Jun 5, 2014, 9:53 PM EST
Updated at 12:07 a.m.
The story of the Nationals’ latest first-round draft pick should sound quite familiar to those who have followed this franchise over the last five years.
Right-hander Erick Fedde, taken with the 18th overall pick in Thursday night’s MLB Draft, comes from Las Vegas, where he was high school teammates with none other than Bryce Harper. He’s represented by Scott Boras. He’s a tall, power pitcher who entered this season at UNLV touted as one of the best arms in the college game.
And he just had Tommy John surgery. Two days ago.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has never shied away from Boras clients, nor pitchers with a known injury history. The organization has made eight first-round draft picks since 2009, and six of those picks were represented by Boras: Stephen Strasburg (2009), Bryce Harper (2010), Anthony Rendon, (2011), Alex Meyer (2011), Brian Goodwin (2011) and now Fedde in 2014.
The lone exceptions during that time: Drew Storen (2009) and Lucas Giolito (2012), who are both represented by CAA. And Giolito, a tall right-hander with a 100 mph fastball, was known to have an elbow injury when drafted and wound up having Tommy John surgery within months of his selection. There were also injury concerns at the time about Rendon, who slipped to the No. 6 pick in 2011 after other clubs were worried about his shoulder and ankle.
This time, the Nationals took the unprecedented step of drafting a pitcher who had the all-too-common ligament replacement surgery earlier this week. Fedde had the procedure done Tuesday in Los Angeles by orthopedist Neal El Attrache, about one month after his junior season at UNLV was cut short (he finished 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 11 starts, earning Mountain West Pitcher of the Year honors).
Recovery time is expected to be 12-to-18 months.
“We don’t take hollow chances,” Rizzo said. “We do a lot of research. We do a lot of background checks. Obviously, we’re hand-in-hand with our medical team here. We think our medical team is some of the finest in the game. We’ve had very good success in rehabbing these types of players.”
“Everything in the elbow is clean,” Fedde told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We expect a full recovery.”
A 6-foot-4, 180-pound right-hander, Fedde boasted a mid-90s fastball and sharp slider before his injury, throwing from a high-three-quarters arm slot. The 21-year-old also was an all-state soccer player and state champion at Las Vegas High School, where he played baseball alongside Harper.
“We got a great one DC!” Harper posted on his Twitter account shortly after the selection was made.
The 21-year-old Fedde, named a Louisville Slugger Second-Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball this season, pitched last summer for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. Nationals vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline first saw him pitching for Team USA, then attended his first start this season at UNLV, yet emerged with spirits low. Why?
“I walked out of there thinking we’ve got no shot of getting this player,” Kline said. “Because he was a top-5 guy. … When I left there, in my mind, he was a definite candidate to be a front-line starter in the big leagues. I still feel that’s what he is. The guys that we could have taken behind him, with Erick being healthy post-surgery, we still feel like he’s the better guy. I think it was an easy pick for us there.”
The Nationals have until July 18 to sign Fedde and all other draft picks. Given Boras’ history, negotiations figure to go right down to the wire. The organization has a total pool of approximately $5.275 million to spend on their top 10 picks without being subject to penalties. The recommended slot signing bonus for the 18th overall pick is approximately $2.145 million.
“Obviously we’ve dealt several times before (with Boras),” Rizzo said. “I don’t know if that’s a comfort level, just because we’re comfortable dealing with each other. We’re not sure. We’re going to begin the process and see if we can get him out, get him signed and get him rehabbing so he can take the next step toward seeing him pitch here at Nats Park.”
Until he signs, Fedde will be rehabbing under a program run by the Boras Corp., though the Nationals expect to be kept in the loop on all developments. Once he’s officially a member of the organization, he will report to Viera, Fla., and start the long road back under the tutelage of the Nationals’ minor-league rehab coordinators.
“Truly blessed to be picked by such an amazing organization!” Fedde posted on his Twitter account. “Can’t wait to be back on the field to show they made a great decision.”
The Nationals drafted yet another pitcher with a history of injuries with their second-round pick Thursday night, selecting left-hander Andrew Suarez from the University of Miami.
Suarez, the 57th overall pick, went 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 16 starts this season for the Hurricanes, striking out 87 while walking only 15. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound lefty missed his freshman year in 2012 after surgery to repair a labrum tear in his shoulder.
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