Monday evening the Washington Nationals selected University of Houston LHP Seth Romero and University of South Carolina RHP Wil Crowe on Day 1 of the MLB Draft. After building their offensive prospect depth in the minors in recent years, the Nationals have obviously prioritized pitching early in the 2017 draft.
With their 1st pick, 25th overall, Washington selected Romero, a top-10 candidate before a series of off-field incidents this spring eventually caused his dismissal from the team. While much of the behavior can fall into the “knucklehead college kid” category, there are legitimate makeup concerns that caused him to slide to the Nationals.
When on the mound Romero is extremely impressive, throwing from a low 3/4s arm slot, and possessing a powerful three pitch arsenal. His repertoire begins with a mid-90s fastball that he can locate throughout the zone. In addition he will show a plus mid-80s slider with hard, late break – this pitch is simply nasty against left-handed hitters. Finally Romero will occasionally show a quality changeup in which he replicates his arm speed well. He did not use this offering much in college, but it has shown future average potential with development. Listed at 6-3 240lbs, he does not have a body to sell jeans and there have been conditioning issues in the past, but he has reasonable athleticism and repeats his mechanics well.
Overall Romero is the latest example of the Nationals gambling in the 1st round of the draft. Certainly they tend to speculate on players recovering from injury rather than those with makeup concerns, but Washington will again attempt to capitalize on the seemingly elevated risk of a prospect to acquire someone with upside. He profiles as a long-term #3 or #4 starting pitcher if everything comes together, although due to his lack of innings this spring, he could pitch in relief this summer to possibly bolster the major league bullpen. This would be challenging, but not completely unreasonable. If you are willing to accept the elevated risk due to possible character issues, this was a solid gamble for the Nationals at #25.
Then with their 2nd round pick, 65th overall, the Nationals chose Crowe, a well-built right-handed pitcher with a past Tommy John surgery. He overcame this injury to lead the Gamecocks’ pitching staff this season. Crowe features an impressive 4-pitch repertoire, with a 92-94mph fastball, reportedly touching 97mph at its best, with some sink and arm-side movement. In addition Crowe throws both a low-80s slider and a high-70s curveball – both show similar shape and the slider has potential to be an above-average future offering. Finally Crowe throws a quality 82-85mph changeup with fade to his arm-side and he replicates his arm speed well.
Listed at 6-2 245lbs, he lacks physical projection and his surgery cost him almost two seasons, making him old for this draft class at 22.5 years old; these two flaws, plus the fact his stuff slumped a bit toward the end of the season caused him to slide from a likely supplemental 1st round pick into the 2nd round. Nonetheless, this is an impressive collegiate arm whom has excelled against competition in the SEC and feels like an excellent value selection for Washington at #65.
After Day 1 I believe the Nationals did a fantastic job of maximizing the potential talent they could acquire at the positions they selected. Despite the fact no team should ever prioritize position over talent in the draft, Washington enters this year with a preference for pitching and was able to capitalize on this area of depth in this draft class.
Without question both players have some risk in their profile, but both also have the potential to move quickly through the minors and be average or better major league starters. If there is one minor quibble, I might have leaned toward LSU RHP Alex Lange, who went #30 to Chicago, over Romero in Round 1, as I see them having similar ceilings while Lange has less risk. On the other hand, Crowe was my primary target in Round 2 and a player I would have considered at #25. While impossible to legitimately grade a draft until well into the future, the Nationals did well maximizing talent, need, risk and reward with their two selections Monday evening.
NatsGM Instant Grade -> A-