The second day of the 2022 MLB Draft is underway, with the Nationals set to make eight picks between the third and 10th rounds this afternoon.
They started this year’s draft by selecting 18-year-old outfielder Elijah Green out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he is said to potentially be “an impactful superstar,” according to longtime assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline.
In the second round, the Nats selected left-hander Jake Bennett out of the University of Oklahoma. They got their big starting pitcher in Bennett, who is listed as 6-foot-6 with a wingspan over 70 inches on the mound. The Nats previously drafted Bennett out of Bixby (Okla.) High School in the 39th round of the 2019 draft, but the southpaw decided to follow high school teammate and current top prospect Cade Cavalli to Norman. They are now reunited in the Nats farm system.
Then they turned their attention to the eight picks on Monday, and by the end of the afternoon, the Nats had eight more prospects for their minor league system.
“I thought it went really, really well," Kline said on a Zoom call with reporters after the conclusion of the 10th round. "It was one of those drafts where it was a position-player-heavy draft. And so the pitchers you wanted, you either got them or you didn't. You ID'd them early. Some of them were hurt. Some of them were healthy and got hurt. Some were hurt and got healthy. It was just one of those years.”
How did those in the Nationals war room approach to today's picks?
“The approach, as always, is as soon as Day 1 was done - we were there 'tll 1:30 a.m. in the morning - and then we came back early to re-address the draft board," Kline said. "Press it out the way we wanted it with the kids that were remaining. Identified the kids that we decided the money wasn't going to work, the signability wasn't (going to) work, and kind of put them to the side. And then approached to just the best player available. The kids that wanted to go play, wanted to sign, they weren't gonna be your high-end, your higher-profile-type kids. But it's the same approach, basically."
To start Day 2, the Nationals selected third baseman Trey Lipscomb out of the University of Tennessee, which was one of the best baseball teams in the country this season. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound infielder is a local product from Frederick, Md., and Urbana High School.
“Three-sport athlete in high school," said assistant director of amateur scouting Mark Baca. "Probably, I think, ranked five overall in Maryland and then No. 1 shortstop at that time, high school-wise. So another athlete, good size, strong, physical kid.”
In 66 games with the Volunteers this year, the right-handed bat hit .355 with 22 home runs, 19 doubles, three triples and 84 RBIs. He finished the year as an All-SEC First Team selection. This breakout year comes after he only played 25 total games between his sophomore and junior seasons.
“Just the fact that a kid that hadn't played a whole lot and then finally gets an opportunity and runs with it, I think that speaks a lot about how this guy is wired," Kline said of Lipscomb's career at Tennessee. "He just stepped in and he looked, for somebody that hasn't played as much as he had, he sure looks advanced and confident. And he does the one thing that he's going to need to do in the big leagues, and that's hit, and he knows how to do that.”
According to MLBPipeline.com, he grades out with a 50 hit, 50 power, 45 run, 55 arm and 50 field for a 45 grade overall.
Scouting reports say Lipscomb has a disciplined approach at the plate and makes consistent hard contact. In the field, his floor is an average defender at third base with room for improvement.
"The one thing that you recognize with him is that the swing's a little different, but he absolutely has the knack for centering the baseball," Kline said. "Athletic kid. There's a plus arm in there when his feet are set up properly, he's gonna work on that a little bit. Hands are good. Runs OK. But looking at a kid that’s got a chance to hit, hit for some power and play a solid third base.”
With the 111th overall pick in the fourth round, the Nats selected outfielder Brenner Cox out of Rock Hill (Texas) High School.
“I think the one guy that sticks out is the Cox kid," Kline said. "Big tools. Can really run. Kid throws well. Sweet swing. He's got some power. He was one of the kids that we brought to the workout here.”
Brenner has a 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame with a reported low-effort swing to produce a lot of contact. The left-handed hitter is also a right-handed pitcher with a 93 mph fastball and 87 mph changeup. He has a verbal commitment to the University of Texas.
“As a visual for him, you look at maybe like a Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury look with him," Baca said.
"I think he was listed as the second-best outfielder in the state of Texas," Kline said. "I would say he's the first one, he just was recognized because he wasn't on the circuit and the showcase. But there's not an outfielder in Texas that has better tools.”
Update: The Nats selected outfielder Jared McKenzie out of Baylor with the 141st overall pick in the fifth round. The 21-year-old is MLBPipeline.com’s 141st ranked prospect of this draft class.
With his left-handed swing, McKenzie reportedly has an aggressive approach at the plate that can drive to all fields. His speed and reads should allow him to stay in center field.
"McKenzie we took in the fifth round," said Kline. "We had him way up on our list going in and felt like he kind of got away from what he does best and hit the ball to left field, drive the ball the other way. I think he kind of got a little draft-itis, maybe. Tried to pull the ball, hit the ball out the ballpark. But he's a really good-looking hitter.”
