Remember when Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels, officially ending his time with the Washington Nationals? It feels like a lifetime ago with everything that’s gone on in the world since then, but last week that move had one last ripple effect.
Because the Nats issued Rendon a qualifying offer before he departed, the team received a compensation pick between the second and third round in last week’s 2020 MLB Draft.
With that pick, they took an 18-year-old high school infielder, Sammy Infante.
“It’s a dream come true to be honest,” Infante told reporters after being drafted.
“A lot of hard work and sacrifice from my parents and me and coaches that coached me since I was little to growing up right now.
“It’s a dream come true. I just can’t wait to go out and get to work.”
Once the emotions of being drafted settled down, he wasn’t exactly shy in saying how good of a pick he thinks he’ll turn out to be for the Nationals...
“I think they got a huge steal,” Infante said. “I think I’m a great steal for them and I can impact their organization significantly in the infield position.”
It was a pick that raised an eyebrow or two though because the Nationals aren’t really known for taking too many chances on high school position players in the draft.
Infante is just the fifth HS position player the Nats have taken in the first five rounds of the draft since Mike Rizzo became GM in 2009. He’s also the first high school position player they’ve taken in the top 10 rounds since Carter Kieboom in the first round of the 2016 draft.
That means that when they do take a high school hitter that early in the draft, even in an abbreviated one, you should pay attention...
“Lean, athletic, defined body, twitchy,” Nationals Assistant GM and Vice President of Scouting Operations, Kris Kline, described to reporters following the conclusion of the draft.
“He’s got a high motor. High energy guy. Loves to play, you can tell. He’s always smiling. Just so much energy on the field, it was fun watching him.
“He has a good chance to stay at shortstop. He can throw. He’s a solid/average runner. He’s got a really good first step. His hands are really very good. He’s got a good feel to hit and there’s some power in there.”
Nationals Director of Scouting Operations, Eddie Longosz, continued on with the high praise after Kline...
“He’s a phenomenal athlete too,” Longosz said.
“This is going to be great to add with our mix of [Trea] Turner, obviously, [Carter] Kieboom, and [Luis] Garcia, so it’s another phenomenal addition for our minor league system to work with.
“He’s got strength in his swing. Body is amazing, but he’s got raw power right now too.”
One of the main points made by draft experts was that there are some doubts over whether Infante can stick at shortstop.
Though the Nationals are hopeful that he can stick there, it’s not something they’re thinking about too much right now.
“This kid has a chance to stay at short,” Kline explained. “So you’ve got the potential for an offensive player at a premium position, but he does have the versatility because of his athleticism and his actions to play third base, second base, and he can throw.
“So this kid’s got options where he’s going to play in the field, but for now, shortstop, and that’s where we like him.”
Even if, eventually, Infante does have to move off of shortstop, he’s more than ready...
“I played a good amount of time in every position,” Infante explained. “I played a lot of shortstop growing up and once I really got to that competitive level in high school where I was playing next to draft picks like myself, [I had] to take a seat back.
“I played some second, played some third, and once he graduated I jumped in right away and contributed.”
Now the question turns to whether Infante will actually sign with the Nationals.
As a high schooler, Infante has the choice to either sign with the Nats and enter the minor league system now — well, whenever there is minor league baseball again. Or he could honor his commitment to Miami University and be eligible for the draft again in 2022.
Rather than dance around the question after being drafted, the shortstop has a pretty straightforward answer to what he thought his next step was in baseball.
“I believe I’m going to go play pro ball with the Nationals,” Infante said, somewhat surprisingly. “I think I’m ready. I’m healthy.”
Sure enough, on Monday, Walter Villa of the Miami Herald reported that “the Nationals agreed to pay [Infante] ‘$300,000 over slot,’” as the draft moved along.
With the compensation pick’s slot value at $884,000, that likely means the Nats are already zeroing in on an agreement in the realm of $1.1 million for the infielder. That should be about what’s expected; slightly over slot to keep him from his commitment, but not too much.
If Infante’s confidence in himself being a steal becomes well placed, then he will be a good addition to a farm system that badly needs more position prospect depth.