A risk? Perhaps. Too young for Tommy John? Ask Stephen Strasburg. 18 year-old Lucas Giolito watched his stock fall drastically as it was announced he would require Tommy John surgery as he entered the draft. Projected as an easy top 10 pick in mock drafts across the board, this type of surgery for a pitcher who is not proven was just too much of a risk for teams looking for a quick answer. If you are a Nationals fan you were holding your breath as Cleveland took OF Tyler Naquin. Taken 16th overall in the 2012 draft, the right-hander, Giolito, is everything in a pitcher the Nationals want: young, tall and stocky, hard throwing, and hard working. Coming from Harvard-Westlake High School in CA, Giolito went 9-1 in his final season with a 1.00 ERA and 78 K's (courtesy MLB.com).
The part that I was impressed with is his maturity at such a young age. Giolito has no problem consulting with the players and learning. At the draft I remember him saying he idolized Tigers ace Justin Verlander because of his work ethic and ability to command his fastball from the first pitch until his last, not to mention maintaining the velocity on his fastball throughout a complete game. The Nationals take risks; they live for it. They stuck with Ian Desmond after 2 sub-par seasons at SS and continuously moved Ross Detwiler from Triple-A to the majors, to the bullpen, and finally to the rotation. GM Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson are passionate about having confidence in their players and Giolito is no exception. Rizzo said it best to MLB.com's beat writer Bill Ladson,
We felt that it was an elbow and a Tommy John. Our track record with those type of [injuries] is good. We felt the makeup of this kid made him a good candidate to rehab well and to come back even stronger than he was before. If he gets to where he was pre-injury or better, we have ourselves a really good rotation type of starter.
The reward could be phenomenal and the Nationals only had to give up just under 3 million for the signing bonus. The kid has a cannon for an arm and easily could be part of the duo with INF Anthony Rendon coming up around the 2015-16 seasons. The fireballer can hit 100 mph on the gun and we cannot discount his 3+-pitch repertoire to include great off speed stuff. With the right recovery plan that has worked for both Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, Giolito will slide in nicely into a rotation that looks to be formidable for the foreseeable future.
We won’t see Lucas this year, but Spring Training next year will be fun to watch with his signature fastball and poise. The Nationals have him ranked as the #3 prospect in their farm system behind Anthony Rendon and OF Brian Goodwin. With the Nationals, risk comes with reward and Giolito hopes to reward them. Welcome to the life of a future star.