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MLB Draft 2015: Can Nationals find another gem with top pick at no.58?

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The Washington Nationals' front office staff will gather in the nation's capital next month, put together their Draft board and take the top name on the list when the 58th overall pick comes around. Can the Nats' scouts find another gem?

Photo © and courtesy @Nationals on the Twitter
Photo © and courtesy @Nationals on the Twitter

With the 57th overall pick of last June's Draft, the Washington Nationals selected left-handed pitcher Andrew Suarez out of the University of Miami.

Suarez, 21, and a 6'2'' southpaw, went (6-3) with a 2.95 ERA in 16 starts for the Hurricanes, walking 15 (1.23 BB/9) and striking out 87 (7.14 K/9) in 109 ⅔ IP.

"We tried to take the best player available," Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline told reporters when asked about the Nationals' philosophy going into the draft.

"We tried to take the best player available. We got [Andrew] Suarez from the University of Miami who we love. Big lefty. Physical kid. Up to 97 with a plus slider and a plus changeup..." -Kris Kline on 2014 2nd Round pick Andrew Suarez

"We got Suarez from the University of Miami who we love. Big lefty. Physical kid. Up to 97 with a plus slider and a plus changeup that commands his stuff very well."

The Nationals took Erick Fedde out of UNLV with the 18th overall pick just days after the right-hander had Tommy John surgery, then selected Suarez, who'd undergone surgery to repair a labrum issue in his left shoulder in his freshman year in 2012.

"He has not missed any time since then," Kline said, noting that Suarez pitched in 2013 and 2014 without any issues.

"So that gives us comfort level and our doctors comfort level in taking the player."

"The velocity has been there," Kline continued. "The secondary stuff is there. Everything is crisp. He throws strikes.

"Tremendous competitor. He had a really good year this year. We're never going to take a hurt guy, whether it's a guy like Fedde, or somebody that's going to require surgery unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick.

"Suarez fits that criteria. And he's healthy right now. 100%."

Kline projected that Suarez could eventually end up as a "middle of the rotation starter."

He didn't sign with the Nationals though. The 57th overall pick was assigned a slot value of $987,800.

"We're going to line them up and when our pick comes, the magnet that's at the top of the board, we're going to take and we're going to sign and develop..." -Mike Rizzo on approach going into 2013 Draft

"We couldn't come to an agreement on his value," Nats GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier last July. "We had a value in our minds, he had a value in his mind and the numbers just didn't work."

"They said they were just going to offer me slot [value]," Suarez told Miami Herald writer Susan Miller Degnan. "I wasn’t going to sign for slot, and we didn’t agree in negotiations. And that was it, pretty much."

As Rizzo explained, however, the Nationals knew they had the protection of getting that pick again this June if Suarez didn't sign.

Washington signed free agent Max Scherzer this winter, and gave up their top pick, which would have been 27th overall, so the compensation pick for not signing Suarez is their top pick in 2015's Draft.

The last two times the Nationals have picked in this range, they've gone with college arms, Suarez last season and right-hander Jake Johansen in 2013.

Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview heading into the 2013 Draft how they would approach the process, after giving up their top pick when they signed free agent right-hander Rafael Soriano that winter.

"We pick 68th," Rizzo said. "And there have been plenty of good players taken 68th.

"I remember we took Jordan Zimmermann, I think, 66 or 67th and over the years there [have] been a lot of good guys taken in those rounds."

"We're all going to get together in Washington," Rizzo explained, "put the board together, just like we have every other year and it doesn't matter that we don't pick until 68th, we're going to line them up and when our pick comes, the magnet that's at the top of the board, we're going to take and we're going to sign and develop and hopefully he can contribute to us."

Johansen, former Nationals' Assistant GM Roy Clark explained, was a little bit of an under-the-radar arm that the Nats had their eye on.

The 6'6" right-hander was coming off a (7-6) campaign with the Dallas Baptist Patriots which saw him put up a 5.40 ERA, 26 walks (2.65 BB/9) and 75 Ks (7.64 K/9) in 15 games and 88 ⅓ innings pitched.

"We know he doesn't have good numbers," Clark said.

"If he had good numbers, he wouldn't have gotten out of the top ten. But our guys feel like there are a couple of things that are easy fixes and we feel like when we get him signed and we turn this kid over to the best player development system in baseball -- in our opinion -- we think we've got a gem."

Johansen signed a day after the draft. Through 22 ⅓ IP at High-A Potomac in the Nats' system this season, the right-hander has a 2.78 ERA, a 3.34 FIP, nine walks (3.57 BB/9) and 27 Ks (10.72 K/9). He projects as a late-inning arm.

Can the Nationals find another gem with the 58th pick this year? Who will be at the top of the board when the Nats' first selection comes around?