Patrick Reddington: In drafts, Nationals feel reward often outweighs risk

Anthony Rendon was considered the top hitting prospect in his draft class in 2011. The hard-hitting third baseman was limited to designated hitter duties by a shoulder injury in his final year at Rice University, however, after he suffered ankle injuries in the 2009-2010 seasons, both of which required surgery. So there was some concern about his durability as the First-Year Player Draft approached that June. Five teams passed on Rendon, in spite of the fact that he finished his collegiate career with a .371/.505/.679 line, 46 doubles and 52 home runs in 187 games with the Owls. He didn't get past the team with the sixth overall pick.

"He had a couple of ankle surgeries and a shoulder problem this year that kept him limited to DH duties throughout most of the season," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo explained after taking Rendon with the Nats' first-round pick. "(He) played a little bit in the field, but our medical staff has cleared his health and we feel that if that was the reason he fell to sixth, we're satisfied in the work we've done on him and we're happy to have him."

"We did all our due diligence on the medicals," Rizzo assured reporters. "We've gotten all the medical reports and films that our doctors have gone over painstakingly and we feel good about it."

"We were pleasantly surprised that he got to us at six."

"Going into the draft season, he was projected to be the No.1 pick, the best college hitter in the game, and throughout the college season and the draft season, he held onto that status, and as late as about 24 hours ago, he was supposedly going one or two in the draft. So we're pleasantly surprised. We did a lot of work on him."

Rendon suffered another ankle injury during his first professional season, but returned to the field late in the summer of 2012 and made his major league debut early in 2013. He came up for good in June last season and after an impressive rookie campaign, opened the 2014 campaign as the Nationals' starting second baseman.

A year after selecting Rendon with their first-round pick, the Nationals waited for 15 other teams to pass on a pitcher considered the top prep school arm in the country, then drafted Lucas Giolito 16th overall in the 2012 draft, knowing that the elbow injury the right-hander suffered in his senior year at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles would likely require Tommy John surgery.

"We weighed the risk against the reward," Rizzo explained. "We felt that to get a 6-6, 220-lb. right-handed pitcher with a great body and plus velocity and good stuff, great character and great makeup, we've been on this guy from day one, and we just felt that the reward outweighed the risk. We did our homework and our due diligence on his health and his makeup and decided this is the type of player, the type of stuff and the type of ceiling that we want here in the Washington Nationals organization."

"I mean this kid's been up to 100 (mph)," then-scouting director Kris Kline told reporters. "He'll touch 100, he's got a power curve ball that's 80-85 (mph). Very good feel for his changeup, tremendous size, excellent leverage to his delivery. In Aflac he was probably 93-97 (mph), pitching at 94, but a little later on, you could tell something wasn't quite right. But we stayed on him. When he's 100 percent, he goes top three in this draft, so it's kind of a no-brainer."

The Nationals and Giolito tried to avoid surgery, but knew it was a possibility.

In his first start for the organization, the right-hander tore his UCL. After Tommy John surgery late in the summer of 2012 and the lengthy rehab process that followed, Giolito returned to the mound in July 2013.

Baseball America named Giolito the No.1 prospect in the Nationals organization after the 2013 campaign, with Aaron Fitt writing last November that once he returned to competitive action, the right-hander, "showed the kind of dazzling stuff that gives him a (Stephen) Strasburg-esque ceiling."

With their next first-round pick, after giving up their 2013 selection in order to sign free agent closer Rafael Soriano, the Nationals once again weighed risk against reward last week and selected UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde with the 18th overall pick of the 2014 draft - just days after the 21-year-old pitcher underwent Tommy John surgery.

Fedde's final season with the Rebels ended after 11 starts and 76 2/3 innings pitched, over which he was 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA, 21 walks (2.46 walks/nine innings) and 82 Ks (9.27 strikeouts/nine innings).

Before Fedde suffered the injury, Rizzo explained that after the first round, Fedde would have never gotten as far as no.16.

"Early in the year, we had him certainly as a top 10 guy and possibly even higher than that," Rizzo said.|

"I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV, and it was really, really good," Kline told reporters, "I walked out of there thinking that we've got no shot at getting this player because he's a top five-type guy."

"When I left (UNLV), he was a definite candidate to be a front-line starter in the big leagues," said Kline, now the Nats' assistant general manage and vice-president of scouting operations. "So I still feel that's what he is."

A year from now, barring any setbacks or hiccups in his recovery, Fedde will be back on the mound starting his professional career.

Talking about the Nats' first-round selection and their second-round pick - Andrew Suarez, a left-hander out of the University of Miami who had surgery on his shoulder two years back - Kline said that the Nationals don't take risks like they have with just anyone.

"We're never going to take a hurt guy, whether it's a guy like Fedde, or somebody that's going to require surgery unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick," he explained.

The Nationals have been taking risks with their draft picks for years now. So far, the rewards have been worth it.

Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. 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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