In three days, the Washington Nationals will make the 10th first-round draft pick in their short history. Six of those picks already have spent significant time inside the Nationals’ major league clubhouse, leaving lofty expectations for those who follow.
But they already know this pick will be different.
When the Major League Baseball draft gets underway Monday at 7 p.m., the Nationals will sit idly by for the first time in their history. For at least an hour, team representative Pat Corrales will have no phone to answer, no name to submit.
In a draft that is widely thought to lack the depth and top-tier talent of any of the previous three or four, the Nationals will pick 16th — the lowest top selection they will have had since relocating to Washington in 2005.
It has made planning for this draft a bit different than the ones of their recent past.
“All I can say is that we’ve got 16 names up on our board right now,” scouting director Kris Kline said Thursday. “And we will definitely get one of them.”
The Nationals don’t know who that one is yet, of course, and they won’t until the Cleveland Indians submit their pick at No. 15 and the Nationals examine who of those 16 remain.
Analyst Keith Law’s latest mock draft on ESPN.com had the Nationals selecting Texas A&M right-hander Michael Wacha, while also bringing up the names of Alabama high school outfielder David Dahl and Arizona State University shortstop Deven Marrero, the cousin of Nationals first baseman Chris. The other name Law mentions is that of Duke’s Marcus Stroman, who Baseball America’s Jim Callis tabs as the Nationals’ pick.
Callis calls Stroman falling to the Nationals at No. 16 “outright robbery,” and even speculates that the 5-foot-9 right-hander could help the team’s playoff drive from the bullpen as soon as late this summer. But Law points out that, while Stroman fits the Nationals’ ideal as a quality college pitcher, his body type would be a departure for the Nationals and general manager Mike Rizzo, who prefers taller, longer pitchers.
Regardless of who they end up with, this draft will be different — and not just because of where the Nationals make their picks (which after No. 16, won’t be again until No. 80).
The first draft held under the new collective bargaining agreement gives the Nationals, who spent just more than $15 million on their top four picks in the 2011 draft, $4,436,200 to spend on their top 10 picks combined. The suggested price for the 16th overall pick is $2.125 million, but they can allot their $4 million-plus any way they like, and bonuses for players signed after the first 10 rounds won’t count against the overall budget unless they exceed $100,000. All teams, Kline said, “are going to have to keep track of every penny” like never before.
“I can see teams being creative,” he said. “Maybe taking a college senior with their first pick or second pick or even in the compensation round. I’m not saying that’s going to happen … but high school kids, with the new rules, are probably not going to sign unless they get mostly what they’re looking for. That makes everybody more focused on college kids.”
As they went through the scouting process, though, Kline said the Nationals were unsure how, if at all, the new rules would affect their draft strategy. They knew things would change after 2011, their days of over-slot bonanzas passed, and that was why they attacked the draft the way they did before this.
When Rizzo got back from his first trip with Kline earlier this May to see some of the Nationals’ top targets, he came back assured that even without a slew of top picks or a large purse to back them the Nationals were still in position to have an impactful draft. They won’t know for sure until it’s over, when three exhaustive days are complete.
“I’ll tell you this,” Kline said, referencing his long history with Rizzo dating to their days with the Arizona Diamondbacks, “For whatever reason, whether it’s luck or the right people or whatever, the last 13 or 14 years we’ve always seemed to identify and get the players we want, regardless of the depth and of the talent.
“I’m hoping for the best. We know who we like.”