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Washington Nationals 2020 MLB Draft primer

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It’s Draft Day! Here’s everything you need to know about the 2020 MLB Draft and where the Washington Nationals fit in...

2019 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB via Getty Images

While Major League Baseball’s labor dispute rages on, it’s the time of year Washington Nationals General Manager, Mike Rizzo, refers to as the Super Bowl of baseball: The MLB Draft.

With his background in scouting, the draft leaves Rizzo like a kid in a candy store searching for the next great Nats players from the college and high school ranks.

Though this year will be very different to any draft before it, the front office will be just as ready as ever.

It’s hard to keep track of what day it is these days, so nobody would blame you if it feels as though the draft has snuck up on you, especially with this labor dispute going on.

If it has, you’re in luck. We’ve put together all the information you need to know about this year’s MLB Draft and what the Nationals may do over the next two days...

When is the MLB Draft?

This year’s draft takes place over two days this week. The first round and first competitive balance round will be today starting at 7pm Eastern Time.

The remaining rounds of the draft are set to be held tomorrow at 5pm Eastern Time.

Will it be on TV?

Yes, it will. Both days will have coverage on both MLB Network and ESPN. The first round will be on MLBN and ESPN, then all of the other rounds will be on MLBN and ESPN2.

What are the main differences this year?

As you may have heard, this year’s draft won’t be the usual 40 rounds. In 2020, there are only five rounds, plus the competitive balance and qualifying offer compensation rounds.

The slot signing bonuses are also exactly the same as last year instead of increasing by a few percent, which could make things trickier as teams try to stay under slot allotment.

And something that may be more relevant given the severely reduced number of rounds is that undrafted players may only receive a maximum signing bonus of $20,000, instead of $150,000, should they decide to sign with a major league team after the draft.

What picks do the Nationals have?

The Nats are used to selecting pretty low in each round recently as perennial contenders.

Because the MLB Draft order is purely based on regular season record, the Nationals actually have the 22nd draft slot despite being defending World Series champions.

It’s not quite as straightforward as drafting 22nd in every round though.

Between rounds one and two, and between rounds two and three, there are competitive balance rounds.

These contain picks awarded based on teams with the lowest revenue and teams with the smallest markets. The Nationals don’t qualify for either of these though.

Also, teams that have signed free agents with qualifying offers attached must forfeit draft pick(s). The exact pick(s) that are forfeited depends on the team’s competitive balance standing and how large the contract the player signed was.

Finally, there’s the compensatory round for teams that lost a free agent who they issued a qualifying offer to this winter. This follows the second competitive balance round after the second round.

For the Nats, because the qualifying offer free agent they signed, Stephen Strasburg, was their own, they don’t forfeit any picks. But, because they did lose Anthony Rendon after giving him a qualifying offer, they do gain a compensation pick.

So, here are all of the Nationals’ picks in this year’s draft:

  • 22nd overall, 22nd pick in the first round
  • 55th overall, 18th pick in the second round
  • 71st overall, 5th pick in the compensation round
  • 94th overall, 22nd pick in the third round
  • 123rd overall, 22nd pick in the fourth round
  • 153rd overall, 22nd pick in the fifth round

Who do the experts think the Nationals will select?

There are plenty of mock drafts kicking around this time of year, so we’ve collated the latest versions from some of the industry experts to see who they have the Nats selecting at #22...

Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia

The consensus among the industry experts seems to be that Georgia’s right-handed sophomore, Cole Wilcox, is the most likely option for the Nationals at #22 this year.

A big-bodied, power pitcher, Wilcox is going to miss a lot of bats wherever he ends up. His excellent pure stuff — including a fastball that lives in the upper-90s and can touch triple digits to go along with a solid slider and changeup pairing — is among the best in this draft.

Also, one fact not to overlook is that Wilcox was previously drafted by the Nationals in the 37th round in 2018. Sure, he was never going to sign because he was looking for first-round money at that point, but it allowed the Nats to conduct their post-draft process with him.

