The Nationals completed day two of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with nine overall selections.
Nationals assistant general manager Kris Kline was pleasantly surprised the club was able to select right-hander Jackson Rutledge at No. 17 out of San Jacinto North junior college, believing he is top 10 talent.
“When I woke up yesterday I didn’t think we could get Rutledge, but we did,” Kline said. “The whole group is absolutely thrilled to get this guy: 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, big arm, above-average secondary stuff, whole package. He was supposed to go in the top 10, and ended up getting down to where we pick. Everybody in that room was thrilled to death.”
How much energy did Kline put into this draft? Days and nights, hour upon hour for weeks. So pardon Kline if he did not have the list of the draft picks memorized after this race to the finish line.
“Good group, man. Anybody want to refresh my memory here? I’m so exhausted,” Kline said.
Don’t worry, Kris. We have your list right in front of us.
Let’s start with the Nats’ third-round selection: third baseman Drew Mendoza out of Florida State. The first-team All-ACC selection is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds.
“Big body. Left-handed hitter,” Kline said. “Drew in high school was a potential first-round pick. Left-handed hitter, big power. He was a lot thinner back then, thought he could stay at short, playing third base now. He might stay there, he might move to first. Either way, got a power bat and moves around really good for a big guy. This guy’s huge.”
So even with his 6-foot-5 frame, Kline believes Mendoza could play third or first base at this level.
“Moves really well, yeah,” Kline said. “In fact, in high school I thought maybe there’s a chance he could stay at shortstop ‘til he was up to Double-A, maybe. But he grew way too big, large human being.”
In the fourth round, the Nationals picked left-hander Matt Cronin out of Arkansas. Cronin is a 6-foot-2, 195-pound. closer. He was ranked as the No. 73 selection, but the Nats got him at No. 123. Kline said their philosophy with scouting closers is to try to see them work in back-to-back games. Doing so, however, is difficult because college teams do not play every day, and if they are not in save situations, these closers may not get in the game.
Kline said Cronin’s curveball set him apart.
“We like to see these guys, if we can, on back-to-back days at times,” Kline said. “It will be a test to what they do up here. (Cronin has a) 90-97 mph fastball, from the left side, with arguably the best curveball in the draft. Top to bottom, big, hard, hammer curveball. Throws it 74 to 80 mph, I think.”
The Nats grabbed another closer in the seventh round: right-hander Todd Peterson out of LSU. He is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds.
National crosschecker Jeff Zona on Peterson: “Peterson is a big, strong right-hand reliever out of LSU. We tracked him. Fastball mid- to high-90s mph with a hard cutter and a slider. Just the type of guy you look for but they are tougher to see. If he took the ball every Friday like a college starter does you’d have such a big body of work. But with (a closer), you don’t. But you got to get that guy because there isn’t but so many of him in the country. You got five or six premiere closers. (If) you want to go get them, you got to go get them. We are really excited to have him and, obviously, Cronin.”
Zona reiterated the Nats’ strategy for securing legitimate closers from the college ranks: “The key thing when you scout these relievers like Cronin, you have to have multiple looks. Because each scout that goes in, ‘Well I got him tonight, one inning.’ You can’t go another month and not have somebody get (eyes on) him.
“So, what you do is you keep running people in there so you can mount the innings so you can make a judgment, because college closers, they’re pitching one inning. They might go a weekend where there is no save situation. What we got? We got six guys, six looks, maybe mounting seven, eight, nine, 10 innings. That’s good. You can’t take them off of seeing them one or two innings.”
In the fifth round, the Nats selected right-hander Tyler Dyson, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior out of Florida.
“He’s another kid going into the season we all thought could be a first-rounder,” said Nationals area scout Alan Marr. “Kind of had an up-and-down season, and then a little injury at the end of the year. Got to see him in the end, when he got back up to 98 mph. 87-89 mph slider, he’s a big-body kid, strong kid, durable.
“He’s got a chance to be pretty good, probably as a starter. Certainly, if winds up going to the back of the bullpen, he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
In the sixth round, the Nationals selected shortstop Jackson Cluff out of BYU. The 6-foot, 185-pound infielder might have still been available to the Nats because he was away from the game for two years on his Mormon mission.
“He went on his mission,” Kline said. “He went to Atlanta, said it was rough. But he got to work out every day. They’re allowed to work out for an hour a day, every day, and he did that. So for a guy that hasn’t played in two years, is a really good player. This kid’s got a 60 arm, he’s a 60 runner, above-average runner, above-average arm. Nice, short, compact left-handed swing, and he can really pick it. Yeah, really good player.”
Kline is not worried that two years away from competitive baseball has slowed Cluff down.
“This kid is kind of a (gym) rat,” Kline said. “He loves to play. He’s got great makeup, plays hard. No, I’m not surprised. Really good player.”
The team rounded out day two with outfielder Jeremy Ydens out of UCLA at No. 8, right-hander Hunter McMahon at No. 9 and catcher Andrew Pratt out of Lubbock Christian University (Texas) at No. 10.
Summarizing the first two days of draft picks, Kline predicted that Rutledge and Cronin could move through the Nationals minor league system fast.
“I think Rutledge could be (a rapid riser). I mean, he’s still a young kid, he’s only 20, but it’s present stuff,” Kline said. “He had some delivery issues when he was at Arkansas, but Woody Williams - who’s the pitching coach at San Jac, ex-big leaguer - really helped him, cleaned him up, and he did a nice job. It’s a really, clean compact arm stroke. Everything comes out of the same slot, four pitches. Potentially, he could be a quick mover.
“Cronin, possibly just because of the value that he has at this level with the stuff he has today from the left side.”