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[October 16th] -- I guess you can only get away with sleight-of-hand for just so long. After four consecutive "best of" stories, I got caught.

I guess it's time for some original thoughts, huh?

So, who is going to be the surprise of 2008? I mean, is there going to be one player, perhaps a group of players, who is going to come out of nowhere and make us all go "oooooooooooh?" Nick coming back will certainly be a surprise. Felipe Lopez staying with the Nationals would be another surprise. But, other than perhaps Justin Maxwell making the team out of spring training - something I don't see happening - there aren't any cliff-hangers out there. Ryan Zimmerman could hit .300-30-110 and I wouldn't be surprised, and Wily Mo Pena is just as likely to hit 45 homers as not. Ryan Church - assuming he remains with the Nationals - could hit .285-20-90 and no one would give it a second thought. Had he played a full 162 games this year, he would have hit (more or less) .273-18-88. And Jesus Flores? Well, unless Brian Schneider absolutely collapses, he won't get enough at-bats to make a real difference.

So where will 2008's surprise come from?

How about Garrett Mock.

Mock, the primary player in the Livan Hernandez trade in August of 2006, has had a tough couple of years. Because of his injuries, and his poor performance, his name is seldom mentioned as a possibility for next year's rotation. But should it be? Has something happened that he no longer is considered a prospect, that he has been Casto'd aside by the think tank (get it? Casto'd aside, like Kory Casto getting cast aside? Hey it was funny in my mind)?

Well, he's playing in the Arizona Fall League as we speak, and hasn't given up a run in two appearances. I think that says that the Nationals in fact continue to hold high hopes for the kid.

Mock, 24, is another big boy from Texas. He's 6'4", 220 lbs, and looks a little like fellow Texas Roger Clemens when he was first starting out. He attended the University of Houston.

Mock wasn't much of a prospect coming out of high school. He was drafted by the Indians in the 44th round of the 2001 draft, and then by the Twins in the 14th round the next year. Despite a very pedestrian 9-9, 4.10 record at Houston, the Diamondbacks selected him in the 3rd round in 2004, two selections after our very own Ian Desmond.

He thrived in his first year of 'A' ball, going 5-2, 3.39 in 74 innings. Mock had an excellent 1.05 base runners per 9 innings ratio (WHIP). In 2005, playing for high 'A' Lancaster of the California League, Mock went 14-8, 4.18, striking out 8 per 9 innings while walking less than 2. His WHIP, however increased to 1.35.

Mock was promoted to 'AA' Tennessee and - for want of a better word - stunk. In 23 starts, he went 4-8, 4.95. His strikeouts per 9 innings was still over 8, but he allowed 3.5 walks per 9, more than double his 'A' ball average. His WHIP increased again, to 1.48. Mock started 4 games for Harrisburg after the trade, but was just as bad, going 0-4, 10.26. His WHIP was an astoundingly bad 2.04 base runners per 9 innings. Mock's strikeouts per 9 innings was cut almost in half, though his walks were down a bit too.

His season came to an end a month early when Mock had to undergo surgery to repair a torn patella tendon. Now, while no one has ever said when the tear occurred, his poor performance in 2006, which got worse as the season progressed, had to have been due to pain in his left, or landing, knee. I can imagine how difficult it must have been to try to throw a ball 94 mph while landing your 220 pounds on a knee that barks at you when you try to walk.

His surgery was supposed to take 4-5 months to heal, but Mock was unable to pitch in Spring Training, and he began the year on the disabled list, staying in extended spring training until he fully healed. After rehab starts with the GCL and Potomac Nationals, Mock was able to make 11 starts with Harrisburg, going 1-5, 5.79. His strikeouts per 9 innings was down a little, but the main problem Mock had was his control, allowing almost 5 walks per 9 innings. So far, he's done well in the Arizona Fall League, allowing no runs in 4 innings.

So why the belief that Mock might help the Nationals in 2008?

Mock was the Diamondbacks #7 prospect in 2006, ahead of many of the team's stable of young stars. His 4.18 ERA in the California League looks high, but was really very good considering it is one of the highest scoring leagues in the minors, thanks to the high elevation of some of the cities, low humidity in others, and tiny ballparks everywhere. Mock's 160 strikeouts led the league in 2005. He was named the Diamondbacks' second-best pitching prospect that year. When healthy, Mock has excellent control; he had an amazing 3.3/1 strikeout to walk ratio playing for Tennessee in 2006.

I don't think the Nationals will look at Mock's poor numbers from 2007 when deciding who will, and who won't, get a real chance to win a spot in the starting rotation. My guess is that what he does in the next six weeks in Arizona will be the determining factor. Matt Chico made the jump from 'AA' and pitched well enough this past season, and Chico was the throw-in in the Livan Hernandez trade. Mock was #7 and Chico #11 in the Diamondbacks' prospect list in 2006.

If healthy, if he pitches well this fall and again in the spring, Garrett Mock will likely be given every opportunity to pitch in the Nationals' rotation. Oh, it might not be in April, but look for him in July or August.

Like Jim Bowden always says, how quickly a player rises through the system depends only on how well they play, nothing else.

Five years from now, Livan Hernandez will be a very rich, and very tubby, retired baseball player. Hopefully, five years from now, Matt Chico and Garrett Mock will combine for 32 wins in the Nats' rotation.

Hey, it could happen.

Nats Notes @10/17: Reports are surfacing that Bob Carpenter, the recently fired - oh wait a minute, we might not fire you after all - broadcast dude has been offered a one-year contract to return to the Nationals' television booth in 2008. Were I Bob Carpenter, I'd make the Nationals sweat a bit before accepting the deal. It's like, "Look, we don't like you and we don't want you, but we can't find anyone else who wants the job that we like, so we'll let you sit next to Don Sutton for another year before canning you next September. Okay?" I don't know what other jobs are available at this point, but I'd hold out for a two-year contract. No, he's not great, and yes, some of his "no doubt" homers that ended up on the warning track got a little tiring. But if we use that same train of thought, then the Nats should get rid of Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns and Brian Schnedier because they underperformed too. If everyone within the organization - on the field, in the booth and in the front office - simply does better in 2008, then I think we'll all be satisfied with the product.

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