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Nats not afraid of ‘risky’ draft prospects

Jun 4, 2014, 1:34 PM EST

Photo by The Associated Press Photo by The Associated Press

In every MLB draft – or any professional sports draft for that matter – there are certain players who present risks. Character concerns are one thing, injuries are another.

The Nationals have proven to be a team that is willing to take a risk on an injured player, and they’ve seen it work both ways.

“You really do have to balance the risk and the reward,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “What we’ve looked at in the past, is that the upside has to really trump the risk of a player not coming back from injury.”

In 2011 the Nats picked Anthony Rendon, despite concerns about a shoulder injury that relegated him to designated hitter for much of his final season at Rice University. Rendon was the top-rated hitter in his class, fell to the Nats at 6th, and this season has emerged as a potential future star.

In 2012 they took Lucas Giolito, knowing he would potentially need Tommy John surgery because of an elbow injury. Giolito was in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, but slipped to the Nationals at 16. He has since had Tommy John and returned as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.

Taking an injured player in the third round in 2011, however, has not worked out for the Nats. They selected left-hander Matt Purke, who missed half of his final season at TCU with a shoulder injury. He has since had major shoulder surgery and this past week also had Tommy John. At this point, his future as an MLB prospect is up in the air.

Whether it’s because of the problems Purke has presented, or the minor league success of Giolito, or simply years worth of research: the Nationals consider some injuries much more alarming than others.

“Usually we really weigh elbow injuries a lot more favorable than shoulder injuries, so that goes into it,” Rizzo said.

There are also other factors the Nationals keep in mind.

“A lot goes into the character of the player and the type of makeup that he has. The rehab process is not a simple one, so you have to have the right character and makeup to go through it and to come out the other end better than when you started it,” Rizzo said.

With the 18th overall selection, the Nationals will enter Thursday’s draft with a good deal of contingency plans. Rizzo says they’ll have 18 players in mind, ranked in order. Whoever is the highest rated player left when their pick is called is who they will take.

Two players with first round grades stand out as injury risks. One is left-handed starter Kyle Freeland from the University of Evansville. The other is East Carolina University right-hander Jeff Hoffman.

Freeland – the third-rated lefty starter in this year’s class – had arthroscopic elbow surgery as a high school freshman in 2007. Just last week he underwent an MRI exam that was distributed to all 30 MLB teams to quell any concerns about his health.

Hoffman underwent Tommy John surgery this season after beginning the year as a Golden Spikes Award nominee. The New York-native is ranked as the 13th overall prospect by Baseball America.

The Nats have also been linked heavily to high school shortstop Jacob Gatewood. Gatewood entered the year as the highest rated high school position player, but an inconsistent season at Clovis High School in California damaged his stock. He could go anywhere from the top 15 to the compensation round, depending on which mock draft you look at.

Gatewood is one of the best power bats in this year’s class. He won the two premier high school home run derbies last summer: one at the MLB All-Star Game at Citi Field and one presented by Under Armour at Wrigley Field.

As the Nationals move through the three-day, 40-round draft, there will surely be moments where a player deemed risky because of his injury history is sitting there. According to Rizzo, it will always come down to who is at the top of their board.

“We never go need,” he said. “I’ve never gone for need in the time I’ve been doing this, it’s best player available that gives us the best chance to get an impactful player at each and every round. That’s the guy we identify and go after.”

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    This is a sound approach and Rizzo’s track record speaks volumes. Where the team has lacked is International players and they must improve there.

    “You really do have to balance the risk and the reward,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “What we’ve looked at in the past, is that the upside has to really trump the risk of a player not coming back from injury.”

    Gatewood isn’t a risk in the traditional health sense, his is why he struggled at times and also making sure he is clean. Now that’s always a concern with High School players that aren’t getting tested.

    Rizzo will take the highest rated player available. I could see 12-15 pitchers selected in the 1st 17 picks which will leave some blue chip position players available at #18.

    Rizzo wants his Giancarlo Stanton but also needs to find a legit middle infielder in the Draft and they are tough to find. I think you yake the best High School position player available and fill up on pitchers in Rounds 2 and 3.

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      I looked up Stanton and he was drafted all the way back in 2007 as a teenager, in the 2nd round (as you pointed out, offline). Trout was drafted no. 25 in 2009 out of HS, and Bryce was drafted no. 1 after what would have been his last year in HS.

      Maybe high schoolers are the way to go. A GM using that strategy could have gotten Harper, Trout and Stanton for their 2014 outfield today. Other than Harper, at no. 1, Trout was available for anyone drafting higher than 24 in 2009, including the Nats (they took Strasburg no. 1 that year, and Drew Storen at around no. 10 or 11), and Stanton could have been picked by anyone in the 1st round in 2007.

      The As have been very successful drafting high schoolers, and look to be a far better team than the far more expensive, and older Angels, with Hamilton and Pujols, even with their own youngster, Trout..

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      This would be the time to be looking for a Stanton, with (only) 3 years left for Werth. Legit middle infielders are not only tough to find generally (SS is the premier defensive position, after all), they are especially tough to project out of high school.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:08 PM

        Gatewood could be a legit corner OF as he fills out or could be a tall SS if he stays trim. Jackson looks good. Theres 2 College sluggers who are more sure things but could be more TyMo then LaRoche.

        Roll the dice Mike!!!!

  2. jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    If Hoffman or Freeland fall to them I think they take them. Hoffman was rated top 4 before hit TJ. If the Nats can get him at 18 that’s a nice pickup.

    Giolito pitched for the 1st time since May 11th yesterday (The Nats shut him down for a while to manage his innings). Pitched 3 shutout innings with 5 k’s.He won’t move up too quickly this year because of innings limit but it would be nice if he has at least a taste of high ‘A’ (Potomac) this year.

  3. David Proctor - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    Braves down 1-0 in the 8th. Iwakuma is pitching a gem. Might be out of the game,he’s around 100 pitches now. But he’s been cruising, so maybe he goes out for the 8th.

    • David Proctor - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      Mariners just picked up an insurance run.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:31 PM

        I was keeping score on the previous post. That insurance run helped.

  4. David Proctor - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:44 PM

    3 outs away. It’d be nice to add another run or two. Rodney will have to go through Freeman, JUpton and Gattis.

  5. tcostant - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    I hope they draft a hitter. We needs some hitting prospects.

    • jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:57 PM

      You can make trades. In the draft you have to take the best player available regardless of position. When the drafted Rendon Zim was entrenched at 3rd base but Rizzo didn’t pass him up anyway. That’s the sign of a very good GM.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:20 PM

        Nats traded a closer, and 2 MiLB starters for Ramos, Span and Lobaton and Vettleson and Rivera.

  6. Danny - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Sweep the Phils and we sit a game back.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Braves drop to 31-27

    Thank you Seattle Washington.

  8. David Proctor - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Braves lose. They have off tomorrow so all we have to do is win either tonight or tomorrow (aka win the Philly series) to gain a game on them. If we sweep the Phillies, we’d gain a game and a half.

    And don’t look now, but Freddie Freeman is down to .290 with 9HR and 32 RBI. Still very good production, but not the MVP level he was at early on.

    • Sonny G 10 - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      Glad to see Freddie come back to earth.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:50 PM

        Freddie doesn’t even have the best numbers on his team anymore.

  9. cvillegoodtimes - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    I have seen the Nationals tied to Fedde in this draft, not Freeland.





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