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2018 MLB Draft: Washington Nationals’ 2018 Draft Class in Review - Rounds 1-4

Beginning with Rounds 1-4, we’re taking a look at the 2018 Draft class for the Washington Nationals.

Photo screencap via @Nationals on Twitter.

Starting with Rounds 1-4, here is a look at the Washington Nationals’ 2018 Draft Class, one of whom, 2nd Round pick Tim Cate, has already signed with the organization.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the top of the Draft for the Nationals, and some of the players selected in the later rounds.

Video credit to 2080 Baseball for all of the media links below.

• 1ST ROUND - No. 27 - MASON DENABURG - RHP - Merritt Island (HS):

NATIONALS: The Washington Nationals selected prep right-handed pitcher Mason Denaburg with the No. 27 selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft. He is ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 11 overall high school prospect, the fourth-best high school right-handed pitching prospect and the third-best high school prospect in the talent-rich state of Florida.

Scouting Report: The high school righty from Merritt Island (FL) High School was this year’s edition of a tried-and-true Nationals draft tactic: take a top talent that has slid because of injury or various other concerns. Recent draftees like LHP Seth Romero (2017), LHP Jesus Luzardo (2016), RHP Erick Fedde (2015), RHP Lucas Giolito (2012), and OF Brian Goodwin (2011) all fit this bill, and Denaburg is primed to be another impactful prospect added to the system because of this willingness to roll the dice. He was pitching his way into the top-tier of high school arms this spring before being sidelined with a biceps issue.

Denaburg is quite an athlete, having committed to Florida to play both ways as a pitcher and catcher while also serving as the kicker/punter for his high school’s football team. At 6’4’’ and 195 pounds, he has a durable and strong build that offers lots of projection, especially as he focuses exclusively on pitching. He slowed the tempo of his mechanics from last summer’s showcase circuit to this spring, and while his delivery has made strides, there are still a few minor things to clean up that will improve with reps and coaching. Like most teenage pitchers, the consistency of Denaburg’s command is in progress, though his loud raw stuff is among the best in this draft class. A lively fastball sits in the mid-90s and has scraped 97 at best, and a sharp 76-to-80 mph curveball flashes bat-missing action with 11-5 shape. He has shown wrinkles of a mid-80s slider and changeup, with enough athleticism and the requisite clean arm action to continue deepening his pitch mix.

While there is always risk with high school arms, Denaburg’s ceiling is an impactful mid-rotation starter who can eat innings and miss bats. If he proves he’s healthy and continues developing control and command, don’t be surprised if this is the Nationals’ best pitching prospect in the next 12-18 months.

• 2ND ROUND - PICK NO. 65 - TIM CATE - LHP - University of Connecticut:

NATIONALS: The Washington Nationals selected collegiate left-handed pitcher Tim Cate with their second-round selection (No. 65 overall) in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft. Prior to the season, he was named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list and was a Preseason All-American by Baseball America, Perfect Game, and D1Baseball.com.

Scouting Report: Cate is the epitome of a polished college lefty, one that could move quickly through the low levels of the minors with the control and advanced secondary stuff to baffle A-Ball competition. Scouts have a long track record with the UCONN ace, as he spent the last two summers with Team USA’s college national team. At 6’0’’ and 185 pounds, Cate isn’t overly-physical and his raw stuff won’t blow people away at the pro level. The fastball is in the 89-to-92 mph range, showing occasional cut action across the plate at times. Cate’s curveball is one of the best in the class, a hard 78-to-82 mph pitch with consistent finish and two-plane depth. He’s able to round out the mix with a mid-80s change, though the breaking ball is likely always the better secondary pitch of the two.

Cate’s control and curve are separators between him and other pitchability lefties. The ceiling is a #5 starter, and there’s enough polish that the floor could still be a middle-innings type even if the stuff is too short for a regular rotation role. After taking Denaburg in the first round—a high school pitcher, considered a fairly risky demographic—selecting Cate with their second pick gave the Nationals some balance at the top of their draft class.

• 3RD ROUND PICK NO. 101 - REID SCHALLER - RHP - Vanderbilt:

NATIONALS: “The Nationals kicked off [Day 2 of the Draft] by selecting right-handed pitcher Reid Schaller from Vanderbilt (TN) University with their third-round selection. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman went 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA (12 ER/26.2 IP) and 36 strikeouts in 19 games (two starts) for Vanderbilt.”

Scouting Report: Schaller fits the Nationals‘ mold, a power arm with injury issues that have clouded his draft stock despite excellent raw stuff. Scouts have had a hard time getting a read on him at Vanderbilt given a lengthy injury history: he missed 2017 with TJ surgery and hasn’t pitched much for the ‘Dores this spring. When he did, the 6’3’’ and 210-pounder showed tantalizing raw stuff out of the bullpen: a heavy 95-to-98 mph fastball and power mid-80s slider that flashed “right now” big league action at its best. He’s mostly projection at this point, as the consistency of Schaller’s control (and the results on the field at times this spring) are lacking. There has been talk of stretching him out to a starting role upon signing, but the arm-strength and durability concerns have me convicted the best place for Schaller to develop is in the bullpen. He has the stuff to be a fast-track reliever if he can stay healthy and finds a better feel for the zone.

• 4TH ROUND - PICK NO. 152 JAKE IRVIN - RHP - University of Oklahoma:

NATIONALS: “In the fourth round, the Nationals selected right-handed pitcher Jake Irvin from the University of Oklahoma. The 6-6, 225-pound junior went 6-2 with a 3.41 ERA (36 ER/95.0 IP) and 115 strikeouts in 16 starts for Oklahoma. His 115 strikeouts were ranked 26 in the nation. Following his 2018 season, Irvin was named to the All-Big 12 First Team. He ranked first in strikeouts (63), opponent batting average (1st, .197) and ERA (6th, 2.94) among All-Big 12 pitchers.”

Scouting Report: Irvin’s 6’6’’ and 225-pound frame is extremely durable, and he has been a part of Oklahoma’s rotation since his freshman year in 2015. The profile is more that of a reliable workhorse starter than a dynamic stuff guy, though a lengthy arm-circle detracts from the consistency of Irvin’s breaking ball and present command. His fastball sits in the low-90s, coming downhill at hitters from a tall arm-slot that generates run and plane. A short slider in the 80-to-82 mph range is his go-to secondary pitch, though it’s more fringy/playable than a true average-or-better offering. Irvin will need to develop and show his changeup more at the pro level, as his low-90s velocity won’t get him as far against better hitters and he’ll need a full three-pitch mix to start. If he can eat innings and tighten up his command and secondary stuff, the ceiling is a #5 starter—though there’s a chance he blends in at the high-minors level and might be more of a long man at the end of the day.

A native of Washington, D.C., Adam will be periodically contributing scouting pieces on Nationals prospects for Federal Baseball. Currently, he’s the Assistant Director of Professional Evaluation at 2080 Baseball. Previously, Adam worked in the Baseball Operations departments of the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers after serving as a Senior Prospect Writer for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter: @2080adam. Adam can be reached at amcinturff@2080baseball.com for all podcast and media requests.