Almost 6 weeks have passed since the 2012 MLB Draft was completed and with Friday’s signing deadline now in our rearview mirror, the time has come to critique the Nationals draft strategy and review how well the team did getting them signed. Over the course of 3 days last month, the Nationals selected 40 total players, 20 pitchers and 20 hitters, and of those 40, 26 were collegiate players, 11 were high school prospects, and 3 were junior college players. The Nationals were able to come to terms with 28 of 40 draft picks, including their first 14 picks and 23 of their top 24 selections. These signings break down as 18 college seniors, 5 college juniors (Renda, Mooneyham, Kieboom, Benincasa, and Perez), 3 junior college players (Poole, Pena, and Hollins), and 2 high school players (Giolito and Jennings).
Day 1 found the Nationals selecting only once, 16th overall in the 1st Round, and they were delighted that talented California high school right-handed pitcher Lucas Giolito was still on the board. Giolito entered this spring as the top high school pitcher available and stood a reasonable chance to be selected 1st overall before an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament (the same ligament that Tommy John surgery attempts to fix) in his pitching elbow kept him from pitching the majority of his senior season. Fears to the extent of his injury and rumors of exorbitant bonus demands allowed Giolito to slip to #16, and late Friday afternoon just minutes prior to the signing deadline, the Nationals and Giolito agreed to terms on a contract including a $2.925 million dollar signing bonus.
Giolito threw for scouts off flat ground prior to the draft and when healthy, throws a mid-90s fastball that has reached 100mph, a devastating mid-80s curveball that induces swings-and-misses, and the makings of an excellent changeup. This repertoire, along with his massive frame, gives him the ceiling of a #1 or #2 major league starter after much seasoning in the minor leagues. Give the Nationals credit for taking the Best Talent Available and gambling on their ability to sign the young man, and by doing so, added one of the few elite talents in this draft to their system at pick #16.
Tuesday, Day 2 of the draft, consisted of Rounds 2-15 and found the Nationals wanting to continue their strategy of taking the Best Talent Available, while focusing on their ability to sign them, and often for less than their recommended slot bonus. Essentially the Nationals needed to draft the best overall player that would sign within their budget. Of the 14 players selected on Day 2, there were 9 hitters and 5 pitchers, and the breakdown consisted of 11 collegiate players, 2 high school athletes, and 1 junior college prospect.
In Round 2 the Nationals selected University of California 2B Tony Renda, a talented hitter with a gritty nature that allows him to overachieve his average tools and followed by selecting Stanford University LHP Brett Mooneyham in Round 3, a talented underachiever that struggled with injuries the majority of his college career, but when healthy, possesses a great low-90s fastball, a curveball, slider, and changeup, with below-average command. Mooneyham has plenty of talent and an excellent chance of reaching the majors in some capacity, but this redshirt-junior is rawer than steak tartar. Rounds 4 and 5 found the Nationals attempting to save some dollars, as they selected Samford senior outfielder/catcher Brandon Miller, an interesting talent with huge power and a plus throwing arm but lingering questions about his ability to hit, and Clemson junior catcher Spencer Kieboom, one of the best defensive catchers in college baseball last summer but conversely, one of the weaker hitters in the country as well. His stellar defensive ability gives him a chance to reach the major leagues, and perhaps he improves his hitting along the way. Finally, the Nationals got a steal with Florida State University relief pitcher Robert Benincasa in Round 7, a three-pitch reliever that should move rapidly through the minor leagues and has a chance to be a high leverage reliever in the majors.
Wednesday, the day of the draft usually reserved for finding a few sleeper prospects, selecting a few difficult to sign high school athletes, and drafting college seniors to fill out the organizations minor league rosters, found the Nationals concluding with 25 picks in Rounds 16-40. On this final day the Nationals select 14 pitchers and 11 hitters, breaking down as 15 college players, 8 high school prospects, and 2 junior college athletes. The Nationals selected difficult to sign high school prospects RHP Freddy Avis, OF Skye Bolt, and RHP Cody Poteet in Rounds 25-27 but were unable to reach an agreement with any of these three talented players, and also failed to sign any of the 8 high school kids selected on Day 3. Besides Avis, Bolt, and Poteet, some of the more interesting day 3 picks the team was able to sign include 16th Round pick Palm Beach State RHP Ronald Pena, a College of Charleston commit with a 92-94mph fastball and an inconsistent curveball and slider, 18th round pick University of Connecticut RHP David Fischer, a senior draftee with a heavy low-90s fastball and a decent curveball/slider hybrid breaking pitch, and 22nd Round choice Notre Dame RHP Will Hudgins, a senior that produced a 2.06 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 96.1 innings pitched in 2012 and has an impressive fastball.
The Nationals were one of the more interesting teams in this summer’s draft, as they forced themselves into a precarious position if they were unable to come to terms with 1st round pick Lucas Giolito on a contract. If he failed to sign, the Nationals would have been heavily criticized for the lack of high-school and high-ceiling talent in the draft class, a direct result of the club’s need to conserve money if they were to sign Giolito. This approach allowed Washington to sign only 5 high school and junior college players, a slight cause for concern as it does not provide the infusion of youth (high-ceiling talent) every organization desires from their draft.
Fortunately for the organization, an agreement was reached with the talented Giolito and his presence was added to an otherwise conservative collection of talent acquired in later rounds. Nevertheless, Renda, Mooneyham, and Benincasa have major league talent and reasonably high prospect floors, giving each a strong chance of reaching the major leagues in some capacity in the future, and Miller (arm/power) and Kieboom (defense/arm) have promising tools that give them a possibility with refinement and polish to become big league players. GM Mike Rizzo and the scouting department should be commended for acquiring a nice haul of prospects on a budget, that said, the Nationals draft went from poor to above-average the moment Lucas Giolito signed his contract. Considering they selected #16 overall and did not own any additional picks in this draft, the Nationals easily had one of the better drafts and should be applauded for the collection of talent they infused into their farm system.
NatsGM Overall Grade -> A-/B+
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