This year’s event, which Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo calls the Superbowl of MLB, will see the Nationals picking higher than they have since they selected Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with back-to-back number one overall picks — though they did select Anthony Rendon sixth overall the year after those two.
After finishing last season with a dismal 65-97 record following a trade deadline sell-off, the Nationals are picking fifth in this draft and have the chance to add some highly-rated prospects to their better-but-still-not-great farm system.
Fans who have followed the Nationals since those high picks know that Rizzo and his front office love to lean into picking big, hard-throwing college pitching with their first-round picks.
In this draft though, the best college pitchers in this class likely won’t be selected until the second half of the first round. This is a draft class that is blessed with hitting, and a lot of it, both at the high school and collegiate level, so that’s likely where the Nats go with their pick.
And with plenty of mock drafts in from industry experts, they all seem to be pointing to one name as the team’s primary target: Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada.
In his latest mock draft, MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo indicated that the Nationals have been heavily invested in the backstop so far in the process:
“In a perfect world, there would be a college arm here for the Nationals to take, but there’s not. They’ve reportedly been ‘all over’ Parada.”
“The Nationals’ primary target appears to be Parada, who has a good chance to get to No. 5 as long as Holliday doesn’t go 1-1. Getting [Elijah] Green, who has the best physical tools in the entire Draft, isn’t a bad Plan B.”
So far this season, Parada is slashing a dominant .360/.457/.727 for the Yellow Jackets with 26 home runs, tied for sixth-most in Division 1, and 85 RBIs, third-most in D1, in 56 games. The catcher has also walked more than he’s struck out, with 30 free passes and 27 strikeouts.
There’s absolutely no doubting that Parada’s bat will play as a professional, though it’s unclear whether he will end up as more of a doubles hitter, just as he was in his freshman season, or as a home run hitter, which he has been hitting more of this year.
The main question marks with Parada come around his defense behind the plate, particularly around his arm, something that draft experts worry could get exposed in pro ball, as well as questions about how well he will hold up over a full pro season of baseball.
Maybe that’s not a concern for the Nats, assuming they like his bat enough to take him fifth overall.
They already have Keibert Ruiz, who they project as an All-Star level catcher, so would likely move Parada elsewhere in the field down the line. Or they could kick that can down the road given you never really know what your major league roster looks like by the time these draftees are big-league ready.
Remember, Bryce Harper was a catcher when he was drafted. That pick worked out pretty well.
June will be a particularly big test for Parada as the NCAA regionals begin, a chance for the backstop to prove himself at the plate against good competition, at least as far as Georgia Tech goes.
In Baseball America’s most recent mock draft not only did they mock Parada to the Nationals, but they also reported that the team is sending high-level executives to watch him this weekend.
“It sounds like the Nationals have been sending in some heavy hitters to see Parada, including recently during the ACC Tournament.”
Do all of these links by experts mean that the Nationals are likely to select Parada with their first-round pick? As ever with the draft, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Just take last year as an example. There were plenty of big college pitchers linked with the Nationals in the build-up to the draft, so what did they select? A high school shortstop, obviously!
The Nationals weren’t expecting Brady House to be there when they were on the clock with the eleventh pick of the draft, so they were more than happy to pick him as a key cog in their rebuild, and if someone higher up their board slips to them this year, they will pounce.
The top players in this year’s class appear to be Druw Jones and Jackson Holliday — yes, those are the sons of Andruw Jones and Matt Holliday, so we can all age a little bit more knowing this fact after watching their fathers. If either of them slips past the teams picking ahead of the Nats, perhaps to preserve some slot bonus money as the Baltimore Orioles have been known to do reaching for college players, they could be an option too.
While The Athletic’s Keith Law mocked Parada to the Nationals in his most recent mock draft, he had similar reservations that if the first round is shaken up, the Nats are flexible.
“The Nats have been linked to Parada for a few weeks here, although I imagine they’d consider one of the guys above (Holliday?) if they dropped.”
Kiley McDaniel of ESPN had a couple of other potential names — including Brooks Lee, who fits the front office’s ethos of taking shortstops in the draft — to watch for the Nats, but again, just as many of his peers have done, mocked Paradas to the Nationals in his last mock.
“It sounds like [Brooks] Lee, Parada and [Elijah] Green are the options here, and I think in that order, but it isn’t clear yet.”
Part of going through a rebuild, such as the one the Nationals find themselves in is gritting your teeth, and getting through some rough times on the field while players already in your organization develop. The other is finding ways to acquire more talented young players via trades and in the MLB Draft to bolster the farm system and build a new foundation.
With their highest pick in a decade in this year’s draft, Rizzo and the rest of the front office are under even more pressure to get the selection right in order to keep their rebuild on track.
Based on the latest draft reporting, Parada appears to be the player they’re zeroing in on...