Nationals settle for No. 2 pick after inaugural draft lottery

SAN DIEGO – The worst record in baseball in 2022 wasn’t enough to get the Nationals the best pick in the draft in 2023. But it did at least get them the next-best pick.

The Nats learned tonight they will hold the No. 2 selection next summer after losing out to the Pirates in Major League Baseball’s inaugural draft lottery.

“I’m good. I’ll live with it,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “No. 2 is a high pick, and I’m very comfortable with it. We’re going to get a very good, impactful player.”

For decades, MLB guaranteed the No. 1 pick to the franchise that finished the previous season with the league’s worst record. That’s how the Nationals were able to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 after back-to-back 100-loss seasons. But amid complaints from players that teams were purposely tanking in search of the best draft position, MLB instituted a lottery for the first time this year.

The Nats, despite an major league-worst 55-107 record this season, wound up paying the price for that dramatic change. Though nobody had a better chance of winning the No. 1 pick, they were on equal footing with the Athletics (60-102) and Pirates (62-100), and even then they only had 16.5 percent odds. In fact, they actually had a better chance of emerging with the No. 7 pick (19 percent) than any other slot under the new system.

In the end, the Nationals found themselves holding their breath down to the very end as former major leaguer Raul Ibañez flipped over the card for the No. 2 pick and revealed a curly W logo, leaving the Pirates as the lottery winners.

“I really didn’t know what to expect when we sat down,” Rizzo said. “But as the cards were being flipped and some teams were being skipped and I finally figured out the rules of this lottery, I was a little anxious.”

This will be the seventh time the Nats have held a top-seven draft pick, though they’ve been in this position only once since 2011. They held the No. 5 pick this summer and selected high school outfielder Elijah Green. Their previous top-seven picks were used on Ryan Zimmerman (fourth in 2005), Ross Detwiler (sixth in 2007), Strasburg (first in 2009), Harper (first in 2010) and Anthony Rendon (sixth in 2011).

The very early buzz on next summer’s draft class suggests there are two elite talents in LSU outfielder Dylan Crews and Tennessee right-hander Chase Dollander. That, of course, could change between now and July, when the draft actually takes place.

“We’re anticipating getting a really impactful player,” Rizzo said. “Picking that high helps us, not only that it gives us all options except for one player, but the financial component to it is very important, also.”

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