The Nationals have grown accustomed to the luxury of high draft picks over the years. But with the 16th pick in the first round of MLB Draft on Monday, general manager Mike Rizzo knew he had to instead find the perfect mixture of potential and signability.
In right-hander Lucas Giolito, Rizzo thinks he found just that.
“He’s a power body and a power arm,” Rizzo said. “He has three-plus pitches across the board and a real competitive side, and he’s a great person. He’s a great kid with great character and a great makeup.”
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound high school pitcher out of Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, Calif., has top-of-the-draft talent but slipped down the board because of injury problems. He sprained his ulnar collateral ligament last March but did not sustain any long-term ligament or tendon damage. Rizzo said the team has spoken with Giolito’s doctors and felt comfortable with the pick.
“We weighed the risk against the reward,” Rizzo said. “We did our homework and our due diligence on his health and his makeup and decided this is the type of player, the type of stuff and the type of ceiling that we want here in the Washington Nationals organization.”
According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Giolito’s fastball usually hovers around 93-98 mph but has been clocked at as high as 100. He also features an 83-86 mph power curveball, which Rizzo said was just as good as, if not better than, his fastball. Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Personnel Roy Clark likened him to Roy Halladay.
The league’s latest collective bargaining agreement set hard caps on signing bonuses for the first 10 picks of each team. The change leaves Rizzo with roughly $4.44 million at his disposal over the next couple of days, a small chunk of change compared with the reported $16.5 million that the Nationals spent on their top four picks in last year’s draft. Giolito’s slot is $2.125 million.
Giolito committed to attend UCLA in September 2010 but presumably will pass that up to join the Nationals organization. Rizzo was quick to acknowledge that he wouldn’t have drafted Giolito if he hadn’t liked their chances of signing him.
“We’re going to make every attempt to sign him,” Rizzo said. “With the new rules and the collective bargaining, it’s a different ballgame, so we’re going to put our best foot forward and try to sell him on our place here in Washington.”
The Nationals’ selection marks the fourth consecutive year in which they picked someone with No. 1 overall potential. After selecting Stephen Strasburg and Harper first overall in 209 and 2010, respectively, Washington drafted Anthony Rendon, a supremely talented prospect with injury concerns like Giolito, sixth in last year’s draft.
Of the 10 players the Nationals have taken in the first round, four are active in the majors and two are on the major league disabled list. Washington’s No. 16 pick was its lowest since the franchise moved to the District in 2005.