- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Washington Nationals don’t own a top 10 pick in this week’s draft, as they have for much of their 10-year existence, but their philosophy entering the three-day event hasn’t changed. With their first selection in the second round, No. 58 overall, they will pick the best player available, just as they did with Bryce Harper in 2010, Erick Fedde in 2014 and everyone else in between.

“I don’t think it’s harder, because the process is the same,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday. “It’s just something that’s a little more boring because you don’t have the excitement of pick one or pick six or pick 29. But it’s still, to me, the Super Bowl of the season. And we will be fired up for it Monday.”

The Nationals forfeited their first-round pick when they signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract in January. Scherzer had turned down a qualifying offer with the Detroit Tigers, and league rules stipulate that any team that signs such a player must forfeit its highest pick. The Nationals were similarly docked when they signed Rafael Soriano as a free agent in 2013.

The draft has become an area of focus for the Nationals since they arrived from Montreal. The team has continuously bolstered its scouting department, hiring more area scouts and more experienced evaluators at every level. In recent days, they have converged in Washington to compare reports and assemble the board that will guide them throughout the draft.

“A lot of magnets are flying,” Rizzo said, “so that’s a good thing.”

Since Rizzo took over as Washington’s interim general manager in 2009, five of the team’s eight first-round picks have been pitchers. The team also used its first pick of the 2013 draft on a pitcher, Jake Johansen, in the second round.

This is more coincidence than strategy, Rizzo says. The Nationals do not seek to draft players at particular positions, but rather get the best player at every pick.

“We talk as much about the top 10 players in the country as we do the 800th player,” Rizzo said. “We’re watching film on every day. We’re looking at medicals and psychological tests on every single player and we’re going to line them up and when 58 comes, we’re going to pick the best guy that we see that’s available. And hopefully we hit on a guy that helps us in the big leagues.”

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