Friday, June 12, 2009

Washington Nationals Draft, Was it a Success?

The Washington Nationals had two of the top ten picks (1st and 10th) in this year's MLB draft. A draft that featured pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg. The 1st overall pick they received for their league worst 59-101 record last season. The 10th pick came was a compensation pick for failing to sign their 1st round pick last year (Aaron Crow). It was the first time in baseball history that one team had two top-10 picks. Now the question is, How successful was their draft class?

As a Nationals fan and baseball observer I was disappointed and unimpressed with their draft class. I thought early on the Nationals were prone to over drafting, and selecting signable players. In the top 20 rounds (21 picks) in which usually the teams best players are found, the Nationals drafted a total of 13 collegians, 3 Junior College players and 5 High Schoolers. Of those collegians, 5 were seniors, players without leverage who traditionally sign quickly. This isn't an impressive list with a lot of upside talent. The Nationals early round picks after Strasburg left me scratching my head. Here is a look at some of the problems with those picks
  • Drew Storen-1st round (10th overall) RHP, Stanford: Don't get me wrong I like Storen, he's a good player and has a chance to be an excellent closer. Also, its good that you got a player who signed quickly (especially after last year's fiasco with Crow). I just don't think the pick makes sense for the Nationals. Spending an early pick on a closer isn't always the best move. It makes even less sense for the Nationals since they are at least a few years away from contending. Having an All-Star closer on a last place team, is like having a Pro Bowl fullback, on a team without a good running back, it doesn't really help you in the long run. What I'd have done: I would have grabbed either Kyle Gibson, Chad James, or Chad Jenkins. All are college starting pitchers, and none would have been tough signs.
  • Jeff Kobernus-2nd round (50st overall) 2b, California: Kobernus would have been a solid 3rd round pick, a good 4th round pick and a great 5th round pick. The problem for the Nationals is they took him in the 2nd round. He does help fill a need at a premium position, but he doesn't profile as a top talent. There were plenty of more talented players still on the board and this just seems like a signability pick here. What I'd have done: If I was looking for a college player, I'd probably take 1b Rich Poythress. From the H.S. ranks pitcher Brooks Pounders or SS Mychal Givens would have been good value picks.
  • Trevor Holder-3rd round (81st) RHP, Georgia: Holder is a college senior and is the very definition of a 'signable' player. Baseball America wrote about him and said, "Holder was a 10th round pick last year and should go in the same range this June." A 10th round pick, taken at the top of the 3rd round. What's worse is, that since he's a senior, he has just about no leverage. The Nats could easily have waited 4 or 6 rounds and still gotten Holder. What I'd have done: Chris Dominguez would have been a nice pick, but redundant if I'd already taken Poythress. I'd probably go with either pitchers Ben Tootle, Justin Marks, or Joe Kelly. SS Robbie Shields would be a great pick as well.
  • A.J. Morris-4th round (112th) RHP, Kansas State: Morris isn't a real bad pick here, but the Nationals may have been able to wait one more round. Morris is a good player, but there is some concern on his ability to stay healthy. But overall this is a good pick for the Nationals. At the very least he should be a quality arm in the bullpen. What I'd have done: Morris would have likely been my pick here. H.S. catcher Max Stassi or RP Jason Stoffel would have been quality picks as well.
  • Miguel Pena-5th round (142nd) LHP, La Joya H.S.: Pena was the Nationals top H.S. draft pick and does have some potential. I think Pena was a solid pick but there were more talented players still on the board. Washington could have gotten Pena or someone like him later in the draft. What I'd have done: SS Ryan Jackson would have been a steal. College arms like Ashur Tolliver or Louis Coleman would have been fine picks for that spot.
  • Michael Taylor-6th round (172nd) SS, Westminister Academy H.S.: Taylor seems like a major over draft. He wasn't written up by Baseball America,, or Keith Law, which is a bit concerning. If the Nats were high on Taylor, I'm sure they could have gotten him a couple of rounds later. What I'd have done: INF Shaver Hansen or LHP/CF Brooks Raley would have been great picks. H.S. arms like James Needy and Matt Graham would have been great additions to the Nationals farm system.
I think the Nationals dropped the ball here with this draft class. Storen and Morris were good but not great picks. While there may have been better options they are still highly justifiable picks. Players like Kobernus, Holder, Pena and Taylor all seem like signability picks. While i'm not a scout, I think it's a bad decision to draft guys multiple rounds earlier than the industry consensus. Even if all four of these guys become major leaguers its still a bad move, since you could have gotten these 'diamonds in the rough' later in the draft. The Nationals did redeem themselves with a good third day of the draft. Where they selected a number of high upside High Schoolers. It remains to be seen how many will sign, but they were great picks for a system desperate for talent. Overall though I think the Nationals missed an opportunity to be bold and have a top notch draft class. For a team that finished last in 2008, and has the worst record to date this season, that increase in talent is exactly what they needed.

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