Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked this weekend about the possibility of drafting an injured player with the 18th overall pick of the 2014 MLB Draft, responding indirectly to rumors and a number of Mock Drafts which said the Nats might consider taking UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde, who underwent Tommy John surgery in the last few days after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm this season.
"You really do have to balance the risk and the reward," Rizzo explained to reporters. "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."
Fedde, 21, was (8-2) for the Rebels this year with a 1.76 ERA, 21 walks (2.46 BB/9) and 82 Ks (9.27 K/9) in 11 starts and 76 2/3 IP before he suffered the UCL tear and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals selected the right-hander in spite of the injury concerns:
After the Nationals made Fedde their first-round pick, Rizzo and Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline met with reporters to discuss the selection.
Having seen him pitch before surgery, and having spoken to people who know him, Rizzo said they thought the right-handerhad the right kind of makeup to work his way back after surgery.
"We've known him for a long time," Rizzo said. "He went to high school with [Bryce Harper] and he said a lot of good things about him. And we talked to, obviously talked to his college coach and did an extensive background on the guy and like I said, we've known him, we feel comfortable with him and have known him, have a history on him, known him for a long time back to his early days at UNLV and also Team USA and his junior year at UNLV. So we felt we know the player well, we know the character and the makeup of the player and you could tell on the field he's a very competitive, athletic, bulldog-type of mentality."
"He's a plus stuff guy," Rizzo explained. "We've scouted him intensely over the last three years. He's got two plus plus pitches and his third pitch, the changeup is on the come. We think that's going to be an above-average pitch. Big physical guy, and we had him towards the top of our draft board and we thought the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick."
The Nationals' willingness to draft pitchers who are injury risks was behind many scouts projecting that Fedde might end up being the Nats' top pick. Rizzo said that the comfortability has a lot to do with advances in Tommy John surgery.
"As the more successful rehabs from the Tommy John and as the surgery has improved, the techniques," he said, "we felt more comfortable obviously with Tommy John and elbow injuries than we have in the past."
Getting a talent like Fedde 18th overall was too good an opportunity for the Nationals to pass up.
"Early in the year we had him certainly as a Top 10 guy and possibly even higher than that," Rizzo said.
"As the season progressed, like I said, we had scouted him intensely on Team USA and then through the beginning of the season at UNLV."
"I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV, and it was really, really good," Kline added. "I walked out of there thinking that we've got no shot at getting this player because he's a Top 5-type guy. Through the sixth inning he was still 95-98 [mph]. He doesn't throw anything straight. A lot of life, very heavy. Above-average slider, up to 88 and the makings and flashes of an above-average changeup. A lot of strikes. Very competitive guy. Looks a lot like, if you guys remember Jack McDowell, body-type, delivery, that type of thing with a little more fastball."
Kline left that scouting trip with a good impression of the pitcher they would eventually take with their first-round pick and he said tonight he still thinks the right-hander could end up being a special talent.
"When I left [UNLV] he was a definite candidate to be a front-line starter in the big leagues," Kline said. "So I still feel that's what he is. The guy that we could have taken behind him with Erick being healthy, after post-surgery, we still feel like he's the better guy. So, again, I think it was an easy pick for us there."
The Nationals did their research, Rizzo assured reporters, and were comfortable with the risk after considering the possible reward with Fedde.
"We don't take hollow chances," he said. "We do a lot of research. We do a lot background checks. Obviously we're hand in hand with our medical team here. We think our medical team are some of the finest in the game. We've had very good success in rehabbing these types of players. Each situation is individual and different."
"We just felt, again, the upside of this, a guy that we feel is going to be a front of the rotation-type of right-handed starter if the rehab goes well and if he returns to form, we felt that the risk at 18 in the draft was worth the possible reward."