"I like to tell people we were unsure until about 11:58:42," then-team President Stan Kasten joked with reporters in August of 2009 after the Washington Nationals had signed '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg to a 4-year/$15.1M dollar major league deal just moments before the deadline to sign that year's draft picks. Asked if he felt he would be back in the same position the next August with another no.1 pick from the 2010 Draft to negotiate with, Kasten laughed and said, "God, I hope not. That's why I want to win every game. I do not want the no.1 pick next year or ever again. Having said that, 'Do I think whoever we're picking will be a negotiation that goes down to the last minute?' It's certainly possible, until we fix the system the sensible way that it needs to be fixed. Like the NBA did a decade ago. They had the same problem, and the problem is players don't get out and start working on their career. That's the no.1 problem, and that's now resolved in the NBA and I'm confident something akin to that will be the end result here in baseball."
"Will the owners make that a priority in the next CBA?" a reporter asked.
"I think so, yeah," Kasten responded.
The Nationals, who'd gone 59-102 in 2008 to "earn" the no.1 pick in the '09 Draft which they used to select Strasburg out of San Diego State University, went 59-103 in 2009 to earn the right to draft Bryce Harper no.1 overall in 2010. Negotiations with the then-17-year-old catcher-turned-outfielder went down to the wire, but the Nationals signed Harper too, giving the preternaturally-gifted hitter a 5-year/$9.9M dollar major league deal. The Nationals, expecting changes to the CBA as Kasten had mentioned in August of '09, "attacked" the '09, '10 and '11 Drafts as Mike Rizzo told reporters after the Nationals again spent big money to sign their top picks in 2011.
2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon, who was taken sixth overall got a 4-year/$7.2M dollar major league deal. RHP Alex Meyer, the 23rd overall pick, signed for $2M dollars (the same amount 2010 4th Rounder A.J. Cole had gotten). The Nats' third 1st Round pick, OF Brian Goodwin got a $1M dollar signing bonus. According to Baseball America's reporting, the Nationals spent a $11.5M+ on signing bonuses in 2009, $11.9M+ in 2010 and $15M+ in 2011 and that's just signing bonuses, excluding money guaranteed in Major League deals. The Nationals, "... stuffed dynamite in [MLB's] slot system," Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote after the 2011 signing deadline.
"The plan three years ago was to attack the draft before the new CBA," the Nats' GM explained, "That was our focus. That was our vision. That was our strategy going into it three years ago and we did it. We attacked it for the last three years and I don't think you'll see a draft class like last year's because of the new CBA rules, so..."
The expected changes to the Draft did come as part of the new CBA. A draft bonus pool. Prescribed/suggested slot bonuses. Significant fines and penalties in the form of taxes and potential loss of future draft picks for exceeding the prescribed total. The Washington Nationals, again according to Baseball America, can spend a total of $4,436,200 without incurring any penalties, and there's a recommended bonus of $2,125,000 for their first round pick this year, which is the 16th pick in the 1st Round of the Draft, which takes place Monday through Wednesday.
The changes then-team President Stan Kasten referenced in terms of the signing deadline were made as well. You'll no longer have to wait until the stroke of midnight on one day in the middle of August, two months after the draft, to know if the team has signed the year's picks. You'll only have to wait until the last moment on July 13th this year (the day will move depending on the date of each year's All-Star Game apparently)... and there's the whole Competitive Balance and Forfeited Pick Lottery on July 16th, which you can read about HERE.
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was traveling around recently doing draft preparation, visiting the ACC Tournament to see some players himself. "I'm in the final tweaking mode," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier two weeks back when he called in from the road, "Where I'm going to see really the candidates for a couple of our top round draft choices, but this is a process that's 12 months/365 days a year. We've got an amateur staff of about 24 full-time scouts, cross checkers and scouting directors, and this is something that mega, mega hours [are put] into and a lot of labor."
