“The biggest day of the baseball calendar is today. It’s Draft day. Today and tomorrow are the two biggest days that set up all championship seasons and all great teams and great franchises.
“We start building franchises through the draft and player development and today is a big day.”
Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo usually says something to the same effect every year. That quote happens to come from his draft day press conference during last year’s pandemic shortened draft which was reduced to five rounds from the usual 40.
Now, a little later in the year than it had been previously, the MLB Draft is once again upon us.
Here’s everything you need to know about the draft and what the Nationals could end up doing over the next three days...
When is the MLB Draft?
For the first time, the MLB Draft is part of MLB’s All-Star festivities rather than the usual June date.
The first round will get underway at 7 pm Eastern Time on Sunday, July 11th. Rounds 2-10 will be held on Monday, starting at 1 pm Eastern. Finally, rounds 11-20 will be held on Tuesday, starting at Noon Eastern.
How can I watch the draft?
The first round and first competitive balance round will be on MLB Network and ESPN. All other rounds on the second and third day of the draft will be streamed exclusively on MLB.com.
What will the format be this year?
For the third year in a row, the MLB Draft will have a slightly different format.
In 2019, the draft was 40 rounds long and was set to be again in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the agreement between MLB and the MLBPA ahead of the season, the draft was shortened to just five rounds plus the competitive balance rounds.
This year, the draft will be 20 rounds, up from the five last year, but down from the usual 40.
In that same agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, they also agreed to freeze draft slot values, so the bonus money that each draft pick is worth is the same as it was in 2019, as opposed to them increasing slightly year-on-year as it did before the pandemic.
What picks do the Nationals have?
After a disappointing shortened 2020 season, the Nationals will be picking 11th in this draft.
Usually, there is some movement in the early-to-mid rounds with teams forfeiting selections as draft pick compensation when signing players who had a qualifying offer made to them.
However, none of the teams ahead of the Nationals in the draft order signed such a player, so they will be picking 11th in every round of the 2021 MLB Draft.
Who do the experts think the Nationals will select in the first round?
If you’re expecting to see hitters here, then you’ll probably be disappointed, if not surprised.
As ever with the Nationals, their main focus is on hard-throwing college pitching, especially in this draft given where they are and the depth in that area in the middle of the first round.
Maybe they select a hitter, namely one of the top four high school shortstops or Louisville catcher Henry Davis, in the first round if one of the top guys has an unexpected fall on draft day, but all of the noise from those in the know suggests it will be more of the same.
Here are the main names you should be aware of ahead of tonight’s proceedings...
Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
Madden is probably the player who has been linked with the Nationals the most frequently in the build-up to the draft and if you were going to craft a player based exactly on the Nats’ tendencies in the draft, the Texas Longhorn would be pretty close to perfect.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander is a power arm who can rip his fastball in the mid-90s and occasionally touch the upper-90s with it. He pairs it with a lethal, mid-80s slider as his main secondary pitch, and can also throw a changeup, though he used it less as the year went on.
There are a lot of similarities between Madden and the Nationals’ first-round pick a year ago, Cade Cavalli. Both have a prototypical power pitcher build, their pitches are of similar velocities, and they both had control issues early in college, but fixed them as they went on.
Perhaps the main difference is that Cavalli’s fastball is a swing-and-miss pitch up in the zone, while Madden’s fastball thrives low in the zone as he has a bit more deception in his delivery.
Picking 11th in the draft, it’s much easier to narrow down potential picks here than lower in the draft, and Madden certainly looks like one of the main candidates to be the pick at #11.
Remember, a year ago, all the talk around the Nationals was about Georgia right-hander Cole Wilcox, with several mocks predicting we would be the pick. So, while Madden has a lot of buzz around him with the Nationals, there are still plenty of other potential options.
Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall H.S. (OK)
Generally, the Nationals tend to lean towards college players in the draft, though they have deviated from that for the right player on occasion. In 2016 they draft Carter Kieboom with the 28th overall pick and in 2018 they drafted Mason Denaburg with the 27th overall pick.
Neither of those has quite panned out yet, thus showing the ever-present risk of drafting a high school player with so much development left in the draft.
While Jobe obviously carries a lot of that risk too, the upside he possesses is undeniable.
His slider is his best pitch that Baseball America rates as a 70-grade pitch and they claim is one of the best pitches in the draft. Jobe also has a heater that runs up to the mid-90s with good movement, a good changeup, and a decent enough curveball.
As usual with high school arms, it will take a little while to refine all of his pitches at the pro level, but he’s thought to be one of the best prep arms in recent years and could blossom into a frontline starter in the right situation.
