Every year, when the first-year player draft rolls around, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says it’s like Christmas for him. A scout at his core, this is what Rizzo built his name in the baseball world doing — identifying talent.
And in his history with the Nationals, their drafts — particularly in the past four years — have been more than fruitful. Half of the team’s active roster entering Wednesday night was drafted and developed by the Nationals.
But Thursday night, as another crop of high school seniors, junior college players, and college juniors and seniors prepare to hear their names called, the Nationals will do something they’ve never done before: wait.
As a result of their major league-best 98-win season a year ago, and the fact that they surrendered their first-round pick to the New York Yankees when they signed closer Rafael Soriano this past offseason, the Nationals will not be involved until the second round and the 68th overall selection. Their pool of money with which to get their picks from the first 10 rounds signed is also the smallest in the major leagues at $2,737,200.
It has not changed the way they’ve prepared for the three-day affair.
“We’re not approaching it any different,” Rizzo said. “We’re setting up the board, doing our due diligence, just like we have every other year. It’s the only way we know how to do it.
“Other than waiting longer to make a selection, we’re going to handle the draft the exact same way I’ve done it my whole career.”
The Nationals have had their scouts deployed in all the same places this season, seeing all of the top talent they normally do. They have ranked the talent, based on their evaluations, and as those players go off the board in picks No. 1-67, the Nationals will take them down.
Chances are, after they pick, they’ll say it was the best player available on their board at that time.
So what is the track record of players picked at No. 68? Not bad, actually.
Current major leaguers selected as the No. 68th overall pick include Angels left-hander Jason Vargas, Red Sox righty John Lackey, Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly, White Sox reliever Donnie Veal and catcher Chris Snyder, who was with the Nationals in spring training and recently designated for assignment by the Orioles.
In the latest mock draft by ESPN.com’s Keith Law, his No. 68-ranked talent is Terry McLure, an outfielder out of Riverwood High School in Atlanta. Whether the Nationals like him, or whether he will still be available at pick No. 68, is unknown, but one official said this is one of the deepest high school draft classes out of Georgia in years.
For a state that has birthed the careers of Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, Adam Wainwright and Brian McCann — to name a select few — that is a weighty statement.
There is certainly major-league talent to be had, even when your first pick isn’t until the second round.
“I know there’s going to be impact big leaguers in this draft,” Rizzo said. “And our job is to find out which guys those are, where the hidden gems are, take them and have our development staff develop them into big-league players.
“Impact major leaguers are found all over the draft. And with our scouting staff, we feel that we’re going to overturn all the rocks and try and find some gems that will give us a real impactful draft this year.”