earlier this month. It can take up to a year for a pitcher to return to form after this type of surgery (the bad news) but virtually every pitcher who has had it returned at near 100% (the good news). Atilano went 6-7, 4.50 with class 'A' Myrtle Beach, striking out 45 in 116 innings. Going into this season, he had a career minor league record of 16-12, 4.11 garnered over three seasons (2003-Gulf Coast League, 2004-Danville, 2005-Rome). He was certainly considered a prospect. From bravesscout.com: (from 2005) "How good might this guy be in two years? The control is tremendous and he continues to show why the Braves drafted him so high last year ... the Braves believed they had another Javier Vazquez when they drafted him, and they still feel that way. As he continues to mature physically, his fastball is only going to get better and more consistently in the mid 90's. When you look at his numbers, including his age, you just see a potential success story in the future." But wait: there's more. From Baseball America's 2003 draft review: "Atilano has two solid pitches and an ideal frame that could make him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. Atilano, 18, has an easy arm that produces a cutting fastball with excellent movement. Though skinny at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he should get stronger as his body matures, which should make his fastball more effective and possibly sit in the 93-94 mph range. Atilano also throws an above-average changeup with good depth and fade. The Braves like his mound presence and competitiveness, traits that led the Major League Scouting Bureau to grade him higher than any other player this year in Puerto Rico."

I assumed that Atilano wouldn't return until next spring, so it's great news that he's pitched this year. Although he hasn't been on any of the Nationals' pitching-prospect lists this year, Atilano certainly deserves to be listed among the kiddy-corps hopefuls. Said Bowden last year when the trade was disclosed, "We are thrilled to add a pitcher of Luis Atilano's potential to our ever-growing stable of young pitchers. We have full knowledge of his recent surgery, but feel the potential risk is well worth the reward."

If he's healthy, he has as much chance of reaching the Nationals' starting rotation as any of the other minor league hopefuls.

Luis Atilano: kind of like finding loose change under your couch's cushions.


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