Jobe and the Nats had a bit more traction together earlier on in the draft process, but that’s cooled off a little with the high school right-hander has risen up draft boards as the big day nears.
Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (Ohio)
We deviated from big, hard-throwing college pitchers for a bit but we’re back with another one.
Bachman has one of the best fastballs among starters in this draft with a heater that lives in the mid-to-upper 90s and touches triple-digits frequently. His slider is another devastating pitch that sits in the high-80s and can hit 90 often. He also has a changeup, but mainly relies on his best two pitches
While Baseball America dubs Jobe’s slider the best pitch in the draft, they’ve given Bachman a 70-grade fastball and 70-grade slider in their report. The obvious downside to that and the reason he’s not going higher is the lack of a good enough third pitch right now.
That and some iffy command at times does give Bachman plenty of risk of ending up as a reliever in pro ball. But if he does end up there, he has the potential to be a lights-out one.
In a similar vein to Madden having comparisons to former first-rounder Cavalli, Bachman has a lot in common with another first-rounder for the Nationals in Jackson Rutledge, at least in terms of a top-notch fastball-slider repertoire and a similar-ish, short-arm delivery of those pitches, even if he’s not quite as tall and built-out as the 2019 first-round pick.
If you’re looking for a typical Mike Rizzo selection, Bachman might be the best fit in this draft.
Will Bednar, RHP, Mississippi State
Mocked to the Nationals: Jonathan Mayo MLB.com Mock Draft
Bednar has been a bit of a late-riser from a late first-round projection to a potential mid-first-round projection. It’s not hard to see why after he dominated in the College World Series.
Facing off against the aforementioned Madden in both team’s first game in Omaha, Bednar outdueled his fellow right-hander, tossing six scoreless, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out an eye-popping 15 Longhorns.
After another quality start against Texas, Bednar took the mound for the winner-take-all Game 3 against Vanderbilt. He only proceeded to toss six no-hit innings before turning it over Landon Sims to close out the game, leading Mississippi State to the national title.
Bednar doesn’t have the same raw stuff as the likes of Madden and Bachman that we’ve already mentioned. His fastball sits in the mid-to-low 90s that he gets good spin on in order to generate swings and misses, with a decent slider and changeup to round out his arsenal.
The right-hander might be more pro-ready than other pitchers on the board when the Nationals pick, even if he doesn’t necessarily have the same velocity and stuff.
Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
Mocked to the Nationals: Baseball America Staff Draft
Well, we had to get at least one hitter in here, just in case the Nats throw a bit of a curveball.
As mentioned at the top, if one of the higher-rated position players falls, they could be a selection, though it seems like a long shot. Cowser, however, still has a decent chance of being on the board when the Nationals make their pick at #11.
In a draft that has a lot of power college pitching, Cowser is a rare solid college bat with what seems like a high-floor given his bat-to-ball skills at the plate.
During his last year at Sam Houston State, he exploded by slashing .374/.490/.680 line with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs, walking 42 times and striking out just 32 times in 56 games.
The jump in power was a little unexpected as major outlets viewed him as someone who would max out at about 15-20 home runs at the big league level. If he can continue to show good power in pro ball, then combining that with his hit-tool could make him a steal.
As a high-floor college prospect, Cowser has a wide range of where he could go in the draft with teams potentially looking to nab him early in the first round as a money-saving pick which will allow them to get another potential first-round talent in the second round.
Cowser’s true talent range is in the 7-15 range though, so the Nationals could pounce.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Ok, so none of the main draft protagonists have actually mocked Rocker to the Nationals yet. However, it’s tough to ignore when several of those draft analysts acknowledge a link between the Nats and the pitcher who was probably top of several people’s boards entering 2021.
In his start of June rankings, ESPN Draft and prospect analyst, Kiley McDaniel said the following of the possibility of the pitcher who looked like the favorite to be the top pick in this draft coming into the 2021 season...
“Kansas City (No. 7) is generally seen as the floor for Rocker if he slides that far, but there’s also a scenario in which Washington (No. 11) goes all-in and floats a bigger number than full slot for the No. 7 overall pick, or else Rocker has a shot to go back to school if his price isn’t met given the preseason expectations of being a No. 1 overall pick some others set.”
In their latest mock, Baseball America also called the Nats’ pick the “ultimate floor” for Rocker.
At this point, anyone who has knows even a little bit about the draft or college baseball knows who Rocker is and what he brings to the table. The right-hander has a powerful fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a slider that can be unhittable at times, and shows fantastic poise on the mound in general, which made him look like a slam dunk to be #1 overall.
Inconsistencies crept into his game in 2021 though. His velocity dipped a few miles per hour for a few outings, though he did eventually picked things back up to end the year.
The question marks remained though, and that’s the only reason he’s in the conversation here.
