As MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince noted in a write-up previewing the first MLB Draft Lottery, with the new format for the 2023 MLB Draft, “[n]ot only is the team with the worst record from the previous season no longer guaranteed MLB’s top overall Draft pick the following year, but that team isn’t even guaranteed a spot in the top six.” Wait, what? Oh, c’mon. Just the Nationals’ luck!
Finish with the worst record in baseball and at least you get the No. 1 overall pick, right? Not anymore. Now, for the first time, you and three other 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. So the Nationals could have had the worst record and received the 7th overall pick if their name didn’t come up in the lottery, which GM Mike Rizzo said on Monday was … not ideal.
“Yeah, I’d rather have the No. 1 pick,” Rizzo sort-of joked, while not really joking.
“You’d rather have your choice of any player in the draft,” Rizzo said at another point in his presser with reporters from the Winter Meetings of the 1st overall selection, “but 7th pick would be one of the highest picks that we’ve ever had, so we hope to do a lot of damage with 1-7, whichever one we get.”
Ryan Zimmerman at No. 4 overall (2005), was Washington’s first draft pick after moving from Montreal, and Ross Detwiler (2007) at No. 6 was before Rizzo’s time as GM in D.C., though he was hired as an Assistant General Manager and VP of Baseball Ops under Jim Bowden in 2006, and the Nationals picked 9th in ‘08, the year before Rizzo took over (but the club didn’t sign that year’s pick, Aaron Crow).
In 2009 and 2010, the club picked first, and drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in consecutive drafts, and they picked Anthony Rendon in 2011 at No. 6, but the highest picks since then were Brady House at No. 11 in 2021 and Elijah Green at No. 5 last season (2022).
Manager Davey Martinez, in an MLB Network appearance from San Diego, said on Monday afternoon he was excited about the possibility of picking first overall (if they got it), and he said he believed Rizzo would make good use of the selection, and promote the player they draft as he has in the past, aggressively if they’re meeting the challenges set before them.
“You never know with Mike Rizzo, right?” Martinez said. “Look what we did with Juan Soto,” who debuted as a 19-year-old in 2018.
“I mean, we felt like he was ready. We brought him up early, and he proved that he was ready. You get a 1-1 guy, [1st Round, No. 1 overall] and you can push him up a little bit.
“If the guy is ready, and we need him, hey, we bring him up.”
The Nationals will likely get an impact player with their top pick in this year’s draft, but they did not get the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft Lottery, landing at No. 2 when 2023’s order for selections was finally determined last night.
“I’m good. I’ll live with it,” Rizzo said when he spoke with reporters on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA. “No. 2 we’re going to get a really good player. No. 2 is a high pick, and I’m very comfortable with it. We’re going to get a very good, impactful player.”
Of course, with the No. 1 slot, the Nationals would have had their pick of any eligible player in the country.
“I wish it would start next year when we didn’t have the worst record in the league,” he said of the lottery, “but I think it’s exciting, I think it’s a twist, I think it’s entertaining.
“And I really think that it’s going to serve it’s purpose,” Rizzo added, of the anti-tanking type intentions of the changes to the draft.
“We’re going to have a real open field of who we want to take and what strategy we want to employ,” he said of the options available with the second overall selection.
“We’re excited,” he added. “We’re anticipating getting a really good, impactful player, and picking that high helps us, not only gives us all options except for one player, but also the financial component to it is very important also.”
Picking at No. 2 does simplify things somewhat when it comes to draft night.
“We’ll line them up in the order that we like that,” Rizzo said, explaining it will be business as usual in the club’s preparation for the draft.
“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.”