Having that experience with each other ahead of this draft that contains so much uncertainty because of the shortened season could be invaluable.

The downsides of Wilcox are that, even though he showed promising command in the shortened season, before that it was pretty spotty. That combined with potential signability questions as a college sophomore is why some may still pass on him in the first round.

But before you start putting Wilcox’s name in ink, remember last year, the consensus seemed to be that the Nats would take Matthew Allen, only to have Jackson Rutledge fall further than they imagined. So don’t get too locked in on the Georgia pitcher just yet.

Slade Cecconi, RHP, Miami

  • MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo: June 3rd Mock Draft

MLB’s own draft analysts do acknowledge the Wilcox fit in their mocks, but go down a different route with the thinking that the Georgia man will go much higher.

If Wilcox is gone, then Slade Cecconi could be a potential pick for the Nats. Also, worth noting that Mayo’s colleague, Jim Callis, has the Nats taking Cecconi in a previous mock draft.

Cecconi was also considered to be a first-round talent two years ago as a prep pitcher in high school. However, in his case, he didn’t pitch as much as he would’ve liked because of injury, so ended up going to college down in Miami.

While Cecconi hasn’t had a stellar year and a half at college, posting a 4.08 ERA in 21 appearances, experts say the stuff that had him in first-round consideration in 2018 is still present.

Cecconi has the same concerns as Wilcox too. He “has had trouble keeping his command intact for entire outings as a starter,” according to Keith Law, and as a sophomore, teams will have to pay up to lure him away from just going back to college and trying again as a junior.

Still, if the Nats are sold on Cecconi, it shouldn’t be too hard to make concessions later on in the draft to meet his demands and take him in the first round.

Clayton Beeter, RHP, Texas Tech

  • MLB.com’s Jim Callis: May 27th Mock Draft

Another pitcher that’s been mocked to the Nationals by some of the industry experts is Clayton Beeter, a right-hander who has been vaulting up mock drafts and big boards alike.

Unlike the previous two pitchers, Beeter’s arsenal centers on his power curveball which some have claimed is one of the best single pitches in the draft. His fastball still gets up to the upper-90s, but his offspeed pitches are much more refined than, say, Wilcox.

One of the main reasons that Beeter has managed to rise up draft boards though is that his Trackman data came in.

Kiley McDaniel of ESPN detailed this when identifying Beeter as a potential late-riser in a roundtable among ESPN’s draft analysts...

Once his TrackMan data came in and most teams realized he had the best raw stuff in the draft, they were able to look past his recent Tommy John surgery and short track record of strike throwing and focus on the raw ability

There’s certainly a lot to like about Beeter. However, the question still remains as to whether the promising command he displayed in a short spell at the start of this season (1.7 BB/9) was legit or was a fluke and he’s closer to what he had in 2019 (8.7 BB/9).

In Baseball America’s staff two-round Mock Draft, JJ Cooper also mocked the Nationals to take Beeter. Even though that was the second round, another connection is there.

Ok, but what about after the first round?

Full mock drafts are much harder to find for the MLB Draft as it usually goes on for 40 rounds and there is often a wide variation in talent evaluation compared to other sports.

Therefore, people are conditioned to only doing the first round and then sticking to a big board for the rest of the prospects as once you get deeper and deeper, it’s near-impossible to predict.

However, here are some draft prospects that are ranked lower down some of the big boards that would seem to fit the Nationals’ recent draft philosophies...

J.T. Ginn, RHP, Mississippi State

A first-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago, Ginn re-enters the draft with the evaluation of his talent seemingly much the same as it was back in 2018.

The reason that evaluation is much the same is because he had Tommy John surgery after just three college innings. However, that doesn’t often bother the Nats in the draft and could allow them to scoop up Ginn, though they may need to pay well over slot value...

