Barring any unforeseen or unannounced changes to the Major League Baseball draft format in 2021, the Washington Nationals are slated to have the 11th overall pick, after going 26-34 during the shortened 2020 season.
With a mid-first round pick, the Nationals will be somewhat limited in choices. This, of course, means that though technically possible, they will not be able to select the likes of Vanderbilt star Kumar Rocker.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 19 wins put them in the driver’s seat for Rocker, assuming they buck historic trends and actually take a talented player, regardless of “signability,” as they were wont to do in the past.
Once the draft shifts its focus on the Nats, there will be still be several options on the table. When selecting a baseball player, organizations don’t usually pick current major league needs, as is the case in the NBA, NFL, and NHL; it’s very difficult to visualize how the big league club will look by the time a draft pick is ready. There are caveats to this: A first pick, matured, aged 21 or 22 college conditioned player will presumably be ready within a few years; at that point, organizations may already have some pieces in place.
Furthermore, teams might be reluctant to use their first pick on players where that position is already filled with the major league club by a young, budding superstar — unless they think a position change is possible.
What teams will always search for in a new commodity is pitching. Organizations never have enough pitching; the perfect pitching team doesn’t exist. In 2020, Washington took Oklahoma University pitcher Cade Cavalli. But don’t let that make you think the Nats won’t be vying for another pitcher with their first selection.
The first player on my Nationals’ draft board would be a high school pitcher, Andrew Painter, out of Calvary Christian Academy. When I’m focusing on the draft, I’m always hesitant to be excited when I see teams take a high school kid. There’s a lot that can change and go wrong drafting a 17-year-old. For one, they aren’t generally fully grown men at that point. Future body frame is projectable to an extent, but it’s not necessarily something an organization can bank on.
But that’s not the case with Painter. At 17, Painter stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 225 pounds — with room to grow, allegedly. A behemoth of a youngster, Painter’s size is on par with or exceeds many of his current and future major league colleagues. More than that, he already gets his fastball up to 96 and, according to his Prospects Live scouting report, gets around 2500 rpm on his slider and curveball. It will likely be a while before he could make his major league debut — perhaps five to seven years down the road — but he’s got a big arm and good stuff. While it’s always risky to take such a young player, Painter might be worth it if he’s still on the board at 11.
A position player to be potentially on the lookout for is third baseman Alex Binelas. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Binelas has the body of a major leaguer. The University of Louisville lefty did miss the start of his Sophomore campaign after having surgery performed on his hamate bone. He has high on-base potential, with a lingering prospect of power. A balanced hitter, he drives the ball to all fields, having a tendency to go with the pitch. Finally, his defensive ability is fair and shouldn’t be projected to be much better.
The 2021 draft is scheduled to be held on July 11-13 in Atlanta in conjunction with All-Star weekend. We’re hoping that by that time baseball will have returned to normal and we’ll have gotten a healthy amount of baseball games completed with fans in attendance. But uncertainties still abound, so we’ll see how everything shapes up because, as we’ve been told ad nauseam, “it’s a fluid situation.”