Owners of a top-10 pick for the first time in 11 years, the Nationals tonight drafted Elijah Green, making the 18-year-old outfielder the first high schooler they’ve selected this low in their history.
Green, of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound athletic force who profiles as a center fielder with right-handed power and a strong arm. The son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he was considered by many experts to have the biggest upside of any player in this draft, though his young age and raw skills also make him less of a sure thing than some of the college prospects who were also under consideration.
A right-handed hitter, Green batted .462 (36-for-78) with 11 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 32 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, a .592 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage during his senior year at IMG Academy.
“This was always one of the goals of my life,” he said in a Zoom call with D.C. reporters. “To be called by the Washington Nationals is truly a blessing. I’m going to go out there, work hard and hopefully bring a championship back to Washington.”
Owners of the No. 5 pick, the Nationals found themselves with the unexpected option of drafting either Green or Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada, only one of which figured to be available when their turn came up. But when the Rangers surprisingly drafted right-hander Kumar Rocker (one year after the Mets chose not to sign the former Vanderbilt ace) with the third pick, the Nats suddenly were in an advantageous position.
They ultimately went with Green’s raw potential over Parada’s college experience, even if it means a longer path to reach the big leagues.
“I know baseball’s a grind,” he said. “So I’m always going to be patient with it. I’m going to keep my head down, work every day. And whenever I get my time, I get my time.”
Projected by some to be a future 30/30 player with power and speed, Green’s biggest flaw at this early stage of his career is his tendency to swing and miss, both at fastballs up in the zone and breaking balls down and away. He made strides this season, though, and will be given plenty of time to develop in the minor leagues, assuming he signs.
The expected signing bonus for this year’s No. 5 pick $6.49 million. Green has committed to play at the University of Miami, but the Nationals figure to make an offer that convinces him to turn professional.
It’s been a long time since the Nats held a pick this low in the draft, not since 2011, when they took Anthony Rendon with the No. 6 pick. Prior to that point, they regularly held top-10 draft picks, selecting Ryan Zimmerman (No. 4 in 2005), Ross Detwiler (No. 6 in 2007), Aaron Crow (No. 9 in 2008, did not sign), Stephen Strasburg (No. 1 in 2009), Drew Storen (No. 10 in 2009, compensation for Crow), Bryce Harper (No. 1 in 2010) and Rendon (No. 6 in 2011).
Green, though, is the first high school player the Nationals have chosen when drafting in the top 10.
“Just the (track record) of them having prospects like Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Juan Soto,” he said. “It just shows that they know what they’re doing with their players. I just feel like I can be one of those players that makes it to MLB soon.”
Green doesn’t appear to lack confidence. Asked if there are any players he tries to compare himself to, he immediately mentioned Mike Trout “because we kind of do it all the same way.”
He also made it clear he wants to play a major role in helping a Nationals franchise that won the World Series three years ago but now owns the sport’s worst record as it embarks on a long-term rebuild return to its lofty perch.
“My leadership, guys are going to gravitate towards me,” Green said. “I’m always going to bring joy to the field, and I’m always going to play with a smile on my face. Because it’s the game of baseball, and it’s supposed to be fun. Just having fun out there is really going to bring us back to winning a championship.”
With their second-round pick (45th overall), the Nationals selected Oklahoma left-hander Jake Bennett, a former high school and college teammate of current top pitching prospect Cade Cavalli.
The 6-foot-6 Bennett was a workhorse starter for the Sooners this season, winning four of his five postseason starts to help lead them to the College World Series and finishing with 133 strikeouts in 117 innings. The 21-year-old southpaw was originally taken by the Nats in the 39th round of the 2019 draft out of Bixby (Okla.) High School but chose instead to go to college, where he turned himself into a second-round pick in line for a far more lucrative signing bonus.
Now, he'll be reunited with Cavalli in the Nationals organization, a scenario he never imagined would come to fruition three years ago.
"Man, I would've thought they were crazy," Bennett said. "What are the odds? ... Just playing with him coming up through high school, he was someone that I always looked up to, someone who showed me the ropes. I'm just super-excited to be able to look up to him again as I'm coming up through pro ball."