“I couldn’t tell you who we were going to take even if I wanted to. We pick fifth, and we’re going to put our board together and the guy who’s on top of the board at the time we draft, we’re going to take.”
Rizzo has always valued the draft a lot, coming from a scouting background, but with the Nationals still staring down the barrel of a rebuild that currently sees them as one of the worst teams in the league, this year’s draft takes on added significance and pressure.
Having spent most of the last decade picking in the latter half of the order, and hoping to get back to that soon, they need to make the most of picking as high as they are this year.
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?
After the success of last year’s event, when the MLB Draft was part of MLB’s All-Star festivities for the first time, the same happens again this year, with the draft happening right before the All-Star break begins.
The first and second rounds, as well as the competitive balance rounds and compensation round, will be held at 7 pm Eastern Time on Sunday, July 17th. Rounds 3-10 will be held on Monday, starting at 2 pm Eastern. Finally, rounds 11-20 will be held on Tuesday, starting at 2 pm also.
How can I watch the draft?
The first round of the draft will be live on ESPN, while all first-day rounds will be on MLB Network. The second and third day of the draft will be streamed exclusively on MLB.com.
What will the format be this year?
Despite a recent CBA being ratified this offseason, there’s no change to the format of the draft from last year, with 20 rounds split up over the three days of the draft, just as there was last year.
One thing that the CBA will be bringing to the draft starting next season though is a draft lottery, which gives all non-playoff teams, at least those who qualify based on whether they had a lottery selection the previous year or two, a chance at the first six selections.
But that’s for next year. This year has the exact same format as last season...
What picks do the Nationals have?
For the first time since they held back-to-back first overall picks in 2009 and 2010, the Nationals will be picking inside the top five, selecting fifth in each round of this year’s draft.
Who do the experts think the Nationals will select in the first round?
Usually, this section would be flooded with big, flamethrowing right-handed college pitching. However, in this particular draft, pitching is exceptionally light at the top end — the only pitcher who frequently appeared to be in contention to be taken inside the top 10 was Dylan Lesko, who had Tommy John surgery in April — so hitters are the order of business here.
Druw Jones, the son of Andruw Jones, is probably the pick of the bunch and the consensus top player. Even if the Baltimore Orioles pass on him, he won’t make it to the Nationals with the fifth pick.
And with some late helium during the process, Jackson Holliday, son of Matt Holliday, appears ticketed to be drafted inside the first three picks, though that’s a bit less certain.
If either Jones or Holliday, for whatever reason, fall to the Nationals, then they will undoubtedly pounce at that point. But because that's not expected, here are the other main names that you should be aware of heading into tonight’s draft...
Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech
Mocked to the Nationals: The Athletic’s Keith Law
By far and away the player that the Nationals have been most linked to throughout this process, Parada is arguably the best college hitter in this class after a storming season for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Parada slashed a strong .360/.453/.715 this season with 26 home runs and 88 RBIs for Georgia Tech. He also walked 30 times and struck out just 31 in 300 plate appearances, showing an impressive eye at the plate which should translate to the pro game.
Defensively, Parada has plied his trade in college behind the plate but hasn’t exactly drawn rave reviews, particularly with his arm and struggling to keep runners in check on the bases.
That may not be quite so off-putting for the Nationals if they believe enough in Parada’s bat, as they already have Keibert Ruiz as their catcher of the future.
That could make a move to the corner outfield or first base a possibility for Parada if he winds up being taken by Washington.
Some of the links between Parada and the Nats around the industry have died down a bit lately, with only The Athletic of the latest mock drafts as of writing this primer sticking to Parada for the Nationals.
For example, some now project him a couple of picks earlier to the Texas Rangers.
Even so, Parada would appear to be the favorite to be picked by Washington if he’s there at 5.
Elijah Green, OF, IMG Academy
While Parada appears to be 1A in terms of where mocks have the Nationals going, Green is 1B, with plenty connecting him to D.C. if Parada goes elsewhere, or if they feel the Nats are trying to keep their cards close to their chest in the draft.
For a time, Green had a chance to be the first pick in this draft with the highest ceiling in the class thanks to a huge body, huge power, and all the tools to make him a superstar center fielder on display on a regular basis.
The risk has always been how much he swings and misses at the plate. That’s particularly troubling if it’s already showing up against high school competition, and doesn’t necessarily bode well for how it would translate to the pro game.
If the Nationals want to swing big with their first-round pick, Green would definitely be the player to do it with if he’s there. If they do though, beware, there is risk attached to it...
Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly
Mocked to the Nationals: Baseball America Staff Mock 3.0
Lee is a player who has been lightly connected to the Nationals, with a range in the draft that has varied from the second or third pick down to around seventh or eighth in some mocks.
The switch-hitting shortstop slashed .357/.462/.664 for the Cal Poly Mustangs this season to go with 15 home runs, 25 doubles, and 46 walks compared to just 26 strikeouts. He also had a strong showing at the Cap Code League last year with a .405/.432/.667 slash line.
