Nats go with high school shortstop House as No. 11 pick (updated)

The Nationals veered off their typical course tonight and did not select a pitcher with their first pick of the First-Year Player Draft. But in making Brady House their choice at No. 11, they did go back to a familiar well they’ve tapped before when taking a position player.

House, a high school shortstop from Georgia, is only the second position player the Nats have selected with their first draft pick since 2011. The other was Carter Kieboom, a high school shortstop from Georgia.

The similarities may not extend far beyond that obvious one, though. House, who turned 18 last week, already is a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 210 lbs. He was regarded as one of the best power-hitting prospects in the draft, whether coming out of high school or college. And he even boasted an upper-90s fastball when pitching at times for Winder-Barrow High School.

Above all else, House was projected as an early first-round pick. And given an opportunity to draft this high for the first time since 2011 (when they selected Anthony Rendon sixth overall), the Nationals didn’t hesitate to take him.

Brady-House-Team-USA-Sidebar.jpg“I remember I was at a game, and I don’t text (general manager Mike Rizzo) very often or call him,” vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline said in a Zoom session with reporters. “But after I saw Brady, I texted him, and he’s getting excited. And he said: ‘Is he going to be there?’ And I said: ‘I don’t know, I think he’s going to be gone in the first six.’ So Brady House at 11? Pretty happy about that.”

Owner of a robust .549 batting average, 52 runs scored, eight homers and 20 RBIs during his senior season at Winder-Barrow, House committed to play collegiately at Tennessee next season. He did say, though, he expects to sign with the Nationals, provided negotiations work out. Major League Baseball’s designated slot value for the 11th pick is slightly more than $4.5 million.

House has been familiar with the Nationals organization for some time, having met with scouts on several occasions over the years and even attending a game in D.C. when he was 12 and was in town with his travel team.

“I just remember the atmosphere being electric,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to going into this: just the atmosphere and the fans and playing with hopefully a bunch of those top elite prospects.”

High school picks are far more difficult to project than college players, and House figures to face a longer road to the big leagues than some more experienced draftees. But the Nationals believe they’ll have themselves a young infielder who can lead the next wave of homegrown players now being tasked to rebuild a low-ranked farm system.

Though he was drafted as a shortstop, House may find himself switching positions at some point because of his large frame at such a young age. Some scouts already project him as a future third baseman, though House believes he has the skills and the desire to work to continue playing shortstop.

“A hundred percent,” he said, citing Rockies All-Star Trevor Story as a similar type of player at the position. “That’s what I work toward every day, just beating everyone out at short and to prove I can stay at short. Because that’s where I feel comfortable. That’s where my bread and butter is. I feel like I can stay at short for sure, if I keep up the work there.”

The Nationals, of course, may find themselves in need of a long-term shortstop or third baseman, with Trea Turner eligible to become a free agent after the 2022 season and Kieboom having not yet proven he can stick in the big leagues.

The club doesn’t draft for need, of course, and the scouting department selected House not because of the current or future state of the organization’s infield depth chart but because it believed he was the best available player when their turn arrived.

“There’s a part of me that thinks he could stay there (at shortstop),” Kline said. “But he might get too big and end up at third base, where he’d have a chance potentially to win a Gold Glove.”

The Nationals very nearly found themselves in a most unexpected situation, though, when Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker remained undrafted through the first nine picks of the night. But when the Mets swooped in and grabbed the big right-hander who at times in the last year was projected to be the No. 1 pick, the Nats were in a position to nab the shortstop they liked all along.

“We were very fortunate with him getting to 11th in the country,” assistant director of amateur scouting Mark Baca said. “We were overly excited when he landed in our lap. But as the draft goes, it’s so fluid. You never, ever try to predict anything that happens. Obviously pitching, that would’ve been great. But we were blessed to get Mr. House there at 11.”

“We had four or five guys we really liked, four or five potential five-tool players, building the board like we build it,” Kline added. “And just didn’t see, in our opinion, that Cade Cavalli from last year. We didn’t see Cade in this draft. So we were focusing on those other guys.”

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