For the most part, Nationals fans who treat the First-Year Player Draft in June like it was Christmas Day have not had to wait long to open their first present.
Since their arrival in D.C. from Montreal before the 2005 season, the Nationals have traditionally drafted pretty high, the reward for usually finishing low in the standings. Take away their choice of Miami Gardens, Fla., prep outfielder Chris Marrero with the 15th selection in the 2006 draft and last year’s selection of California prep pitcher Lucas Giolito at No. 16 in 2012 and the club’s first pick has usually been a single-digit selection.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was the team’s first draft choice, taken fourth overall out of Virginia in 2005, the beginning of his ascension to face-of-the-franchise status. In 2007, it was left-hander Ross Detwiler, taken sixth overall out of Missouri State.
Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow was the ninth overall pick in 2008, but didn’t sign, giving the Nats a bonus first-round choice after the regularly scheduled ninth choice in 2009. They used it on Stanford right-hander Drew Storen, the second Washington pick in the top 10 after nabbing San Diego State fireballer Stephen Strasburg with the top oeverall selection following a 102-loss season in 2009.
Well, Giolito’s selection - which meant Nats fans and draftniks had to wait out a bunch of other selections, rather than just figuring out who might be in the top five overall picks - will seem relatively early compared to where the Nationals will draft in 2013.
That 98-win season marked the most wins in the majors, leaving the Nationals with the 30th overall selection - the last pick in the traditional first round. What’ll be available with that pick? Historically speaking, it’s been a tough spot to draft from, which means the Nationals’ scouting department will have its work cut out for it.
Since 2005, only four players taken with the 30th pick have reached the majors - Georgia Tech shortstop Tyler Greene, taken by the Cardinals in 2005; Northeatern right-hander Adam Ottavino, snagged by the Cardinals in 2006; N.C. State right-hander Andrew Brackman, a Yankees choice in 2007; and Sarasota, Fla., prep pitcher Casey Kelly, chosen by the Red Sox in in 2008.
None of them have particularly distinguished themselves. Brackman pitched in three games in 2001 for the Yankees, and Kelly was dealt to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, finally reaching the bigs in 2012 for six starts. Greene has appeared in 266 games over parts of four seasons with the Cardinals and Astros, hitting .224, while Ottavino is 5-3 with a 5.42 ERA in 58 games with the Cardinals and Rockies.
There are gems to be had in the late first round, of course, and the Nationals have successfully mined some good picks deeper in the opening round. Tampa, Fla., prep outfielder Michael Burgess was taken 49th in 2007, during the compensatory round as compensation for losing free agent Jose Guillen, and the Nats dealt him to the Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny two offseasons ago. In 2011, they took Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer at No. 23, and sent him to the Twins last month in exchange for center fielder Denard Span. That same draft, the Nats grabbed fleet Miami Dade College center fielder Brian Goodwin with the 34th pick (compensation for the loss of free agent Adam Dunn), and Goodwin is projected as the center fielder of the future.
Washington could end up with two picks before the second round of June’s draft commences. Should free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche sign elsewhere, the Nationals would also get the 37th pick (and that could change depending on whether other clubs lose players via free agency or opt to re-sign them, and if LaRoche re-signs, there’s no compensation). In 2013, for the first time, small-market teams will get competitive balance picks after the first-round compensatory picks and before the second round begins.
Bottom line: Turn on the game, make a sandwich, surf the ‘net and prepare to wait a couple of hours for the Nats’ first 2013 draft selection. It’ll definitely be a difference from past years.