Dave Nichols: Signing day brings intrigue to Nationals Park

The deadline to sign draft picks from June’s First-Year Player Draft is midnight tonight. As of this post, the Washington Nationals still have not signed their top five picks from this year’s draft. It’s not an unusual scenario, due to Major League Baseball’s antiquated rules governing the draft and the slotting system the league recommends for draft pick bonuses. Even though it’s a yearly ritual by now, it still brings hand-wringing and hair-pulling until the clock strikes midnight and the deals come flooding in.

Regardless, the Nats still have some work to do get their picks under contract. The first three picks - third baseman Anthony Rendon, right-hander Alex Meyer and outfielder Brian Goodwin - should sign for near market money. Rendon, 21, of Rice University was arguably the top-rated college hitter in the draft and fell to the Nats at No. 6 overall due to teams’ concerns over a lingering shoulder issue that limited the talented fielder to designated hitter duty this past season. He wasn’t hindered at the plate though, hitting .327/.520/.523 in 63 games with 20 doubles, six homers and 37 RBIs.

With the 23rd pick, the Nats selected Meyer, a pitcher from the University of Kentucky. At 6-foot-9 and 220 lbs., Meyer is said to have the best pure stuff in the draft, and a plus-plus slider. He has a big fastball that sits 93-96 mph coming from a three-quarter slot and a wipeout slider at 83-86 mph with late, hard tilt. Some draft pundits think Meyer is better suited for the closer position with his mid-90s heat and devastating slider, but an equal number think he will develop enough control to remain a starter. What isn’t debated, though, is the quality of his arm.

The Nationals selected Goodwin, from Miami Dade College, with the 34th overall pick. The speedy outfielder is a terrific defender at center field, with the projection to develop power at the top of the order. General manager Mike Rizzo said on draft day that Goodwin, wgho is 6-foot-1 and 190 lbs., is a “prototypical, top of the order, defensive-minded” table setter. Independent scouting describes Goodwin having a very good eye to go with great bat speed.

All three are represented by Scott Boras, which shouldn’t surprise Nationals fans as the super-agent has gotten to know Rizzo’s style very well the last couple of seasons, with down-to-the-last-minute negotiations for both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Hopefully, Boras and Rizzo will be able to come to common ground on all three of the Nats’ top selections.

The wild card for the Nats at this year’s deadline is their third-round pick, left-hander Matt Purke. Purke, 21, just completed his sophomore year at TCU. A bout of bursitis limited the 6-foot-3, 175-lb. southpaw to just 11 starts in 2011, but he was excellent when he did pitch, going 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA, and posting a .187 batting average against with 61 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. In his freshman year, however, Purke was nothing short of dominant, going16-0 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. He earned NCAA College Freshman of the Year honors and was named a second-team All-America starting pitcher. Scouts drooled and proclaimed him one of the top three players for the 2011 draft.

But that’s where the problem lies. Purke’s agent will insist that he be paid as if he were one of the top overall picks, not accordingly to where he was drafted at the start of the third round. When Purke was drafted out of high school, his agent believed he had a $6 million deal with the Texas Rangers, but with Rangers ownership up in the air at that point, Major League Baseball did not approve the contract and Purke went to college. If the agent is looking for that type of money in this deal with the Nats, Purke better start packing for college again. But if they can come to an agreement, it will be the biggest coup of the draft and earn Rizzo high marks for the third straight season.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nationals News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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