Draft always a big event for the Nationals (updated)

How important is the draft to the makeup and success of a major league team?

The Nationals are the best current example.

Being able to draft No. 1 overall two years in a row to get pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper completely altered the outlook for the Nationals.

Even with his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg was a difference-maker in 2012. Harper was named NL Rookie of the Year and made a huge splash last season. They were major players in the Nationals’ first-ever division title.

How big a difference do two players make? Both are currently on the disabled list. The Nationals’ offense has struggled for most of the season and the starting pitching staff, which had been a strength in the first two months, is now facing a couple of weeks without two of their top five.

The Nationals are a noticeably different challenge to opponents without Strasburg and Harper.

You can even look to high draft pick Anthony Rendon, who has made it to the big leagues and is playing second base, despite only eight previous games at that spot in the minors, because of his outstanding bat.

So the draft has been a special time for the Nationals in recent seasons, and with the added bonus of last year’s selection of pitcher Lucas Giolito, which many deemed a steal at No. 16, you would expect the Nationals to be able to find some gems again, even starting at No. 68.

The Nationals do not have a selection in the first round because of the signing of Rafael Soriano. That pick goes to his former team, the Yankees.

Even picking at No. 68, general manager Mike Rizzo says they will act like they are picking early and get the best player available on their board, as they always have been able to do.

“We are not approaching it any different,” said Rizzo. “It is the only way we know how to do it. When you pick No. 68, other than waiting a lot longer to make a selection, we are going to handle the draft the exact same way I have done it my whole career.”

The Nationals pride themselves on being able to take lower round selections and make them into big leaguers. Rizzo said the depth of the draft is not a concern to him. He believes they can find players there.

“I am not sure it is especially deep or not so deep,” Rizzo said. “I do know there will be impact big leaguers in this draft. Our job is to find out which guys those are, where are the hidden gems, and take them.

“(We will) have our development staff develop them into big league players. Impact major leaguers are found all over the draft. With our scouting staff, we feel we are going to overturn all the rocks and try and find the hidden gems that will give us a real impactful draft this year.”

With the Nationals calling up or trading a lot of pitching talent, it is very likely Rizzo will go for arms early and often. That seems to be a strength of this draft.

Aaron Fitt, Baseball America’s national writer for college baseball, told me he believes “the depth of college arms is a strength of this draft. I suspect a lot of quality arms will be on the board at No. 68.”

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