No. 2 Overall:
While it was really something of a disappointment in the end to finish with the worst record in the majors and not automatically get the top overall pick in the draft, this was the first season with a draft lottery.
The Nationals, who finished 55-107, and the second and third-worst teams had a 16.7% chance at the No. 1 overall pick, with the non-playoff teams from last year in the mix and the top six determined in the lottery.
Mike Rizzo and Co. in Washington’s front office ended up with the No. 2 pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, which — it’s not No. 1, an opportunity to pick the top player on the board for the organization, but it’s still an opportunity to get a player who could be an important part of the reboot the club kicked off at the trade deadline in 2021.
So what will the Nationals do with the No. 2 overall pick?
First mock draft of the full first round!— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) December 15, 2022
1. Pirates: Dylan Crews, OF
2. Nats: Chase Dollander, RHP
3. Tigers: Max Clark, OF
4. Rangers: Paul Skenes, RHP
5. Twins: Wyatt Langford, OF
Complete first round: https://t.co/Sa7qlsmsNg pic.twitter.com/kyEFYQefnM
“We’re going to wait and kind of figure out where we’re at,” Rizzo told reporters after participating in the first MLB Draft Lottery at the Winter Meetings.
“We’ve done a lot of work on it, we have opinions on it at this time, I just don’t want to share them yet, because we’re so far ahead of ourselves.”
Rizzo and his scouts, of course, have until July to decide which player they’ll take at No. 2, and he said they’ll take the same approach they always do, with the obvious advantage of only having to react to one other team’s selection before their own top pick.
“There’s not much of a difference between like 1-2 or 6,” Rizzo explained of their approach to scouting prospects from the 2023 draft class.
“We employ the same process. Now if we were 18th of 25th, it’s a little different. But we’ll employ the same process that we always do, we’ll line them up in the order that we like that. What this does: It eliminates your strategy if a guy gets picked off in front of you. We’ll only have one of those situations possible, so that will help our pre-draft preparation.”
The pick is the Nationals’ highest since they picked No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts in 2009-10 (selecting first Stephen Strasburg and then Bryce Harper). They did pick 5th overall last summer, drafting Elijah Green, a 19-year-old outfielder who is currently ranked No. 2 overall in their system by MLB Pipeline.
“It gives us a chance to really replenish the farm system,” Rizzo said of the high picks’ importance for a rebooting club. “And we not only pick 2 in the draft, we pick 2 in each round*, which is also very important. When you’re up that high in each round you’re looking to get really good, impactful players.”
[ed . note - “ * = Rizzo misspoke here (and we didn’t catch it). As noted in the comments below, the Draft Lottery decided the order for the first round, with the Nats getting the second overall pick, then they pick first in subsequent rounds.”]
Rule 5 - No. 1 Pick:
With the top overall pick of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft, Washington selected right-handed pitcher Thad Ward, a 25-year-old, 2018 5th Round pick by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Central Florida who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021 but returned last season and made 13 starts, with a 2.28 ERA in 51 1⁄3 innings overall between Florida’s Complex League, A-ball, High-A, and Double-A in the Sox’ system.
Ward then went out to the Arizona Fall League where he, “... posted a 2.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts in four games (three starts) during the Arizona Fall League season,” as the club noted in a press release on their Rule 5 selection.
Did Ward’s success in the AFL tilt the scales when the Nationals decided to select him with their first Rule 5 Draft pick in twelve years?
“It’s all in the evaluation package,” Rizzo said after the selection. “We had scouted [Ward] during the season where we got the bulk of our information. It’s helpful in the Fall League because you’re getting kind of your last look at him. All of that stuff helps and went into our decision-making.”
Rule 5 picks have to stick in the majors, of course, or they have to be offered back to their original team if they don’t, so what has the Nats convinced Ward’s capable of pitching in the majors in ‘23?
“He has the ingredients to pitch in the big leagues,” Rizzo explained. “He has four pitches that he can command. He’s a competitive guy. He’s a starting pitching candidate that we can stretch out and pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, and we feel comfortable with the fact that he’ll allow [manager] Davey [Martinez] to utilize him throughout the season and have a chance to keep him.”
Considering he’s only two years removed from TJS, so the Nationals believe they’ll be able to use him judiciously and still keep him in the majors all season?
“It will certainly be a topic of conversation with the pitching staff and the training staff,” the GM in D.C. said of how they’ll handle Ward’s workload.
“We’ll monitor it and do what we have to do to manage it like we always do.”
But the Nationals’ scouts love his stuff.
“We think he’s got the makings of a swing and miss breaking pitch,” Rizzo said. “His slider has been a good pitch for him. His velocity I think is getting back to pre-Tommy John levels, so we think there’s more in the tank and a guy we really like and he was a guy in the war room that was kind of a consensus pick of a guy that not only — there’s a blend here and a balance — we didn’t want to shoot the moon and kind of handcuff Davey to get a raw young player, but you always like that upside of a guy. So this guy kind of blends both of those.
“He’s got some upside, we think he’s going to get a little bit better, so there’s some kind of security that he’s got a chance to be there all year.”