While the Washington Nationals have draft picks I suspect fans wouldn’t want to rescind, like Ryan Zimmerman in 2005, Stephen Strasburg in 2009, Bryce Harper in 2010, and Anthony Rendon in 2011, there are some worth changing. That doesn’t mean we won’t have a look at some of those years, but the Nationals had a strong string of draft picks as the 2000s shifted into the 2010s — years that had strong classes across the board.
And while it’s unfair to hold a failure to pick certain players against organizations most of the time, sometimes we’re left wondering what the scouts didn’t see or did see in certain players. Nonetheless, it’s a fun exercise when there isn’t any baseball to watch.
In the 2007 draft, the Nationals had the sixth overall pick. That was a draft that saw David Price, Mike Moustakas, and Matt Wieters come off the board before Washington’s turn on the clock. They ultimately selected Ross Detwiler. The lefty pitcher was fine over parts of seven years for the Nationals, including 2012, when he started 27 games and commanded a 3.40 ERA.
But there was talent to be found later in the draft, including the San Francisco Giants’ 10th overall pick, Madison Bumgarner. Eventually, the tall, lefty from North Carolina would come to pitch in plenty of meaningful baseball games, seemingly single-handedly willing the Giants to a World Series in 2014.
Jason Heyward was picked 14th by the Atlanta Braves, while Josh Donaldson popped up in the supplemental first round selection at 48th overall to the Chicago Cubs. Donaldson, by the way, was drafted as a catcher.
This year, the Nationals were due to select ninth, and they opted to go with pitcher Aaron Crow. Many of you likely remember that Crow ultimately didn’t sign with the Nationals and instead played another year elsewhere before being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2009. For Major League Baseball teams, there is always a risk that a player won’t sign for one reason or another, and Washington simply fell victim to that very thing in 2008.
Crow pitched for four years as a reliever for the Royals between 2011 and 2014 before fizzling out. He was useful over that time, controlling a 3.43 career ERA (4.16 FIP). After a trade to the Miami Marlins in 2014, then signing a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs, Crow tried his luck in the Mexican Baseball League, where he pitched through 2018 and then retired.
Jason Castro and Justin Smoak — two Major League mainstays — were selected in the two spots after Crow. Further down the list, Gerrit Cole was selected 28th overall by the New York Yankees out of Orange Lutheran High School. He was the only other player in the first round who didn’t sign with his drafting club, opting instead to go play at UCLA.
Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn were both selected in the supplemental first round.
In 2009, as we know, the Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg as the first overall pick, a decision that was a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many, as everyone projected Strasburg to be number one overall selection. It was suggested he could be the greatest pitcher who ever lived. Strasburg hasn’t quite lived up to that billing, but he’s been excellent, nonetheless. Ever since he didn’t become the greatest pitcher who’s ever lived, he hasn’t been mentioned nearly as frequently on sports radio shows. Still, the righty fireballer has a 3.19 career ERA (2.97 FIP), 112 wins, 10.58 K/9, and has amassed 36.7 fWAR.
While many other prime talents were selected later in this draft, like Nolan Arenado (round 2, pick 59), DJ LeMahieu (2, 79), Paul Goldschmidt (8, 246), and JD Martinez (20, 611), among others, there’s one reason I’m writing about the year 2009: The 1st round, 25th pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mike Trout.
Nobody’s arguing that taking Strasburg hasn’t worked out well for the Nationals, but Trout is arguably the greatest player who has ever played the game. In fact, in many ways, Trout has turned out to be the player the Nationals hoped future first pick Bryce Harper would turn out to be. Trout quietly and brilliantly goes about his work, hammering opposing pitchers with abandon. When Harper made a spectacle of his massive signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, Trout flew under the radar, signing at the time the richest contract in the history of North American sports, and clocking in at a cool $37 million in 2021.
While the Nationals are happy with Strasburg, the greatest player ever was left on the board (and the Nats did have a second first-round pick, compensation for Crow not signing, which they used to select Drew Storen tenth overall). Fans won’t look back shaking their heads, but Trout in DC would’ve been a joy to watch. With that said, had the Nationals taken Trout first overall, the backlash from fans and pundits alike would’ve been deafening.