In the field, Lee plays a solid if not spectacular shortstop. He could stick there long-term but has the arm to make the move to third base if he starts to struggle at short in the pros.
One of the Nationals’ defining philosophies when selecting players is that they aren’t afraid to load up on shortstops, who are generally the best athletes and have some of the best baseball IQ compared to their peers at that point, and then move them off shortstop in the minors.
If the Nats were to take Lee, he would likely start off as a shortstop, but if the likes of Brady House or Armando Cruz come into focus as the team’s shortstop of the future, they could move Lee to another position at that point; or vice versa if Lee takes off in pro ball.
An underrated target for the Nationals, Lee would definitely fit in with the team’s MO.
Jacob Berry, 3B/OF, LSU
Mocked to the Nationals: ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel
Berry’s stock in this draft has varied a fair bit throughout the draft process. He was once thought of as the consensus best college player but has since gotten more company for that.
Much like Parada, there’s absolutely no question about Berry’s bat after he slashed a dominant .370/.464/.630 this season at LSU, cranking out 15 home runs while walking 27 times and striking out only 22, following up a strong 2021 season with Arizona.
Also like Parada, Berry has questions on defense.
As a third baseman, Berry hasn’t impressed major league scouts who believe he will eventually move to first base or corner outfield very quickly in the pro game, and potentially end up as a DH-only in the long run.
As usual, if the Nats believe in the bat, they will find a way to make things work positionally.
Cam Collier, 3B, Chipola JuCo
And finally, an option who hasn’t really been connected to the Nationals at all in mock drafts, Collier has been a late-riser in the draft process and has come up in and around the Nats’ pick.
Collier will be among the youngest players selected in the draft at just 17 years old. The third baseman went the Bryce Harper route to the draft via Junior College to become draft eligible a year earlier than the usual high school way which would’ve had him eligible next year.
Like others listed here, Collier has an exceptional offensive profile, one that showed up against some older competition in JuCo. But unlike others in this list, he boasts a solid defensive outlook at third base, especially with a strong arm that would likely see him stick there in the pros.
This one feels like a bit of a wildcard option for the Nationals, but who knows, Brady House wasn’t necessarily on the radar for the Nats last year, and look what happened there...
How about after the first round?
While hitting figures to be where the Nationals go with their first pick, by the time their second pick, the 45th overall selection, rolls around, there should be a decent array of pitchers available to them, should their board fall that way.
Here’s a look at some of the name that have been connected to the team after the first round...
Kumar Rocker, SP, Tri-City ValleyCats
The potential first overall pick from a year ago, Rocker’s draft stock has been in flux all spring and summer after he didn’t end up signing with the New York Mets as the 10th pick of the draft.
Rocker signed on to pitch in the Frontier League this year, where he has seemingly proven his health and perhaps now will be selected in the first round rather than falling this far to the Nationals. However, if he does get this far, he reeks of a Mike Rizzo-type selection, gambling on an uber-talented pitcher with potential health concerns.
Blade Tidwell, SP, Tennessee
Perhaps a slightly more realistic option for the Nationals in the second round is Tidwell, who ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel linked together in his most recent mock draft.
The big right-hander fits a similar profile to current prospect Cole Henry in that he has the first-round talent, arsenal, and stuff, but had some lingering trouble with injuries in college, as Tidwell struggled with shoulder soreness to start his 2022 season.
JR Ritchie, SP, Bainbridge HS (WA)
Another player linked to the Nats in a rare two-round mock draft, this time in Baseball America’s staff mock draft, Ritchie may make sense if the Nationals end up taking one of the college players with the first pick and don’t need to go far above slot value, if at all.
With a fastball that runs in the mid-90s to go with a great slider as well as a curveball and changeup, he looks every bit the top-end talent in this draft. The main doubt has been the lack of quality competition he’s faced in Washington State, but for scouts who believe in the tools they saw, Ritchie could end up being a steal early in the second round.
Reggie Crawford, SP, Connecticut
About time we had a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery and plummeted because of it. But if he can weather those concerns, there’s a boatload of talent to like with Crawford.
A big left-hander who runs his fastball up to the mid-90s also has a devastating slider. He has thrown a changeup, but not a ton, so there could be a lot of reliever risk for Crawford if he can’t develop third and fourth pitches, as well as the injury concerns. Not that those have shied the Nationals away from taking similar pitchers before, so keep an eye out.
Eric Brown, SS, Coastal Carolina
Fine, I’ll finish this list off with a hitter, even if I would fully expect a pitcher in the second round.
Brown fits the Nationals mold to a tee for shortstops who do just about everything well, without necessarily having any standout tools. Brown slashed .330/.460/.544 with seven home runs, 19 doubles, and walked 39 times compared to just 28 strikeouts.
He’s a bit of a Brooks Lee lite, without as much power and just not quite as pro-ready, but he has all the tools to be a successful draft pick with a pretty solid floor at the very least.
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...