Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was at home Monday night, watching highlight film of Lucas Giolito dance across his television screen when the phone rang. It was general manager Mike Rizzo calling to let Johnson know the team had just tabbed Giolito, a high school right-hander, with their first pick in the draft.
“Man, I’m looking at him,” Johnson said. “Great pick.”
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound 17-year-old cut such a unique figure Johnson was almost immediately smitten. With a major league rotation filled with power arms and a minor league system scattered with them, the idea of adding Giolito to that mix was tantalizing.
The Nationals added three pitchers and six position players Tuesday with their next nine picks, including tall Stanford left-hander Brett Mooneyham. But Giolito is the gem of this draft class.
The worries over the strained right elbow that cost him his senior season at Harvard-Westlake High School in California? Giolito says pay them no mind.
“I’ve had some of the best doctors around treat me,” Giolito said in a conference call Tuesday, adding that he’s been tossing from 280-300 feet and letting it loose from 60 feet on flat ground. “I’m feeling really good. I’m confident this issue is behind me.”
On then to the other issues that come with the Nationals’ lowest No. 1 pick in their brief history.
Giolito, straight out of a Hollywood family, is an avid writer and plays the French horn. But while acting tugged at his mother, Lindsay Frost, and father, Rick, and grandfather, Warren Frost, baseball tugged at him. After a showcase tour last summer, Giolito solidified his commitment to UCLA. A scholarship, and an education, await him if he so chooses.
At one time a possible No. 1 overall pick in the draft — and still widely considered the best high school arm in it — Giolito never would have been around for the Nationals to take had he not gotten hurt. Their slot for the No. 16 selection is $2.125 million, almost half of the $4.4 million they’ve been allotted for their first 10 selections. Money most certainly will be an important aspect of whether Giolito joins the Nationals or slaps on the Bruins’ powder blue the next time he’s on a mound.
“Well, I’ve always wanted to play pro ball,” said Giolito, who is advised by CAA. “But obviously I picked UCLA for a reason. It’s one of the best baseball programs in all of college sports. … UCLA is a really big option for me, and we’ll see how everything plays out.”
The Nationals will certainly do what they can to sign him and get him on their rehab plan. Asked about Giolito’s signability Monday night, Rizzo conceded it will be a challenge to convince Giolito that Washington is the organization for him.
“With the new rules in the collective bargaining, it’s a different ballgame,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to put our best foot forward and try to sell him on our place. … That it’s the place that will get him the healthiest and give him the best opportunity to do what he wants to do — and that’s pitch in the big leagues.”
Giolito described his approach on the mound is to use his fastball, clocked in triple digits before his injury, to “bust people” inside and then drop in what the Nationals called a “power” curve. He’s been working on a changeup, too, and already has been linked with three names that won’t help to temper expectations. Giolito cited Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg as the pitchers he most likes to emulate. Asked for a proper comparable, Nationals assistant GM Roy Clark threw out Roy Halladay.
Giolito tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he was on his way to his senior retreat, having just wrapped up his final classes. If he’s to go pro, his days of living like a kid who just finished high school are likely numbered.
“I’m looking forward to pitching soon,” he said. “I look forward to getting on a mound soon.”
NOTES: Several players with local ties were drafted Tuesday. Virginia closer Branden Kline went to the Orioles in the second round (65th overall) and was followed off the board by Cavaliers teammates Chris Taylor (Mariners, fifth round) and Stephen Bruno (Cubs, seventh round). Navy outfielder Alex Azor (Blue Jays) and George Mason left-hander Chris O’Grady (Angels) were taken two picks apart in the 10th round. Navy right-hander Preston Gainey then went to the Brewers in the 11th round.