Nats beat the clock, sign top five draft picks

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This year, there was no Bryce Harper and no Stephen Strasburg. There was no No. 1 overall pick deemed once-in-a-generation waiting until the clock struck midnight to relent, get paid record sums and join the Washington Nationals.

But as the 2011 signing deadline for draft picks inched ever-closer the Nationals completed a coup of a different kind: perhaps the most impactful draft from start to finish in organizational history. In signing all of their top five picks in the 2011 draft, and 29 of their 51 selections, the Nationals took in an unparalleled haul.

Minutes before the midnight deadline, the Nationals locked up No. 6 overall pick Anthony Rendon to a four-year major league contract worth a total of $7.2 million — $6 million of it bonus money. They also signed No. 23 Alex Meyer to a $2 million deal, No. 34 Brian Goodwin for $3 million and No. 93 Matt Purke, once considered a first-overall selection, to a four-year major league deal worth roughly $4 million. No. 127 overall, Kylin Turnbull, agreed to a $325,000 deal about 2 ½ hours before the deadline.

All told, the Nationals spent an estimated $16.5 million on their top five selections in the draft.

“We’re the talk of the industry right now,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “Before we signed these players, we had a minor league system that the needle was heading north in a big, big way. This just solidifies us, to me, as one of the great scouting and player development organizations in baseball. We feel really good about ourselves tonight.”

With good reason.

Draft experts were already crowing over the Nationals shrewd selection when they nabbed third baseman Rendon at No. 6 overall, where he fell to largely because of injury concern, and Meyer, a right-handed pitcher, in the first round. Those compliments only got more effusive when they tabbed outfielder Goodwin in the supplemental round and Purke, a left-hander, in the third round.

Even before the selection of Purke ESPN’s Keith Law and Jason A. Churchill called the Nationals top three selections an “unbelievable haul.” The ESPN experts also noted that, “if they get all four under contract, the Nationals will have one of the strongest classes on the draft.”

The Nationals locked up about $16. 2 million in the first four selections alone, including the first time Rizzo had ever doled out two major league deals in one draft, but it was worth it to Rizzo, vice president of player personnel Roy Clark and the Lerner family to make that commitment.

“This is my 27th year being involved with the draft and it’s the best draft I’ve ever been a part of,” Clark said. “As far as the number of impact players that we’re bringing into the system at once… I think this is a huge day in the franchise history of the Washington Nationals.”

“If you would have told me that we’d walk out of this thing and we signed everybody we wanted to sign, I would have doubted that it could have been done,” Rizzo said.

Rendon and Purke were injury concerns and their draft stock fell because of it, but the Nationals put both through a rigorous physical. Purke allowed the Nationals to give him an MRI-arthrogram on his left shoulder on a visit to Washington in July, as well as putting on two separate throwing sessions for them, and Rendon visiting with both Dr. Lewis Yocum and Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih to examine his right shoulder.

Rizzo met personally with both Purke and Rendon and felt the framework of a deal with Purke was in place once he departed from Houston, where he’d been negotiating with Purke’s representation, on Sunday morning. Rendon met with Rizzo and Mark Lerner in Los Angeles when the Nationals played the Dodgers. Both were deemed close enough to being major league-ready that the Nationals agreed to offer them big league deals. Rizzo did not meet with Meyer or Goodwin.

The Nationals have not shied away from spending big-time money on the draft, dropping nearly $14 million last year on four players: Bryce Harper, Sammy Solis, AJ Cole and Robbie Ray, the latter two later-round picks the Nationals signed for well over slot money. And this year was no different, a testament, Rizzo said, to the Lerner family’s commitment to bringing a winning team to Washington in the near future.

“I can’t stress enough that this ownership group has allowed me to be me — to be aggressive, go after these guys, get the best players available and worry about signing them later,” Rizzo said. “What they showed me in that room tonight, was, I can’t put into words. It was great stuff. You talk about the trust in a staff? They don’t talk about it, they show it. It was a huge night for us.”

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