Though the drop in draft rankings looked like he might have a chance to slip to the Nationals a month or so ago, with some impressive performances in the College World Series, the power right-hander will probably now go just a few picks before the Nationals.
How about after the first round?
Much like last year’s Draft Primer, there aren’t as many multi-round mock drafts to see who the experts link with given teams. There are a few here and there kicking around, and we’ve combined that with a look at other prospects who fit the Nationals' usual MO in the draft...
Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
I’ll get a hitter in here quickly to try and balance things out from the first-round players that have been linked with the Nationals.
Fabian was a highly-rated draft prospect early in the process and looked set to be a top-10 selection. However, the strikeouts piled up in 2021 for the outfielder, and questions mounted about whether his tools will translate well enough to the pro game.
That led to an inevitable fall in draft prospect rankings that now have him somewhere in the late-first and early-second round range. It might still be a reach for him to get to the Nationals at 47th overall, but it’s definitely possible if a lot of teams above them dropped him far.
By no means is it a perfect comparison, but Fabian’s rise and fall in draft rankings, along with his general profile at the plate, has similarities with that of Nationals prospect, Drew Mendoza. If he falls far enough, his raw talent might be too much to pass up.
Trey Sweeney, SS, Eastern Illinois
Sweeney was a player that Carlos Collazo picked for the Nationals in the Baseball America Staff Draft which contained two rounds as opposed to the usual one-round mock drafts.
A little like Cowser, Sweeney absolutely raked against weaker college competition than other draft prospects. But when we say “raked” in relation to Sweeney, that’s putting it lightly, as he finished the 2021 season with a monster .382/.522/.712 slash line, hitting 14 long balls while walking 46 times and striking out on only 24 occasions.
As a bat-first shortstop, there are questions as to whether he will stick at the position long-term, but if a team believes in the bat, they will find a spot for him somewhere on the field.
Andrew Abbott, LHP, Virginia
We had Abbott on our list last year, but he likely got squeezed out of being drafted because of the shortened format that limited the draft to only being five rounds long.
Now a senior, Abbott has a case for being one of the best available seniors in the draft after converting to a starter for the Virginia Cavaliers, thriving in the rotation to the tune of a 2.87 ERA in 106.2 innings with 162 strikeouts and 32 walks.
Abbott has shown enough to give the right team the belief that he can stick in the rotation at least to begin his journey in pro ball. Maybe that will be the Nationals, who are no stranger to taking standout players from up the road in Charlottesville.
Pierce Coppola, LHP, Verona (N.J.) HS
When you talk about a typical scout’s pick, something the Nationals will do frequently instead of relying more on a player’s peripherals, Coppola would seem to fit that bill.
A 6-foot-8 lanky left-hander has had some hit-and-miss outings with fluctuating velocity in his starts, but when he’s on, he can throw a mid-to-low-90s fastball with a solid enough curveball and changeup to go with it.
While he might be projected to go a few rounds into the draft, teams who see the physical projection might be hoping that they can snag him in this draft to prevent him from going to Florida and potentially raising his stock much much higher in a couple of year’s time.
Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Washington State
The Atheltic’s Nationals reporter, Maria Torres, mentioned Manzardo as a potential fit for Washington later on in the draft in her preview of the team’s potential plans.
Manzardo is a typical all-bat college first baseman who obliterated the baseball in the Pac-12, slashing a dominant .365/.437/.640 with 11 home runs in 47 games for the Cougars in 2021. However, there are concerns he may never be better than average on defense.
Teams should never reach for needs in the draft, especially in baseball where players are so far away from helping the big league team. But if his defensive struggles allow him to drop, the Nationals may pounce and give their pitching-heavy system a potentially dominant bat.
Alec Willis, RHP, Regis Jesuit (CO) HS
If the Nationals are able to go under-slot or close to slot value in their first few picks in the draft, they might be able to try and snag a high-upside high school arm in the middle rounds.
Willis would seem to fit that bill. A 6-foot-6 right-hander has a lot of pitches and a good feel for pitching for his age group, throwing a fastball in the low-90s, a slider, curveball, and changeup.
So, why might a talent like this fall into the middle rounds of the draft? That’ll be the Nationals’ calling card in situations like this, injuries. Willis had ulnar decompression surgery last year and only returned to action this season, which is why he’s lower on prospect rankings.
Baseball America reports that even with a commitment to play baseball at Minnesota, Willis will reportedly be signable in this draft, in part because of those injuries. He will no doubt appeal to the Nats as a nice reclamation project in this draft if things fall their way.
That’s all we have for now, but keep an eye on Federal Baseball for all the news and reaction from the Nationals as they go through the draft over the next few days...