NOTE: This post will be updated through the day as more mock drafts include the latest intel. All updates will be clearly marked as such.
The MLB Draft is today, and boy am I excited.
Figuring out who will be drafted where — and, most importantly, who the Nats will draft — is a complicated exercise. Drafts have so many moving parts and so many public misinformation campaigns that pretty much every mock draft and report ends up looking pretty silly by the end of the day.
Despite their inaccuracy, there is some fire in all that smoke. For example, the Nationals picked 28th and 29th overall last year, and ESPN’s Keith Law correctly pegged both in his final mock draft. So while this exercise may prove futile, there’s a solid chance that the Nats’ pick will be named in this article.
We can try to guess who the Nats might pick through two methods: by analyzing public reporting and mock drafts, or by looking at the team’s past draft patterns.
As you might expect, the mock drafts and public reporting hew relatively close together. The one rumor that has followed the Nationals is that they’re interested in college pitching in the first round. In the 26 mock drafts I looked at, four players appeared more than once: former University of Houston lefty Seth Romero, LSU righty Alex Lange, University of South Carolina righty Clarke Schmidt, and Mizzou righty Tanner Houck.
Romero led the way, appearing six times including the most recent drafts from Baseball America and Keith Law. Romero is widely considered a top-10 talent, with his fastball, slider, and changeup all earning above-average grades, but was kicked off the Houston baseball team after a number of incidents — including a photo of him with a bong and a fight with a teammate. These makeup concerns are expected to push him at least into the 20s, if not further. In addition to fitting the bill as an advanced college arm, Romero would make sense with a number of past Nats trends. The Nationals have made a name for themselves by plucking players who drop for reasons other than their on-field abilities, though they have stuck with injured players instead of those with makeup concerns. Additionally, Romero is represented by Scott Boras, with whom the Nationals have a great relationship.
Lange was almost as common a pick for the Nats, appearing five times. The SEC star has a low-90s fastball and a terrific curveball, but scouts wonder about his future command due to his delivery. He’s acquitted himself well in perhaps the most challenging environment in college baseball, and is a fierce Max Scherzer-esque competitor on the mound.
Schmidt slotted in third, appearing three times. He’s a more classic Nationals pick, in that he’s the top-rated arm who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. When healthy, his fastball touched the mid-90s and his offspeed pitches flashed at least above average. But Schmidt is no Erick Fedde or Lucas Giolito. Even after their injuries, they ranked high on draft boards; Schmidt is 32nd in Baseball America’s rankings and 74th on Keith Law’s. But he could be better than the likes of Lange if healthy, and the Nationals are always on the hunt for upside.
Houck is a nice blend of risk and upside. His fastball touched 98 in 2016 but has backslid somewhat in 2017, settling more into the 90-94 range with serious movement. But his secondary pitches lag behind those of his contemporaries, and his delivery elicits concerns he’ll end up a reliever.
Of course, these four are far from the only ones who make sense. Though he was only named in only one mock, Stanford’s Tristan Beck would be a wise choice. He was stellar last year, showcasing four above-average pitches, but hasn’t pitched this year due to a back injury. Other options include UCLA’s Griffin Canning, USC’s Wil Crowe, and Oregon State’s Drew Rasmussen. Canning is reportedly falling due to poor medicals, while Crowe and Rasmussen returned from Tommy John this season and may not be all the way back.
If the Nats decide not to select a college arm, it’s hard to say who they might choose. Only two recent mocks pegged them with other types of players: High school RHP Sam Carlson and UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth. Early mocks connected them to UC Irvine 2B/OF Keston Hiura, but Hiura is now expected to be off the board by the 25th pick. Barring further reports, it would be a crapshoot.
The Nationals aren’t afraid to reach off the consensus board to grab players they like. They selected Carter Kieboom and Dane Dunning 28th and 29th last year, and they ranked 44th and 60th respectively on Baseball America’s rankings. When the Nationals had no first round pick in 2015, they picked Andrew Stevenson 57th and Blake Perkins 69th in the second round. Baseball America ranked them 169th and 137th, respectively. But both have flourished, with Stevenson already reaching AAA and Perkins flourishing despite learning how to switch-hit as a pro.
Looking further in the draft, the Nats’ trends can help us identify a few options for later picks. Teams will often draft players multiple times, as the Nationals famously did with Tyler Moore three times. Past Nats draftees in this year’s draft include outfielder Stuart Fairchild (who, at no. 43 on Baseball America’s rankings, could be an option with the Nats’ first pick), catcher Evan Skoug, outfielder Quinn Brodey, and pitchers Tommy Doyle and Morgan Cooper.
In keeping with their tradition of grabbing rehabbing pitchers, the Nationals could grab recent TJ patients and high schoolers Joe Perez and Hunter Ruth. Neither is the caliber of prospect that Jesus Luzardo was last year, but they would still likely need over-slot bonuses after the second round or so to avoid going to college.
So who will the Nationals go with? I think their stated interest in college arms is real, but as I mentioned before, mock drafts usually end up looking wrong. I’ll surely be even wronger, but might as well take a shot in the dark: Give me UCLA starter Griffin Canning. You can’t go wrong with saying the Nats will grab a a pitcher falling due to injury. Bonus prediction: They’ll pick Morgan Cooper in the second round.
UPDATE, 12:12 PM: The draft-day batch of mocks has reinforced the conclusions I reached earlier. Of the three new ones (two from MLB.com, one from Baseball America), two pegged Romero to the Nats, with the other predicting Lange will be their choice. But the mocks did have a little new information: First, Lange is also a client of Scott Boras. Additionally, other options for the Nationals at their pick include high school righties Alex Scherff and Hagen Danner.Tags: MLB Draft, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals