CSN: First, it's good to have you back. We - and the Nats farm system - have come a long way since the likes of Kory Casto and Mike Hinckley were known as top prospects in the organization. Cornerstone pieces Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have helped jumpstart this club to a first place lead in the NL East and to a 26-17 record. Is it shocking to you that the Nationals have done this well considering all of the injuries they have suffered? Not to mention, this organization isn't used to having this type of success, can they keep it up?
NFA: No, it's not surprising. Drafting so early in the first round so often had paid dividends. They "picked" the best two years to be so awful. Getting Strasburg and Harper, two of the top players in any draft, along with paying the price to sign players who slid due to signability has allowed the Nationals to accelerate their ability to compete.
CSN: The December trade for Gio Gonzalez sent the Athletics four of the Nats top prospects (pitchers Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris). Yes, we're only a couple months into the first year post move, but what are your early impressions of the deal and in the long run, who wins that deal?
NFA: Loved the deal when it happened. Love the deal today. As much as you want to draftdevelop players for the Nationals, teams also need to have the pieces to deal for missing players at the major league level. Losing guys like Cole and Norris does hurt the long view of the Nationals, but getting a guy like Gonzalez to slot between Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann was a fantastic move (especially after extending him). Cole and Norris are the two pieces I am going to watch closest. PeacockMilone are nice arms but realistically would have had a hard time cracking the starting rotation over the next 2-4 seasons.
CSN: A lot of the Nats top pitching prospects can be found in the lower levels of the minors. However, in AAHarrisburg Danny Rosenbaum continues the trend of succeeding at every level he pitches at. What is your ceiling for the Nats lefty pitching prospect?
NFA: Rosenbaum is Tommy Milone revisted, though scouts don't see the same stuff as Milone. He's a great story from where he has come from and what he has done, I can see getting a cup of coffee in 2013 but realistically he's a back of the rotation guy.
CSN: While the Nationals bats are finally starting to show some signs of life, what reinforcements are on the way either via completed rehab assignment or high minors?
NFA: The guy they miss the most is Michael Morse. They've had a conga line of left fielders and lack Morse's big bat in the middle of the lineup. The guy at the higher level of the minors who can help some is Corey Brown, a LF center fielder playing in Syracuse. He's probably a 4th OF at best but he is an intriguing left-handed option in center for the Nationals. Rick Ankiel is great defensively and has a fantastic arm, but is not a threat at the plate. Perhaps giving Brown a shot would help.
CSN: Much of Washington's current success can be attributed to the job GM Mike Rizzo has done building this team through the draft. This year, the Nationals will pick in unfamiliar territory ... not near the top. Are there any names fans should keep an eye out for or is there a specific position you would like to see the club go target?
NFA: The rumors I've heard surround college arms like Andrew Heaney, a lefty from Oklahoma State, and Chris Stratton, a right-handed starter from Mississippi State. Both are nice guys but not front of the rotation guys. I'd prefer the Nationals to target up the middle bats in this draft. If a guy like Deven Marrero, Arizona State shortstop and Chris Marrero's cousin or Gavin Cecchini, a high school shortstop whose brother plays in the Red Sox organization. If those guys are gone, the player I like is Richie Shaffer, a power hitting third baseman from Clemson; he's likely to move off of third to first base or left field.
CSN: And as always, my favorite question for you, what sleepers have impressed you down on the farm?
NFA: The guy I've enjoyed following the most is Matt Skole down in Hagerstown. He's a solid left-handed hitting third baseman who is hitting .287.437.538 for the Suns. Not a middle of the lineup threat in the majors but he could develop into a solid bench guy who may be able to sneak a few starts in at third or first.