The 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft commences tonight and the Nationals won’t make a big 1-1 splash like they have in the past with players like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. They won’t even turn heads with a 1-6 pick like that of infielder Anthony Rendon.
That’s because the Nationals don’t even pick in the first round this season.
In the offseason, the Nationals surrendered that selection by signing former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. That decision has already paid dividends, as Scherzer has been everything the Nationals had hoped for on the field as a starter and in the dugout as a leader.
When do the Nationals select this year?
Their first pick is in the second round at pick No. 58. That won’t change the focus in the Nationals war room, which has been the Nationals Park press conference room the past week, adjacent to the team’s clubhouse at field level.
The draft begins tonight at 7 p.m. The Nationals have picks No. 58 and No. 69 in the second round. They also have selections No. 103 and No. 134 to round out the first four rounds.
Draft day still has the scout in president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo pumped up to find future talent for the Nationals.
“It doesn’t (change their focus),” Rizzo said of not having a first-round pick. “We take every draft independent of what the system is like and what the organization has. It’s kind of an entity in its own. We’re hard at work right now. All the cross-checkers are in the room and we are grinding it out. Lot of magnets are flying, so that’s a good thing.”
Rizzo believes because of their scouting acumen they have the ability to find superior talent in the later rounds just as much as they would with the top picks. For every Harper or Mike Trout, there is a Mike Piazza, Evan Gattis or Mark Buerhle.
“It doesn’t change our approach a bit. We’re doing the same thing I’ve done since 1998. And (assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations) Kris Kline takes the same approach. We talk as much about the top 10 players as we do the 800th player in the country.
“We’re going to line them up and when 58 comes, we’re going to pick the best guy that we see that’s available and hopefully we hit on a guy that helps us in the big leagues.”
Rizzo said there won’t be all the cameras or buzz in their war room tonight in the first couple of hours. They also won’t select by need with that first selection at No. 58 either.
“When our turn comes, (we will) pick the guy we have at the top of our board we feel is the best player for us at that time. It’s a little more boring because you don’t have the excitement of pick 1, or pick 6 or pick 29.”
The Nationals have built up a scouting department in numbers that rivals the best in the majors with area scouts all over the U.S. and foreign soil to seek out the top amateur baseball players. Gone are the days in Montreal when the team had only a handful of scouts and could not see every part of the country or be as thorough in their cross-checks.
“No doubt about it,” Rizzo confirmed. “It’s been our secret formula since we took over here. If you remember when the Expos were here, they had very few scouts in their scouting department. When we came in, we were allowed to hire the best and brightest guys and we filled out the country with great scouts and you could see we are reaping the benefits of it now. You could never have enough talented player evaluators and we got a bunch of them.”
Rizzo started his career in the front office as a scout and this early June night has always felt like a championship game to him. He gets amped up to find that next great thing in baseball.
“(It’s) still to me (the) Super Bowl of the season, and we will be fired up for it Monday. When the horn rings, we’ll be ready,” he said.
So who will the Nationals select at No. 58? Who will be left? That far back, the Nationals won’t be a part of runs for pitchers or catchers or speedy outfielders. All those emotional picks will happen in the first couple of hours. At No. 58, the Nationals likely won’t pick until 10 or 11 p.m. tonight.
Last season, the Nationals went after pitcher Erick Fedde, who had to undergo Tommy John surgery days after the team picked him. They have been willing to select pitchers like Lucas Giolito, who needed the famous surgery. By gambling, they got a player other teams had rated high in the draft, but decided not to pick due to injury concerns. Giolito is doing well already at high Single-A and Fedde is making his mound progressions in Florida one year after his surgery.
The Nationals have also displayed a trend of not being afraid to pick super agent Scott Boras clients with seven of them on the 40-man roster: Harper, Rendon, Scherzer, Strasburg, Danny Espinosa, Brian Goodwin and Jayson Werth.
That got John Manuel, editor for Baseball America, telling me to watch out for University of Southern California catcher Garrett Stubbs. He is a Boras client, and if he is available to the Nationals with one of their picks, don’t be surprised if they nab him.
Stubbs was named one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench award, honoring the nation’s best collegiate backstops. He threw out 53 percent of potential base stealers during his senior season. He was also named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, made Pac-12 All-First team and was the catcher on the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.
Stubbs had 25 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in starting 59 of the 60 Trojans games this season. They were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament Lake Elsinore Regional by Virginia, which has advanced to the College World Series in Omaha beginning Saturday.