His scouting grades per MLBPipeline: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 55 | Arm: 45 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45.
With the 171st overall pick in the sixth round, the Nats took shortstop Nathaniel Ochoa Leyva out of Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Ontario. He is reportedly the best prep prospect in the providence.
“Very good athlete. Another great size for a kid," Baca said. "Young. He's gonna mature and be a really, really big kid. Really good tools: can run, can throw. Not quite sure where he's going to play yet. He plays shortstop. Maybe he ends up in a corner, maybe even right field. He's got impact with a bat. He's got raw power. So as far as what we saw, especially at this workout here, we were really excited with him.”
The 18-year-old is listed as 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and has committed to play at the University of Alabama.
"There's an above-average arm in there," Kline said. "And he actually ran a tick above average for his size, which is pretty impressive. Pretty good athlete, really good athlete.”
Update II: The Nats selected their first pitcher of the day in right-hander Riley Cornelio out of TCU with the 201st overall pick in the seventh round. The 22-year-old is the 244th ranked prospect in this draft, per MLBPipeline.com.
Cornelio was scouted as the best prep pitching prospect to come out of Colorado since Kevin Gausman. His best pitch is a mid-80s slider that touches 89 mph and gets a lot of swings and misses. His four-seam fastball sits at 93-95 mph and touches 99 mph, while his upper-80s changeup is effective against left-handers with some fade.
Reports say he needs to improve his control and command to remain a starter, particularly with his fastball, or he could be better suited as a slider-heavy reliever.
“So Cornelio out of high school was a potential first-round pick," Kline said. "High-profile kid and ends up at TCU. I saw him early in the year. He was up to 96 or 97 (mph). Sinker-slider type pitcher. More ground balls than punchouts. But a great arm and a chance to start. Really excited to get him where we got him in a, like I said, position-player-heavy draft.”
His scouting grades, per MLBPipeline: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 40.
The Nats went back-to-back pitchers with the 231st overall pick in the eighth round, selecting right-hander Chance Huff out of Georgia Tech. The Vanderbilt transfer is listed as 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, bringing another big mound presence to the Nats system.
The 22-year-old’s best pitch is his 93-94 mph fastball that can reach 97-98 mph. In 16 games (15 starts) this year with the Yellow Jackets, Huff struck out 74 batters and walked only 24.
“The Huff kid was a good-sized kid," Kline said. "Fastball tops out at 95 (mph). Flashes of average secondary stuff. Some things he has to work on, delivery-wise, but chance to start and wherever how far that takes him. He may end up in the bullpen, but for now, he's a starter. I thought that was a real nice late-round pick there.”
Update III: Last two rounds for today. The Nats selected catcher Maxwell Romero Jr. out of the University of Miami (Fla.) with the 261st overall pick in the ninth round. The 21-year-old was previously drafted out of high school in the 38th round of the 2019 draft by the Reds.
Romero throws right-handed and bats left-handed. A transfer from Vanderbilt, he hit .272 with an .885 OPS, 12 home runs and 54 RBIs as a junior with the Hurricanes.
With their final pick of the day, the Nats selected third baseman Murphy Stehly out of the University of Texas with the 291st overall pick in the 10th round.
The 22-year-old was an All-Big 12 First Team selection this year and finished fifth in Division I with 102 hits. One of the best college hitters in the country, Stehly hit .367 with a 1.086 OPS, 19 home runs, 23 doubles, one triple, 61 RBIs and 65 runs scored in 68 games with the Longhorns
That was it for Day 2 of the 2022 MLB Draft. Of the eight selections today, the Nats drafted six position players (two third basemen, one shortstop, two outfielders and one catcher) and two right-handed pitchers.
"Overall I think you got some really, really good position players," Kline said. "A couple of guys with tools, I think, but more importantly, guys that can hit and have a track record of hitting.”
The Nats have made 10 picks: two third basemen, one shortstop, three outfielders, one catcher, two right-handers and one left-hander. They expect all drafted players to sign with the organization: “They're all big leaguers,” Baca said with a laugh.
The draft will conclude tomorrow with rounds 11-20, the Nats having one pick in each.
“Line them up and take the best ones available,” Baca said of their approach for the second half of the draft.
“There's a maximum amount of dollars you can spend on anybody from the 11th to the 20th round, which is $125,000," Kline said. "If you exceed that amount, it goes against your pool. So we're going to be careful with how we go about it and be smart. But again, we're going to set it up the way we like it. And if you're going down the list, and you got five guys there and one says yes and the four say no, it kind of limits the field down a little bit. But it's basically the same process. We'll take it all the way to the 20th round, and then I will be heading back to the house.”