NATIONALS THIRD BASEMAN
HE REACHED the big leagues only 86 days after the Nationals took him fourth out of the University of Virginia, and he hit .397 in 20 games in 2005. The following spring Zimmerman won a starting job as a 21-year-old, then joined Mike Piazza and Albert Pujols as the only NL rookies since '54 to drive in more than 100 runs. But last season he took a step back, suffering drops in batting average and RBIs. "The second year, [pitchers] know your strengths and weaknesses, and they attack your weaknesses," says Zimmerman. One AL general manager isn't concerned, noting Zimmerman's all-around skills. "He spent almost no time in the minors, so everything he's learning and doing has been at the highest level," the G.M. says. "He's also a tremendous defensive player, a top-two third baseman who could probably play shortstop. He's got the actions and quickness." Nationals G.M. Jim Bowden takes it a step further: "He could've been Cal Ripken at shortstop."
Photograph by WALTER IOOSS JR.