For the second straight year, the Washington Nationals pulled off a big shock at the MLB draft, grabbing players once thought to be sure-fire (or close to it) #1 overall picks who fell due to injury concerns. In 2011, the Nationals were picking 6th overall, where they got a great college hitter with injury concerns in Anthony Rendon. They were able to pay him big money and give him a major-league contract.Last week, the Nats grabbed flamethrowing righthander Lucas Giolito out of Harvard-Westlake HS in California with the #16 overall pick.
Giolito had injury concerns going in (elbow) and supposedly high demands, but unlike last year with Rendon, Washington can’t give the SoCal kid a big-league contract or sign him to a $5 million dollar deal to secure his services — thanks to the new CBA that eliminated the former practice and has severely curtailed big spending that the Nationals and other organizations (e.g. Pittsburgh) have done the past three years.
The strategy of the draft changed immensely over the past year with the new slotting system. The Nationals were only allotted $4.436M in their bonus pool (and can spend up to $4.658, 5% above the slot amount, without losing a draft pick). I won’t go too far into the dollar details (read Brian Oliver’s “Gioloto Savings Plan” for a fantastic rundown), but the Nationals will likely have somewhere in the $2.8-$3 million range to spend in Gioloto due to their conservative drafting in rounds 2-10.
By my count, the Nationals drafted 32 signable players: 15 college seniors, 11 college juniors, three junior college players and three high schoolers in the top 20 rounds. I don’t expect any HS picks from Freddy Avis (25th round) or later to end up with the Nationals (and 15th rounder Brandon Smith is a stretch as well). [Ed. Note: This may spare you numerous puns with 26th rounder Skye Bolt, who is indeed a speedster]
Last year, the Nationals signed all of their seniors (though the contracts of Sean Cotten and Tony Nix were voided according to Baseball America, likely due to failed physicals) and only missed out on two junior college (JuCo) players and three college juniors in the top 30 rounds.
Two JuCos (14th round RHP Jordan Poole and 16th round RHP Roland Pena),fall into the “maybe they won’t sign category” while 30th, 32nd, 35th and 38th round college juniors RC Orlan, Mike Mudron, Cory Bafidis and Jared Messer could spur the Nats to head back for their senior seasons as well, but any given guy listed above is likely seen by the Nats as a 50/50 or better to sign (remember, they called players before drafting them to make sure they were interested in signing).
My academic background as a history major prompted me to look at the 2011 draft and see where players were assigned after being drafted. While the signing deadline moved up to mid-July rather than mid-August, the signed majority of players who signed with the team did so very quickly; it was only the higher-round guys who held out until the last minute.
Twenty players were drafted, signed and appeared with the Nationals in at least one level of affiliated ball in 2011 (those who signed but did not play affiliated ball in 2011: Rendon, Meyer, Goodwin, Purke, Turnbull, Anderson and Pleffner). Eleven of the 20 (all college juniors or seniors) started in Auburn, and 36th rounder Ben Hawkins moved up to Auburn after spending two weeks in the GCL. We’ll just call it 12.
The eight that started and stayed in the GCL ranged from Deion Williams (the lone high schooler signed last year), Nick Lee (JuCo sophomore) and six college players: Todd Simko (junior), Erick Fernandez (senior), Bobby Lucas, Jr. (senior), Ken Ferrer (senior), Bryan Harper (junior) and Trey Karlen (senior). The elder Harper signed around the same time the top guys did, so his GCL start is no surprise. The other five were a slew of senior signs and projects; teaching Simko how to use his good stuff, Lucas how to improve his control and getting Erick Fernandez likely factored into the decisions to send them to the GCL.
In 2012, the Nationals will likely see the HS and JuCo players who sign head to the GCL as well as some late-round projects/injury-plagued guys (Austin Dicharry, LJ Hollins and Cory Bafidis come to mind if they sign) and will send most other draftees to Auburn. I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four of the arms drafted in the 22-32 range end up in the GCL due to a numbers game, but if we use last year as a rule of thumb, it looks like most college bats that sign will end up in Auburn.