Nats focus on college experience in 2023 draft

The 2023 MLB Draft is over and the Nationals have their new class of young prospects.

The Nats made 20 picks in this week’s draft, highlighted by No. 2 overall selection Dylan Crews, the highly touted outfielder from Louisiana State University and Golden Spikes Award winner.

Of their 20 selections, the Nats drafted three outfielders, four infielders, two catchers, nine right-handers and two left-handers. They drafted 18 players from the college ranks and two high school players.

Nine of the players the Nationals drafted in the first 10 rounds came from college programs, with righty Travis Sykora, taken in the third round, the lone exception.

“There were a lot of college bats, a lot of really good college hitters. Not a lot of pitching,” vice president of scouting Kris Kline said. “You had three or four college pitchers, so there wasn't a ton of depth. Those guys were gonna fly off the board fast. There were a lot of high school kids as well. But yeah, it was an unusual year as far as the depth of the college hitters, position players went.”

That’s a lot of experience in the first half of the draft.

For comparison’s sake, the Nats drafted six high schoolers in 2022, three in the top six picks, including No. 5 overall Elijah Green. In 2021, they only drafted four prep players, but three of them were in their first five selections, starting with No. 11 overall Brady House.

This year the Nationals took a much more experienced approach.

“We pick the most impactful type of candidate we can in each and every round, regardless of where they play or what level of competition they're playing at,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “We felt the years past that those high school bats were the most impactful guys left on the board.”

There is an advantage to drafting players with three-plus years of collegiate experience - and five draftees played in the Southeastern Conference, the toughest baseball conference in the country - over teenagers who are barely out of high school.

“Probably just the timetable of how they get there,” Kline said. “Probably show up in the big leagues a little quicker unless something clicks with the other guys a little faster. But those guys are going to take a little time. But I would just say the timeline of them reaching their potential.”

That timeline could be in the Nats’ favor now.

In 2021 and 2022, they were just starting this rebuilding process by revamping the farm system through the draft, the international signing period and trades of their veteran stars at the major league level.

Selecting two top prep bats in the first round made sense then.

But now, with some fast-rising prospects and positive steps forward at the big league level (the Nats are on pace to win 65 games this year, a 10-game improvement from last year), taking veteran college players in the early rounds of the draft could help the team be competitive again sooner rather than later.

"That's always a plus,” Kline said. “You can get guys that are more experienced, especially a couple coming from those good programs, with ability. And it only helps the younger kids, too. I look at it that way. It makes some of those younger kids, the minor league kids, it helps them to develop and makes them better players. So they're always an asset to your organization, for sure.”

Along with Crews, Yohandy “Yo Yo” Morales is an early collegiate draft pick the Nats are hoping will boost the farm and make an impact in the majors in a couple of years. The big, power-hitting third baseman was projected as a first-round talent, so the Nats felt very fortunate that he fell to them at No. 40 overall.

“You're still trying to take the best player available,” said Kline. “But when we had Dylan at the top and we had Yo Yo ranked really high, so to get both of those kids where we did (Sunday) is a positive thing for the Nats.”

A positive thing the Nats are hoping will result in major league wins in the next year or two.

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