Nats find another power bat with Morales in Round 2 (updated)

Kris Kline saw every top hitter in the country this season. He drafted the best of them in Dylan Crews, the Golden Spikes Award winner selected by the Nationals with the No. 2 overall pick Sunday evening.

And it’s quite possible the Nats’ longtime vice president of scouting was even more impressed in some ways with the hitter he selected in the second round of the draft several hours later.

"One of the loudest bats I heard this year," Kline said of University of Miami third baseman Yohandy Morales. "We were pretty happy with that one, to get him at 40."

As much attention was given to the Nationals’ first-round pick - and rightfully so given the talent available and the significance of that selection - internally, club officials believed their second-round pick was going to be just as important to the franchise. Though they lost the No. 1 overall pick to the Pirates via the new draft lottery, they still maintain the first choice for every other round based on their worst-in-baseball record in 2022.

"When you're picking that high (in the first round), it takes care of itself," Kline said. "A lot of the work, most of the work actually, went into pick 40."

So with the first pick of the second round of a draft loaded with elite college hitters, the Nats added another one to their farm system. MLB Pipeline has rated Morales as high as the 20th best draft prospect. Kline insisted the Nationals had him even higher than that on their internal draft board.

Morales, for his part, also believed he would be long gone before the second round commenced late Sunday night.

"Obviously, I went further than I thought I was going to go," he said. "At the end of the day, it happened for a reason. I'm in a great organization now, and I'm just ready to do what I can to help the team win games."

A physical presence at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Morales tore up ACC pitching this season, batting .408 with 20 homers, 70 RBIs, a .475 on-base percentage and 1.187 OPS in 61 games for the University of Miami. The son of a former Cuban National Team player who spent time in the minors with the Yankees and Red Sox, "Yo Yo" (the younger Morales’ nickname since he was 10) was deemed one of the best power bats in this draft.

Power, of course, is something the Nationals could sorely use at the major league level. Given his pedigree hitting for power in a major college conference, Morales could find himself on a fast track to the big leagues, perhaps not far behind Crews, who many believe will be ready to debut sometime in 2024.

"I feel like Washington got two of the best college hitters in the draft, if I'm being honest," he said. "I've been with Dylan since I was younger. I've played with him a lot. That's going to be a special group when we go out there. Ready to hit some baseballs."

A Miami native, Morales said he's excited to be able to play spring training ball in nearby West Palm Beach. He's even played at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches already.

Morales’ power is his top-rated skill, but there is some concern about his penchant for swinging and missing, especially at pitches out of the strike zone. Regardless, his ability to make loud contact was too intriguing for the Nationals to pass up. They also like his defensive skills, despite his large body at third base.

"He's a big, strong, physical corner player," Kline said. "Surprising speed for a guy his size. He's a tick-above-average runner. He's a really good defender. He throws above average. And power at a corner spot."

Given his size, there will be those who wonder if Morales can make it long-term as a third baseman. He adamantly believes he can not only play the position throughout his career, but thrive there.

"I'm super confident in my ability to play third base," he said. "Honestly, I started taking pride in it more in my last year of college. I was more worried about my hitting when I first got to college. ... Anything I can do to get better at third, if it was early work on defense or anything, I was out there trying to get better. And I feel like it's paid off."

Nationals select eight players on second day of dr...
Nationals select outfielder Dylan Crews

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