"He's got a power curve and that's probably as good as his fastball," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo said on the night of 2012 Draft after the Nats took Lucas Giolito 16th overall in spite of concerns about the prep school right-hander's injured right elbow. "He's got a power 12-6 curve that's anywhere from 82-to-85-86 mph at times and he's got a feel to pitch. He's not a thrower. He's got a touch and comes at you with that 6'6'' frame. He comes at you downhill and he's coming hard."
The Nationals knew all about the issues with Giolito's elbow. In his senior year at Harvard-Westlake HS in California, the right-handed starter suffered a strain of the ulnar collateral ligament. They liked what they saw out of the pitcher who was considered a potential no.1 overall pick before the injury, so when he was available at no.16, the Nats jumped at the opportunity.
"I saw him several times last summer," now-former Assistant GM Roy Clark told reporters. "Up to 98[mph] with a plus breaking ball and real good change up... 6'6''... again, a top-of-the-rotation guy that you can get at 16. Our doctors' reports, everything was fine. It was a no-brainer for us."
Giolito did a lot of work to rehab the elbow, but he made just one start with the Gulf Coast Nationals in 2012 before he tore the UCL as he explained in an interview on the MLB Network Radio show Minors and Majors with Grant Paulsen this morning.
"In that first start down in Florida, that's where I tore my UCL," Giolito said. "So it was kind of a given, 'O.K, now it's time to go get some surgery."
Was it just the inevitable outcome after the initial injury?
"It's hard to tell," he explained. "When I initially hurt it in high school, I did PRP injections, I rehabbed it and it seems like it was getting stronger and it felt pretty good. But, I don't know, on the hill in a game situation I guess it just didn't want to hold up."
The Nationals have had a lot of success rehabbing pitchers after Tommy John, however, so they weren't overly concerned about something they knew could happen when they drafted Giolito. "We'll have a rehabilitation schedule in place the same as we've had with Jordan Zimmermann and [Stephen Strasburg] and [2010 2nd Round pick] Sammy Solis," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier after announcing that Giolito would have surgery. "In a year he'll be a young 19-year-old guy that's come off Tommy John surgery and will begin his ascent up the minor league system."
This past July, Giolito returned to the mound in the Gulf Coast League and after a few shaky outings, put together a strong run with the eventual GCL Champions. After a long road back and initial success, Giolito said today his arm feels great and he's eager to get back to work. "It's feeling really good, man. I've got to say," he told the MLB Network's Mr. Paulsen. "The whole surgery process, it was a grind from the beginning, but the results at the end have been spectacular so far, so I'm really looking forward to my first full season."
It wasn't an easy road back, however, and the first few outings in the Gulf Coast League were frustrating. "It really took -- a few of the first few starts in the GCL weren't very pretty," he admitted. "I had games where I didn't really know where the ball was going. Out there just kind of frustrated like, 'Man, I wish I was back to my normal self.' But it was just kind of like a grind. [After] the surgery, it takes a little bit to get used to throwing again. Throwing off the mound, throwing to locations. After a few starts that were rough it started becoming much easier to throw strikes."
"It definitely was frustrating initially," Giolito said. "I would have bullpens where it would feel great and I'd be hitting spots throwing curve ball, changeup and then I would get out in the game and it was like I was 14 years old all over again. I didn't really know where the ball was going and I would be pulled after two-thirds of an inning. But, I knew that it would kind of come back eventually. I would have a time where it would kind of snap back into place. And it eventually happened and I ended up having a good rest of the season."
Giolito finished his time in the Gulf Coast League (1-1) with a 2.78 ERA, a 2.32 FIP, 10 walks (3.97 BB/9) and 25 Ks (9.93 K/9) in eight starts and 22 2/3 IP. The Nationals then moved the right-hander up to the NY/Penn League where he made three starts for the Auburn Doubledays, going (1-0) with a 0.64 ERA, a 3.41 FIP, four walks (2.57 BB/9) and 14 Ks (9.00 K/9) in 14 IP.
Now the Nats' prospect is busy working out in preparation for the 2014 campaign. The 6'6'' starter weighed in around 230 lbs when the Nats drafted him, but he's added muscle and continues to fill out his frame. His plan for the winter? "Work out hard," Giolito said. "Build some more muscle. I'm sitting around 250 lbs right now. I think they want me coming back at 260. So it's just got to put a little more weight on and prepare myself for a longer season."
The 36 2/3 innings he threw this season were enough for Baseball America to bump the starter up from no.2 in his first year on the list as the top pitcher in the organization, to the Nationals' no.1 overall prospect ahead of the likes of right-hander A.J. Cole and outfield prospect Brian Goodwin.
"It's definitely an honor," Giolito said today, while admitting that he doesn't pay too much attention to his own press. "Those guys that you just mentioned are really great ballplayers and they've been around the organization a little bit longer than I have. So, I don't necessarily pay attention to it in the way that I go online and look at that stuff. I hear it. I know my dad's proud and he'll show me stuff from time-to-time. But it's not something that I really focus on."
What he is focusing on, after being recognized by Baseball America for having the Best Fastball and Best Curveball in the organization, is a third pitch he said he finally got a feel for only after having Tommy John.
"Definitely the changeup," Giolito said. "It's kind of weird. I didn't have the best feel for a changeup in high school. I would flash it. But in high school, it's not really a pitch a guy who throws hard uses that much. But, coming off of surgery, it was weird. I guess the surgery just gave me a better feel for the changeup. I don't know how that's possible, but the changeup was definitely really useful this year and I know I'm going to be using it a lot next year."
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