Dax Fulton, LHP, Mustang (OK)

Let’s stick with the Tommy John theme again and look at another potential top talent who could fall because of injury concerns in left-handed high school prospect, Fulton.

Because of the injury and less tape on him with the abbreviated season, his ranking by industry experts varies wildly pretty wildly, which could end up being the case for big boards across MLB. The stuff is there though and he could be a great pick if he falls far enough.

Nick Garcia, RHP, Chapman

It’s not too often you’ll see a Division III talent creeping up into the higher rounds of the MLB Draft. That said, Garcia’s high-risk, high-reward status could see him go within the top 100.

Initially a position player, Garcia moved to the mound for his sophomore season and was electric out of the bullpen. After a brief stint in the rotation before the 2019-20 season was cut short, the right-hander could be a huge-upside play for a team that has done their homework.

Andrew Abbott, LHP, Virginia

Last year, the Nationals took a pure reliever in Matt Cronin out of Arkansas last time around in the draft.

Now, if they well and truly want to steer into that skid they could take another power lefty who has only pitched out of the bullpen in Abbott.

Much like Cronin, Abbott has an excellent fastball-curveball combination, with the latter a true hammer of a put-away pitch. There was talk of him moving to the rotation, but if he stays as a reliever, he could be on the fast track to the majors with closer-type upside.

And, let’s be honest, the Nats have some pretty good Virginia alumni already. One a franchise icon now at first base and another anchoring down their bullpen...

Jordan Nwogu, OF, Michigan

Fine, fine, let’s finally look at a position player. That said, there isn’t as much of a theme when it comes to the Nats with their position players compared to taking pitchers where they like taking chances on players who have fallen due to injury.

But, if we want to go with the high-character theme they have focused on lately, Nwogu fits that description. On an academic scholarship at Michigan, Nwogu can tear the cover off the ball with exceptional raw power, even if his swing is, as Baseball America says, “funky.”

There’s plenty of variation in terms of where the experts rank Nwogu on their big boards, illustrating his high-risk, high-reward status. But if he falls, the Nationals could certainly pounce.

Carson Taylor, C, Virginia Tech

Another position player, now we’re really on a roll. This time, we’ll go to the other Virginia school and look at their bat-first but fringe-defensive backstop in Taylor.

After slashing a solid .290/.389/.413 in 2019, Taylor exploded at the start of the 2020 season with a ridiculous .431/.541/.690 slash line. He started all 16 games for the Hokies with most behind the dish, but also at DH and first base as they had to keep his bat in the lineup.

There are some similarities between Taylor and another bat-first catcher the Nats drafted in 2014, Jakson Reetz. While experts believed the latter was a better defensive prospect, Taylor’s explosive start to 2020 in college will surely have raised eyebrows.

This could be exactly the sort of pick to round out the draft for the Nationals for someone who might want to capitalize on his hot start and get a nice signing bonus in the fifth round.

All of the above players are all college players. Traditionally, the Nationals have been a fairly college-heavy team when it comes to the draft, so in this one in particular where there’s a lot more risk taking HS players, they could well have a clean sweep of college prospects.

Cool, what about potential undrafted prospects?

Nope, not even going to try and predict those. In all honesty, nobody in baseball really knows how this part of the draft is going to go until it actually unfolds.

There are going to be some very talented players who don’t get drafted this year because of the current situation, meaning that the talent pool for undrafted free agents is historically loaded.

However, given the $20,000 maximum signing bonus limit for undrafted players, it could well end up being primarily the college seniors who take up that offer following the draft.

These are the types of players who would likely be taken in the 9th or 10th round in the usual draft format when teams are looking to create signing bonus slot space for their higher picks.

Regardless of how many do sign, there will be an unprecedented amount of players who get signed as undrafted free agents.

It’s just one of many things that will be unprecedented in baseball as a whole in 2020.

While the baseball world waits with bated breath on how a potential 2020 season will look, the MLB Draft will at least provide something to the sport’s starved fanbase right now. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this year’s very different edition plays out this week...