Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Nationals Best player drafted but Not signed


Stromah from Sept 2015 with Toronto. Photo via wikipedia

Stromah from Sept 2015 with Toronto. Photo via wikipedia

I saw an article this morning on Prospect Insider titled “Every MLB’s best Unsigned Draft pick.”

Being that i’m a big draft guy and hyper-follow our draft picks, I was excited to see who they picked.  And, to my chagrin, they chose to combine the Expos history with the Nationals and ended up picking Mark McGwire, who the Expos drafted in 1981 but didn’t sign out of high school.  In fact, most of their honorable mentions were also Expos picks.

Well, with all due respect to the franchises time in Montreal, I wanted to do this analysis and bound it by the time of the franchise here.

So, here’s some analysis of the National’s best unsigned draft picks since 2005.  For the below, up until the 2012 draft year only players who appeared in the majors are listed; from 2013 onwards we’ll also mention prospects who are highly regarded and/or who seem close to the majors.  And, frankly, there’s nobody worth identifying past the 2016 draft since they’re all still in college and we won’t know if they get drafted until we figure out the 2020 draft.

Using the Draft Tracker as a guide, here’s the candidates (from earliest to latest):

  • Scott Barnes; 2005 43rd round pick out of Cathedral HS in Mass, went to St. Johns instead and was an 8th rounder in 2008 by San Francisco.  He was flipped to Cleveland, appeared in parts of two seasons 2012-2013 then played out the string in the minors.
  • Khris Davis, a 2006 29th round pick out of Deer Valley HS in AZ, went to Cal State Fullerton and was a 7th rounder in 2009 by Milwaukee.  He was traded to Oakland in 2016 and  has blossomed into one of the premier power hitters in the league (leading the AL in homers in 2008 despite playing in Oakland’s hitter’s park).
  • Aaron Crow, our 2008 1st round pick (9th overall) who failed to sign out of Missouri, went back to school then became the 1st round (12th overall pick) by Kansas City the next year.  Crow put in four solid years as an 8th inning reliever, blew out his elbow and had TJ surgery in 2015.  He barely pitched in 2016, then missed all of 2017 before getting cut loose and moving to the Mexican league.  Not signing Crow was a pretty embarrassing situation for Jim Bowden and the franchise at the time, one more additional data point proving the incompetence of the organization.  The Nats recouped the pick in 2009 of course, picking Drew Storen in his place.  Even given Storen’s challenges, most would not argue that the Nats (on the field anyway) got the best out of this pick in the end.
  • Louis Coleman, a 2008 14th rounder from LSU who went back for his senior year and became the 5th round pick of Kansas City in 2009 (I guess KC just picked up all our rejects in the 2009 draft).  Coleman became a middle RH relief pitcher in the KC bullpen for several years.
  • Cory Mazzoni was a 2008 26th rounder out of a PA HS, went to NC State and became a 2nd round pick in 2011 by the Mets.  He eventually got moved to the bullpen, traded and had a grand total of 22 appearances over 3 seasons.
  • Chris Heston was a 2008 29th round pick out of Seminole Juco in FL, then was drafted and signed as a 12th rounder the next year in 2009 by San Francisco.  He matriculated to the majors with San Francisco, had one solid season in the Giants rotation in 2015, then struggled to stay on the field ever since.
  • Robert Brantly, a 2008 46th round pick out of an AZ HS, went to UC Riverside and became a 3rd round pick by Detroit in 2010.  He’s bounced around as an “org-guy” catcher since, and is currently with San Francisco.
  • Alex Dickerson, a 2008 48th round pick out of Poway HS in California.  Went to Indiana and became a 3rd rounder by Pittsburgh in 2011.  He’s bounced around a bit as a lefty corner outfielder type and is currently with San Francisco.
  • Marcus Stroman, a 2009 18th rounder from a NY HS, went to Duke and became a 1st round pick (22nd overall) by Toronto.  Interestingly, he was listed as a SS out of high school but became (and was drafted as) a starter in college.  He’s most people’s immediate answer for this question, but there are more than a few possible alternatives.
  • Kyle Martin, a 2009 39th round pick out of a TX HS, went to Texas A&M, was drafted again after his Junior season and again after his senior season, when he signed with Boston.  His entire MLB career was two games in 2017.
  • Hoby Milner, a 2009 44th rounder out of a TX HS, he went to Texas, became a 7th rounder by Philadelphia in 2012, has bounced around a bit and signed as a FA with the Angels for 2020.  He’s a lefty starter converted to reliever and was a closer for Durham in Tampa’s system last season.
  • Ryan Sherrif was a 2010 33rd rounder out of a Los Angeles Juco, then signed as a 28th rounder in 2011 with St. Louis.  He appeared in their bullpen for parts of two seasons.
  • Skye Bolt, a 2012 26th rounder from a GA HS, went to UNC and starred there, became a 4th rounder by Oakland in 2015.  He debuted in 2019 and is profiling as a switch-hitting center fielder with some decent power, but looks like perhaps a 5th OF for the Oakland team in 2020.
  • Garrett Hampson, a 2013 26th rounder out of Reno, went to Long Beach State, became a 3rd rounder in 2016 by Colorado and debuted in 2018 for the Rockies.  He currently projects as a utility guy for the Rockies, with the ability to play inf and of.
  • Shaun Anderson was our 2013 40th round pick out of American Heritage HS in FL, he went to the U of Florida and was Boston’s 3rd rounder in 2016, he got flipped to San Francisco in 2017 and had matriculated to the majors by 2019, appearing as a swingman/spot starter last season.  He isn’t projecting to the Giants rotation in 2020 with their off-season veteran acquisitions.
  • Austin Byler was our 2014 9th rounder out of Nevada; he declined to sign and was drafted in the 11th round the next year by Arizona.  Byler struggled to produce as a 1b-only player, never got out of A-ball and was released out of affiliated ball after 2017.  I mention him less as a candidate here, but more as a post-mortem on one of the few top-10 round signing failures we’ve had.
  • Stuart Fairchild was our 38th round pick in 2014 out of a Washington HS, went to Wake Forest, then was the 2nd round pick of Cincinnati in 2017.  He is listed as as the 13th best prospect by one pundit in the Cincinnati organization and is projected for AA.
  • Andrew Suarez was our 2nd round pick in 2014 out of U of Miami, declined to sign, then became San Francisco’s 2nd rounder the next  year.  He debuted in the SF rotation in 2018 making 29 starts, then got dropped to the rotation for 2019 and struggled.   He is projecting as the 5th starter in 2020.

