Washington Nationals' Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline was thrilled with the top pick for the Nats last June, 6'6'' right-hander Jake Johansen, a hard-throwing pitcher with a mid-to-high 90's heater, slider, changeup and curve.
"There's a lot of things to like about this young man," Kline told reporters after the Nationals selected Johansen out of Dallas Baptist University with the 68th overall pick in the 2nd Round.
"This is what we seek when we go out to the ballpark every day," Kline said.
Asked to break Johansen down, the Nationals' scouting director said, "He's a 6'6'', 235 lb right-handed pitcher. If you put him next to [2012 1st Round pick Lucas] Giolito, you have some pretty good-looking bookends."
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, a former scout, scouting director and assistant general manager before he took over in the front office in D.C., told reporters this weekend that he still sneaks out occasionally do some scouting of his own and check out some prospects that the Nationals are looking at closely.
"We sneak out below the radar," Rizzo explained. "I go out and see a specific amount of players that Kris Kline wants me to see. It's a kind of tiebreaker, if you will, on specific players. Mostly the upper echelon guys we are considering in the first couple of rounds. It's an active time."
It all culminates in the selection the Nationals make tonight when they pick 18th overall, making a 1st Round pick for the first time since 2012 when they took a gamble on Giolito, taking the right-hander with the 16th overall pick in spite of concerns about an elbow injury suffered in his senior year at Harvard-Westlake High School in California, which caused him to drop from a potential top pick to the Nats after 15 teams passed on the right-hander who is now back on the mound post-Tommy John surgery pitching for the Nationals' Low-A affiliate.
The Nationals' willingness to gamble on injury issues and deal with Scott Boras and their belief in their own ability to rehab players and get them back to what they were has them linked in several mock drafts to UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde, a 21-year-old pitcher who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow this season and had Tommy John surgery in May.
Baseball America's John Manuel, after tying the Nationals to 18-year-old prep school shortstop Jacob Gatewood in three of BA's previous four Mock Drafts, joined ESPN.com's Keith Law and CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman in projecting that the Nats will take Fedde with the 18th pick tonight. Manuel checked off all boxes in matching the Nats and Fedde up at no.18:
"GM Mike Rizzo’s track record with Scott Boras Corp. clients leads to the Nationals being viewed as a landing spot for injured UNLV righthander Erick Fedde, who had Tommy John surgery in May. The Nats already have picked one of those too, with 2012 first-rounder Lucas Giolito."
Rizzo wasn't discussing any particular names this Sunday, but he did talk about the risk of taking an injured pitcher with their top pick.
"You really do have to balance the risk and the reward," he explained. "What we've looked at in the past, is that the upside has to really trump the risk of a player not coming back from injury. Usually we really weigh elbow injuries a lot more favorable than shoulder injuries, so that goes into it. And a lot goes into the character of the player and the type of makeup that he has. The rehab process is not a simple one, so you have to have the right character and makeup to go through it and to come out the other end better than when you started it."
The Nationals will have done their due diligence on all the possibilities when they make their selection tonight. It's a long, but necessary process considering the investment they will be making.
"We do know and we better know everything about that player," Rizzo said. "We've seen these guys for a number of years. The area scouts are the anchor of our scouting department. They know the ins and outs of every player in their territory. We have the health histories, the psychological testing, and a myriad of other checkpoints before we consider taking a player.
"The area scouts get the information, any avenue that they can get it. They go through the process of getting the medicals and doing background checks. They are always investigating. They will go to high school guidance counselors to high school teachers to find out about the player. There's a lot of digging and a lot of groundwork that goes into the draft."
The Nationals have to wait for 17 other teams to make their choices before they're on the clock to pick in the 1st Round tonight, but the Nationals' General Manager said they should have a number of interesting possibilities to entertain when their time comes.
"I think the draft class is deep," Rizzo said. "It's deep with a lot of velocity arms, I think that's the thing that jumps out the most.
"There's some quality left-handed, power college bats which is not typical of a draft class. But most importantly we like the numbers and the quality of the players."
Do the Nationals take a risk on an injured pitcher? Do they take a college bat? A projectable high school shortstop?
"We'll have many, many, many contingency plans," Rizzo assured reporters. "In a major league draft where we're picking 18th, there's no telling who will be there. History has told us that you have to be prepared for where you pick. We are at 18, we are going to have 18 guys that we like on our draft board. And if we get the 18th guy, we are going to be satisfied with that, but [we'll] be ready for anybody else who drops for us."
The one thing he stressed, however, is that the Nationals, under his guidance, will take the best player available, regardless of organizational needs.
"We never go need," he said. "I've never gone for need in the time I've been doing this, it's best player available that gives us the best chance to get an impactful player at each and every round. That's the guy we identify and go after."
Who will it be? We won't have to wait long now to see...
The 2014 MLB Draft starts at 7:00 pm EDT tonight. Seventeen picks later the Nationals will make their first round pick...