Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo used to offer advice on draft selections to former GM Jim Bowden when Rizzo served as Bowden's Assistant General Manager from 2007-2009 before taking over at the helm in the nation's capital. Rizzo spoke to his former boss this week in an MLB Network Radio interview in which Mr. Bowden and co-host Casey Stern wondered about the direction the Nats will take in this year's draft, which takes place from June 5-7.
The Nationals have the 18th overall pick in the first round this year.
Bowden wanted to know at what point in the draft Rizzo would take a chance on an injured pitcher like 21-year-old East Carolina Pirates' right-hander Jeff Hoffman, who underwent Tommy John surgery recently, but was once considered likely to go as high as the top five in this year's draft.
"I think that you have to really rely on your area scouts," Rizzo said, "your guys who are closest to him because, as you know, Jim, Tommy John surgeries, they're not all automatic and all the players don't return from them. And I think you really have to get it right.
"If you're going to take that type of player, you have to really get it right. Ownership has to be on board, knowing that you're going to draft a player that you're not going to see for a year and a half and probably not going to see the way you want him to be for two years."
"So, you have to be on board," Rizzo continued, "and you also have to have all of your i's dotted and your t's crossed on his makeup, character and work ethic, because without those things these Tommy John guys don't succeed in the way they should. And you have to really know the player and make sure that this guy is going to grind it out, because 12 months in Viera, Florida in the heat of Florida in Viera, all by yourself, isn't a place that's too much fun. So you've got to have the right character and makeup on these guys to make sure that they're going to do the right thing and prepare themselves to have success when they return from surgery."
ESPN.com's Keith Law matched the Nationals up with UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde, another highly-regarded pitcher who tore his UCL this season and underwent Tommy John, when he posted his first Mock Draft earlier this month, noting the Nats' willingness to draft injured pitchers in the past.
Both Hoffman and Fedde were off the board when the Nationals' pick came up in Baseball America's first Mock Draft of the year when they published it on May 9th, so the BA writers matched the Nats up with the, "... powerful but erratic bat of Fresno high school shortstop Jacob Gatewood."
Gatewood, 18, has a commitment to USC.
When BA's second mock draft went up, Gatewood's struggles this season caused him to drop to the St. Louis Cardinals with the 34th overall pick.
Though Hoffman and Fedde were on the board at no.18 in the second mock, Baseball America's scouts matched the Nationals up with switch-hitting power bat Casey Gillaspie, a 21-year-old first baseman for the Wichita State Shockers who has put up a .389/.520/.682 line with 15 doubles and 15 home runs in 59 games this season.
In Baseball America's 3rd Mock Draft, the BA writers were back to Gatewood going no.18 overall to the Nationals:
"18: NATIONALS: Sources continue to have conflicting information on whether the Nats will go with Fresno prep infielder Jacob Gatewood or a college bat. We’re going with Gatewood this time around."
Gatewood showed up on a list of potential targets for the Nationals compiled by ESPN writer Christopher Crawford yesterday, with Crawford writing that the shortstop is, "... one of the most volatile prospects in the draft," but as, "... a shortstop with plus-plus power, the potential reward might outweigh the risk." Also on his list, are 20-year-old NC State shortstop Trea Turner and 21-year-old Evansville Purple Aces' left-hander Kyle Freeland.
Seventeen teams go before the Nationals in the draft, but Rizzo was sure to hang on to the Nats' 1st Round pick this year so they could get talent in the first round after waiting until the second round last June when they made right-hander Jake Johansen their top pick of the draft at 68th overall.