So, who is the “best” player we drafted but didn’t sign?  probably Stroman, then Davis, then Suarez.

Who of these was our “worst” non-sign?   for me its the only three top-10 picks on this list: Crowe, Suarez and Byler.  I think Crowe was the worst just for the reputational damage it did to the front office here (even if, in hindsight, we got the better player).  Suarez #2; I think he could still feature in this league.




8 Responses to 'Nationals Best player drafted but Not signed'

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  1. Crow was probably the “best” and “worst” non-signing all in one. One added benefit is that it helped grease the skids for Bowden’s exit, although Smiley-gate was enough by itself.

    Byler hit 15 dingers in his rookie-league half-season debut the next summer and had a few folks howling at Nats Prospects . . . at least until his PED bust the next year. His subsequent numbers weren’t bad, but one suspects management had limited patience with him after that offense.

    I never understood missing signing Suarez. Someone really screwed up there. A solid organization just doesn’t miss on signing a college draftee in the 2d round, unless some medical issue turns up and the team sorta low-balls it. (Of course the Nats tend to overpay for wounded pitchers, but that’s another story!) It’s possible that Fedde, as a Boras client, waited until the last minute to sign and left the Nats not knowing what they could give Suarez, but of course they ended up losing all that slot money by not signing him.

    Also, I suspected at the time that they might have been low-balling Suarez a little to have a little extra for Byler, but when Suarez fell apart, they also lost Byler. Turns out the one they should have low-balled was Fedde.

    I’m not sure how much I would call later-drafted high school players who didn’t sign as “misses,” but of course it sure would have been nice to have Stroman in the rotation all these years, and Davis in the heart of the order. The real “misses” are the high picks, though — Crow and Suarez.


    4 May 20 at 9:42 pm

  2. It’s worth noting that since the Draft started in 1965 only four teams have relocated (the Braves had already moved before June 8;) — the A’s from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968), the Pilots from Seattle to Milwaukee (becoming the Brewers) in 1970, the *expansion* Senators to Texas (becoming the Rangers) in 1972, and the Expos from Montreal to Washington (becoming the Nationals) in 2005.

    The Expos had 45 drafts as opposed to one (Pilots), three (Kansas City A’s), and seven (expansion Senators). That’s an awful lot of drafts to ignore, especially when that includes four HOFs and at least a couple dozen solid everyday regulars.

