In noting the Washington Nationals’ tendencies in the Draft, Baseball America’s staff wrote before things started on Monday that Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office, “... have been one of the more college-heavy clubs in recent years in the top five rounds, selecting 72 percent of their players in this span from four-year universities—the sixth-highest rate among major league teams.”
In two years under Scouting Director Eddie Longosz (2016-17), “... the Nationals have had 11 top-five round selections,” they added, “... nine of those picks have gone to college players and just two (Carter Kieboom and Jesus Luzardo in 2016) have gone to high school players.”
This time around, the Nationals went with pitchers for four of their top five picks, with their top selection, right-hander Mason Denaburg, at No. 27 overall, out of high school and four collegiate hurlers over the next three rounds.
Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Ops Kris Kline was asked after Day 1, how, if at all, he and his colleagues evaluated high school and college players differently.
“We evaluate them the same, on ability,” Kline said. “Taking a high school kid whether it’s a pitcher or hitter, obviously you want a kid that’s mature beyond his years and you have a comfort-level that he can go out into pro ball as a young man and compete and make those adjustments.
“Nothing really changes,” he continued. “When you’re talking about taking a high school kid, either a position player or a hitter, obviously signability come into play, and if they’re really, really talented, they’re probably looking for first-round money.
“If the industry, or if we don’t see them as that then they go to school and we get to see them in three years and see where they are, but that’s the only difference I would see.”
In the case of Denaburg, Kline said, they saw a projectable right-hander, who in spite of the injury concerns after he dealt with bicep tendinitis this season, could have gone to college and been a No. 1 starter for some of the better programs.
“Mason Denaburg,” Kline said, “profiled as a — if he slid into LSU or one of the big programs of the country he slides into the Friday night role, and so we see him as a potential frontline starter in the big leagues.”
The decision they made, GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, was that the high school pitcher this time projected as a potential top of the rotation arm while their other options at No. 27 were more likely middle of the rotation arms.
“We felt that this player has a chance to be a front of the rotation starter,” Rizzo said.
“Now there’s some projection and development that has to go into it, but rather than taking a college pitcher that we know who he is but it’s only a back end starter we went for upside with this player.
“He’s a supreme athlete. Great stuff. Great body. He looks like a college player already. He’s only 18 years old, and we’d like to get him signed, get him developed, and our track record with developing pitchers has been supreme, so we feel good about the drafts.”
“[Denaburg] has a chance to be a frontline starter,” Kline said after Day 2 of the Draft.
“Tim Cate [the Nationals’ 3rd Round pick, No. 65 overall] has a chance to be a No. 3. I feel like he owns the best left-hand breaking ball in the draft.”
As for their overall approach to the rest of the Draft after the top two picks, Kline said they were thinking pitching.
“Going into the season it was an extremely pitching-heavy draft, lots and lots of velocity,” he explained.
“We always say the same thing, it’s true, we’re going to take the best player that we have on the board, but I can tell you that there’s a lot of pitching up there and a lot of pitching from good programs, guys with good velocity, guys with secondary, and a lot of things we like there.
“We’ve identified a few positions players that we like a lot and we’ll see how that plays out.”
In the end, the Nationals selected 23 pitchers with their 40 picks, 17 right-handers, six left-handed pitchers, five outfielders, eight infielders, and four catchers, with 33 of the players selected from the college ranks and seven from high schools around the country.