- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Draft the best player available, and if that player happens to be a pitcher, even better.

The Nationals stuck by that plan Thursday, and in the first round it landed them a pitcher they say could win in the major leagues soon.

Running counter to a group of teams that took eight position players among the first 10 picks, the Nationals took Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow with the ninth pick, adding another power arm to a minor league organization brimming with them.

The 21-year-old went 13-0 with a 2.35 earned-run average for the Tigers this season and was recognized by Baseball America as the Cape Cod League’s top prospect after leading the summer league with a 0.67 ERA last year.

“We all know when you play into October and win championships, you do it starting with starting pitching,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “[He] has a fastball in the 92 to 97 miles per hour range, a plus slider, a plus change-up, tremendous command of all three pitches.”

Tampa Bay took Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham with the first pick, Pittsburgh grabbed Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez at No. 2 and Eric Hosmer, a high school first baseman from Florida, went to Kansas City after that. It set off a run on everyday players that left a pitcher available at No. 9 who the Nationals felt wouldn’t be there most years.

“There were so many bats in the draft. When was the last time you saw three catchers go in the first 10 picks?” scouting director Dana Brown said. “We feel fortunate that we got [Crow] because there were so many hitters.”

If there is one negative to with the 6-foot-2 Crow, it’s that he makes a “cupping” motion at the back of his windup, wrapping his hand around the ball. But Bowden raved about his competitiveness, saying he could be on the fast track to the big leagues if he signs early.

Crow declined to discuss how large a signing bonus he and agent J.D. Smart are seeking. Jarrod Parker, last year’s No. 9 pick, signed for a $2.1 million bonus from Arizona.

“I had a little idea [I’d end up with the Nationals] - it wasn’t a surprise at all,” Crow said. “I’m excited. They put a lot of emphasis on pitching. I’m going to get a lot of instruction, figure out some stuff and get a lot better.”

He headlined a haul that assistant general manager Mike Rizzo said included five of the top 30 players on the Nationals’ draft board.

The team took a pair of position players in the second and third rounds, selecting Mobile (Ala.) high school outfielder Destin Hood with the 55th pick and grabbing Long Beach State shortstop Daniel Espinosa with the 87th.

Two of the Nationals’ next three selections were pitchers: high school left-hander Graham Hicks in the fourth round and junior college right-hander Paul Demny in the sixth. Between those two, they grabbed fifth-round selection Adrian Nieto, who some felt was the second-best high school catcher in the draft.

The Nationals conducted an MRI on Nieto’s right elbow this week, and Rizzo said concerns with his throwing arm probably dropped him out of the first few rounds.

“We felt it was a risk worth taking,” he said of the selection.

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