    Luke Erickson

    5 May 20 at 7:05 am

  3. Some interesting Nats/baseball stuff in Boz’s chat yesterday:

    There was a specific MLB draft question that is worth a look. A reader asked whether MLB should go to a lottery format to try to limit the tanking. I think MLB has a bigger problem than that — and some of it possibly related to Luke’s comment about how few teams have moved in the last 50+ years. There are 10-15 teams that pretty much aren’t trying. A few low-budget teams, most notably OAK and TB, have figured out how to remain competitive with low budgets, but many others, including our MASN “partners,” have just given up.

    Boz replied with some interesting numbers about the success rates of guys picked at the top of drafts (quoting Boz for the rest of this post):

    No. 1 — 23.5 WAR average. 85% make majors.

    No. 2 — 15.1 WAR average. 85% make majors.

    No. 3 — 13.8 WAR. 78% make majors.

    No. 4 — 13.1 WAR.

    No. 5 — 11.9 WAR (HALF of No. 1 overall). Only 61% made majors.

    After that, it’s fluky. A few big stars at No. 6 make for an avg career WAR of 14.5. BUT all the picks between No. 7 and No. 12 fall between 11.2 and 7.0 in career WAR.

    Put it this way: Do you REALLY want to finish with the worst record in MLB, and probably stay at the bottom for at least 3 years, maybe a lot more, so that you can get a players with a career WAR of 13 to 15?

    As frame of reference, Asdrubal Cabrera has a career WAR of 29.0!

    Current players, near the end of their careers, in the 15-WAR range are like Alex Avila, Kole Calhoun and Matthew Joyce.

    Current players in that 22-24 WAR range for their (almost over) careers are like Todd Frazier, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Crawford, Brian Dozier and Erick Aybar.


    5 May 20 at 9:03 am

  4. In more draft non-news news, here’s a recent mock draft that has the Nats taking lefty power bat and catcher (in that order) Austin Wells:

    Some real different possibilities for which way the Nats go. I like the fit with J.T. Ginn a lot; I like promising prepsters Abel or Bitsko if they slide; I do really like the idea of drafting a legit position player prospect, especially at catcher (acknowledging the possibility Wells ends up at first or third, which would also be fine given the Nats’ near-total lack of prospect depth at those positions).


    6 May 20 at 4:07 am

  5. I usually hate the idea of drafting high schoolers, particularly high school pitchers, as they are the least likely of prospects to pan out. In the Rizzo era, the Nats have stayed away from high school pitchers with high picks with the exception of Denaburg (not looking good) and Luzardo (looking very good, for the A’s).

    Should we view this year differently? Basically every player is losing a year of development. If that’s the case, is it better to take someone a little younger so he’ll have a little more time against the age clock to make up for that lost year? I don’t know. (If they’re thinking in those terms, Bitsko is one of the youngest players in the draft, although already of substantial size.) On the flip side of that, with the pool amount limits, is it going to be more difficult to come up with enough overslot money to sway guys from college commitments? That reasoning would also make it more likely that a couple of the highly touted high schoolers will still be on the board at #22.

    Will the lost year within the organization also force some decisions on some guys who are aging fast? For example, Seth Romero will turn 25 next April. There’s been speculation since he was drafted that he might end up in the bullpen and may not have that third pitch. He’ll be 25 and starting out in A+. A move to the ‘pen at that time sure could expedite advancement. The Nats have a number of other pitchers across the levels about which the same argument could be made, but Romero is the most prominent. The Nats traditionally have been pretty darn stubborn about “giving up” on having guys as starters, though, despite their annual struggles with the bullpen with the big club.


    6 May 20 at 7:52 am

  6. I’ve said this before, but losing this minor league season is really rough for older prospects who are trying to reestablish themselves as future major leaguers before their best-by date.

    Maybe there will be a different attitude toward prospects on the wrong side of 25 once baseball is “all the way back”, since I think this minor league season is a wash and I have no confidence about 2021 right now either. But for guys like Seth Romero, Jakson Reetz, etc., this is a huge missed opportunity, through no fault of their own.


    6 May 20 at 6:54 pm

  7. The sleazy/stupid side of baseball has won out with the draft officially being 5 rounds. Disgusting!

    Mark L

    9 May 20 at 7:19 am

  8. new posted on 5-round plan.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 20 at 1:10 pm

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