"It's very labor-intensive," Rizzo continued, "and these guys really get after it. I've said it many times, it's one of the most important important days of the year, the amateur draft and it's something that we take very, very seriously here in Washington." In his most recent appearance on the eponymous 106.7 show, Rizzo explained that less than a week away from the Draft, the GM and his front office were, "... in the midst of putting the draft board together."
"We've been grinding away for about a week," Rizzo said, "and we'll be ready when the draft time comes."
After two years of having the no.1 overall pick, there was a little mystery in last June's Draft when the Nationals had to wait to see what five other teams did before they picked sixth overall and found Anthony Rendon, considered by many the best available hitter before the draft, still on the board as teams shied away from the Rice 3B following a 2011 season in which he struggled with a shoulder injury that limited him to DH duties and caused his stock to drop. "We were pleasantly surprised that he got to us at six," Rizzo told reporters. "Going into the draft season, he was projected to be the no.1 pick, the best college hitter in the game, and throughout the college season and the draft season he held onto that status, and as late as about twenty-four hours ago he was supposedly going one or two in the draft."
The Nationals were surprised Rendon was available there, but prepared, and as the general manager explained, comfortable taking the defensively proficient, high OBP infielder in part because was that there was some history between the player and members of the staff Rizzo had personally hired/assembled when he rebuilt the Nats' front office to his liking after taking over as GM. "We're pleasantly surprised," to have Rendon available, Rizzo explained, but, "We did a lot of work on him. We feel we know him very, very well. Our Vice President of Player Personnel Roy Clark actually drafted him out of high school for the Atlanta Braves and got to know him very, very well, so we've had a long relationship with him and his family and we feel really good about it."
Rizzo credits Roy Clark, the former Atlanta Braves' scouting director, and Kris Kline, the Nats' current scouting director with the success the team has had in recent drafts. "When you talk about the impactful drafts that we've had since I've taken over," Rizzo explained in an interview last winter, "I don't think it's any coincidence that when I took over I made Roy Clark and Kris Kline the architects of our amateur drafts." What will Rizzo, Clark and Kline do with the Nationals' 1st Round pick this year? They'll have to wait until 15 other teams make their picks before they get to take a player on Monday.
In his Mock Draft 2.0, ESPN.com's Keith Law matched the Nationals up with Texas A&M right-hander Michael Wacha, who finished his junior year (8-1) in 15 starts and 106.0 IP in which he walked 17 (1.44 BB/9) and K'd 107 (9.08 K/9). The ESPN baseball writer also mentions Oak Mountain High School (Alabama) outfielder David Dahl and Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero while mentioning that, "... the Nats have been linked by scouts on the East Coast to Duke's Marcus Stroman," a 5'9'' right-hander who was (6-5) with a 2.39 ERA, 26 BB (2.39 BB/9) and 136 K's (12.49 K/9) in 98.0 IP in his junior year with the Blue Devils. In his first Mock Draft, ESPN.com's Mr. Law matched the Nats up with Mississippi State right-hander Chris Stratton, who was (11-1) with a 2.21 ERA, 21 walks (1.85 BB/9) and 123 K's (10.85 K/9) in 16 games, 11 starts and 102.0 IP in his own junior year. Mr. Law also mentioned then that he was hearing the Nats with their first round selection were looking at, "... arms here, mostly college but including a possible prep arm such as Lucas Sims."
The folks at MyMLBDraft.com have the Nationals selecting Sims too in their latest mock draft. Brian Oliver at the Nationals Farm Authority has been trying to narrow the field down. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo has profiles of the players mentioned above and 96 others. Baseball America matched the Nationals up with Duke's Marcus Stroman in their lastest Mock Draft. You'll have to wait until Monday night to see what Washington does with its 1st Round pick this season. The Nationals second pick this year will be the 80th overall selection, then the 111th, 144th...
• Update: Another link...
• "16. Washington Nationals: Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State - If Marrero gets by the Mets at No. 12, this is likely to be as far as he falls. With the Nats building a contender, bringing in an advanced glove at a premium position might fit perfectly." - "Mock Draft: Projecting the first round" - Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com: News