The year of Bryce Harper. I’m sure we all remember the video of Harper slamming balls against the back right field wall at Tropicana Field when he was 16. He was destined to be the greatest hitter of all time, right? That hasn’t exactly worked out. While Harper had a 2015 for the ages, like Strasburg, he hasn’t technically lived up to the billing. That’s hard to do, however, when you’re being pegged as the potential greatest who’s ever done it.
In retrospect, this pick was the correct option then and it’s likely the correct option now. The reason it’s included in this list is to note some of the player who got picked after Harper, including Manny Machado (round 1, pick 3), Chris Sale (1, 13), Christian Yelich (1, 23), and Noah Syndergaard (supplemental 1, 38). My vote is still Harper, but someone might disagree.
In 2011, the Nationals had the strong sixth selection of Anthony Rendon, a third baseman out of Rice University. While this pick panned out for Washington, just as in 2009 and 2010, I wanted to point out some of the other options that came later. Then, when it’s all said and done, you decide who you’d rather have.
This was a draft which saw Gerrit Cole selected first by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Trevor Bauer, the most recent recipient of the National League Cy Young Award, drafted third by the Arizona Diamondbacks. By the time the Nationals turn came up, Francisco Lindor, who would go two picks later, was still left on the board. Josè Fernandez (round 1, pick 14) was up for grabs, as was Trevor Story (supplemental 1, 45), Blake Snell (supplemental 1, 52), and Mookie Betts (5, 172). Of those, hindsight being what it is, the only player Nationals fans would’ve preferred was Betts, or perhaps Snell. Alas, however, the Nats and Rendon came out of the arrangement with a World Series championship to show for it.
The 2012 draft coincides with a time when the Nationals began to improve on the field, meaning their spot in the draft started to drop. In ‘12, they had the 16th overall pick, which they used on Lucas Giolito, the up and down right hander who recently threw a masterful no-hitter against the Pirates.
Giolito appeared in six games for the Nationals before being packaged in December 2016 as part of a deal that brought in Adam Eaton. Giolito was an All-Star in 2019 and put together a respectable 2020, as well.
Two picks after Giolito went Corey Seager to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That draft also included Marcus Stroman (round 1, pick 22) and José Berríos (supplemental 1, 32), among others.
While Giolito may have helped net Eaton, a contributor to the Nats’ cause, perhaps it would’ve made more sense to pull the trigger on Seager instead. Oh, well.
The Nationals had the 18th pick this year and opted to go with Erick Fedde, a current contributor to the club. Fedde’s pitched in parts of four seasons, accumulating a 5.10 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. In 11 starts in 2020, he had a 4.29 ERA.
With 25th pick in that draft, the Oakland Athletics took Matt Chapman, perhaps the best defensive third baseman in baseball, or, at the very least, in competition with Arenado. On that front, it seems Washington might like to have a do-over.
The final year on the list is one we’re only four seasons removed from. The Nationals first two picks came back to back and were compensatory picks. They decided to go with Carter Kieboom and Dane Dunning. The former is still young and there’s speculation he’ll be the everyday third baseman in 2021; the latter was a part of that trade which sent Giolito to the White Sox, where Dunning still remains.
Pete Alonso was taken in the second round with the 64th pick, but that pick doesn’t strike me as one that the Nationals really missed out on. Alonso had a strong rookie campaign and a decent showing in his sophomore season, but I don’t expect him to again reach the heights he did in year one.
The tough one to swallow came with pick 122 in round 4 when the Cleveland Indians selected a pitcher out of UC Santa Barbara, Shane Bieber. The Indians’ ace has a list of accolades on his Baseball-Reference page these days, including All-Star, ERA title, Triple Crown, and Cy Young. Going into his age 26 season, Bieber seems like he has more to offer. This is another one that the Nationals, as well as plenty of other teams, look back on shaking their heads.