Will Yoder: In Giolito, Nats have another project with potential upside

They always say you can never have too much pitching. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo must be listening. In the first round last night’s First-Year Player Draft, the club selected right-handed hurler Lucas Giolito out of Harvard-Westlake High School in California.

That might strike some as odd considering the team currently has seven quality starting pitchers trying to fill five rotation spots. The Nationals’ rotation continues to be the best in baseball, their trademark even, but Washington has decided to play to its strengths as opposed to padding their weaknesses.

One has to believe that the move was done, in part, to help replenish the pitching in a farm system that was harvested to acquire Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics last offseason. Washington has reaped the benefits at the major league level with the deal, as Gonzalez has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this season. But in order to acquire him, they were forced to trade four of their top 10 prospects, including their top three pitching prospects.

Giolito will do his part to help add pitching depth to the minor league system, and given his age, he likely won’t be knocking on the door of the rotation for another two, three, or even four years. This gives Washington options, and, perhaps most importantly, it gives them time.

The pick certainly has a Rizzo feel to it, as well. He’s a project. An incredibly talented player that, due to some sort of perceived defect, slipped further in the draft than perhaps his talent warranted. Giolito is the owner of an electric arm and has reportedly already reached 100 mph on the radar gun, an almost unheard of feat for a high schooler. Of course, he also has elbow issues, and may need to miss some significant time for rehab. Some say he could have been a top five pick had he been healthy during his senior season.

We’ve heard this rap before. Henry Rodriguez has some of the best stuff in the game, but Washington got him relatively cheap because of his control problems. Matt Purke had one of the best freshman seasons in the history of college baseball, but an arm injury allowed the Nationals to pick him up in the third round of last year’s draft. Anthony Rendon slipped to Washington at the sixth pick because of his shoulder issues. Alex Meyer slipped into the late first round because he hasn’t harnessed his control yet. Chien Ming Wang missed nearly three years with a shoulder issue but stayed on Washington’s payroll.

This is Rizzo’s version of “Moneyball”: Select or acquire incredibly talented individuals at a bargain price. Then have confidence in the team’s development system to nurse that player back to their full potential.

It’s a risky play. It’s very possible that we could never see Matt Purke, Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, or Lucas Giolito in a Nationals uniform. They all have battles to overcome, but if they can harness their abilities, they could be superstars.

Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints 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.

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