The last two seasons have been unique for the Nationals in that they have realistically had to do little to no research for their first-round pick in the June first-year player draft. They became the first team in history to have back-to-back first overall selections, and they were fortunate enough to have those picks somehow coincide with two of the most hyped pre-draft prospects of all time.
As a result, in 2009 and 2010, the question was never who the Nats were going to pick, but whether or not they could sign them.
This June's draft will begin a new page for general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office in the book of elite talent evaluation and development. For the first time since the new order has taken over the management of the Nationals, the club's first pick won't be a no-brainer. The good news is that while Washington won't have the top overall pick, many analysts are arguing that, although this year's draft doesn't have the transcendent prospects of a Stephen Strasburg or a Bryce Harper, it does have the most depth of any draft in the past decade.
That depth makes the top 10 picks pretty difficult to project. A player who some expect to go No. 1 or No. 2 could easily slip to No. 8 or No. 9 based on team preference. So even though the Nationals have the sixth overall pick this year, if they play their cards right they could very well come out with one of the best players in the draft, if not the best.
The club has a lot of young talent at the major league level, with no clear immediate needs. In 2009, when they drafted Drew Storen with the 10th overall pick, they were desperately in need of bullpen help. Given their general balance with prospects for each position, they are likely to go after whoever they perceive as the best player available.
Here are some of the players who make sense for the Nationals to look at with the sixth pick:
Anthony Rendon, Rice - Entering 2011, Rendon was thought to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick. Ever since his freshman year, teams have salivated at his massive production and waited for him to become draft-eligible. In his freshman season in 2009, Rendon hit .388/.468/.702 with 20 home runs and backed that up with a .394/.539/.801 season last year. While he has not played poorly in 2011 (.349/.553/.527), some believe his stock has slipped simply because of how good the talent is around him in the draft. Listed as a third baseman, he will be drafted for his bat and not his glove, so he will likely be moved to wherever the team that drafts him needs him.
Danny Hultzen, Virginia - The Nationals have had success in the past by drafting a certain someone out of the University of Virginia in the first round (Ryan Zimmerman). With his great pitching college career under his belt, Hultzen could be the type of player that could find his way into a major league rotation sooner than later, and he has potential to eventually battle Jordan Zimmermann for the No. 2 spot in the rotation. The Seattle Mariners are reportedly interested in him with the No. 2 overall pick, but the rumor is if the Mariners pass, he will likely slip a few more spots to where Washington can snag him up. In 2010 for Virginia, Hultzen went 11-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 106 2/3 innings pitched.
Francisco Lindor, Montverde (Fla.) Academy High School -Lindor, an infielder, has rocketed up many analysts' power rankings this season as he continues to dominate high school pitching. If the draft was based on performance alone, he would likely go in the top three, but because he is relatively small at 5-foot-11 and 170 lbs. people may pass on the 17-year-old. To me, he may be the best choice for the Nationals because even if he doesn't grow, which he probably will, he has an opportunity to become a B.J. Upton-type player with the ability to spray the ball around the field, run and hit for power. The club currently has two young players in the middle infield, but who knows how that will look in five to six years when Lindor is major league-ready.
Mikie Mahtook, LSU - Mahtook's stock has been rising rapidly this spring. While initially he may have been a player the Nats evaluated for their 23rd overall pick, he likely won't be available at that point now. So far this season the athletic center fielder is hitting .392/.492/804 in 29 games in one of the more difficult conferences in baseball. A former high school star quarterback, some scouts have labled him as having true five-tool potential.
Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.