Ryan Sullivan: Breaking down the Nationals’ draft

This week, Major League Baseball held its annual First-Year Player Draft, with more than 1,200 players selected over three days. Much like new television shows, most of these players will not be hits and being chosen on draft day will likely be their career highlight. But a few, like new YouTube show “Cobra Kai,” blossom into breakout performers. With May sweeps barely in the rearview mirror, I use my favorite sitcoms to help introduce the 2018 Nationals draft class.

“Head of the Class”: Rumors tied him to Washington for several days, and on Monday, the Nationals selected Mason Denaburg with their first-round pick, 27th overall. Denaburg is an extremely athletic 6-foot-3, 200-lb. righty with a college commitment to the University of Florida. He missed time this spring with biceps tendinitis, causing him to slide to the late first round. An impressive two-sport athlete and all-state punter, Denaburg has a mid-90s fastball with heavy sink, a late-breaking curveball and a developing changeup.

Denaburg has some delivery concerns and is raw, even for a high school pitcher, but scouts believe his athletic ability and a full-time focus on pitching will allow him to correct these flaws. The risk is elevated with him, even considering he is a high school right-hander, the position with historically the worst rate of return in the draft. However, the payoff could be worthwhile, as he has No. 3 starter ability.

In round 2, the Nationals selected Tim Cate, a 6-foot, 170-lb. lefty from the University of Connecticut. An impressive college starter with a three-pitch repertoire, Cate possesses a low-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a decent changeup. His curveball is one of the best in this draft class and a true swing-and-miss offering. Unfortunately, Cate had Tommy John surgery in high school and missed several starts this spring with elbow concerns, causing him to fall to the second round. His detractors think he is a future reliever due to his size and injury history, but assuming he is healthy, Cate profiles as either a back-end starter or impact reliever.

Round 3 saw Washington choose Vanderbilt University right-hander Reid Schaller, a draft-eligible freshman who underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2017. He returned healthy this season, working in relief and overwhelming hitters with a powerful fastball and slider combination. Schaller’s fastball consistently sits 94-96 mph, touching higher on occasion, along with an impressive slider. He has the frame at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., to be a starter, but his delivery and injury past should make him a long-term reliever. Schaller has leverage to return to school, but it would be surprising to see a third-round pick spurn a professional contract.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”: Zach Linginfelter (round 19) began the year with potential to be a top-three round selection based on his mid-90s velocity and hard breaking ball. He was inconsistent for Tennessee this season, causing a draft day tumble and now could prefer to return to school to improve his draft stock in 2019. Cole Wilcox (round 37) was a top-50 prospect based solely on talent, but fell due to bonus concerns and a strong college commitment to Georgia. He features a mid-90s fastball, a nasty slider and a decent changeup. He is extremely unlikely to sign and projects as a top-three round pick in three years.

“Family Matters”: The Nationals made several legacy picks this year, selecting Colin Morse (round 26), brother of Nationals prospect Phil Morse. Washington chose Tyler Baca (round 34), the son of Nationals’ assistant director of amateur scouting Mark Baca, and Michael Menhart (round 40), the son of Nationals pitching coordinator Paul Menhart.

“Community”: A few final thoughts ...

* Breakdown: 33 college players, seven high school players

* Positions: 23 Pitchers (17 right-handers, six left-handers) and 17 hitters (four catchers, eight infielders, five outfielders)

* Best value pick: Tyler Cropley (round 8), a stellar defensive catcher and a developing bat

* Best fastball: Reid Schaller (round 3)

* Best off-speed pitch: Cate, curveball

* Best hitter: Gage Canning (round 5)

* Best defender: Cropley

* Best name: Onix Vega (round 20)

* Biggest sleeper: Chandler Day (round 7), good pure stuff, but results have never matched his talent

Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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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