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Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


Rule 5 Protections

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You may not know who Brad Meyers is now, but he may be pitching for the Nats before you know it. Photo Rodger M. Wood/Wood Sports Photography

The Nats (and every other team) face an 11/19/10 deadline to add Rule5 eligible players that we want to protect to our 40-man roster. (Coincidentally, I maintain a spreadsheet online of key MLB off-season dates and their implications for the team.  The link is also available in the “NatsArm Creations” section on the links section to the right of this page).  NatsInsider.com writer Zuckerman beat me to the punch on this topic (which I wrote up last weekend but forgot to publish), but here’s some similar analysis.

Last year we added three players on 11/19/09 to protect them from the Rule5 Draft:

  • Juan Jaime, rhp
  • Aaron Thompson, lhp
  • Atahualpa Severino, lhp

Nats bloggers/analysts at the time surmised that we were gambling by not putting on guys like Erik Arneson and Hassan Pena or even local favorite Josh Wilkie (especially after he appeared in 2009′s Arizona Fall League), but we only ended up losing Zech Zinicola to the Rule5 draft.  We lost him to Toronto, who had former Nationals executive Dana Brown picking up a player he was familiar with.  Toronto eventually returned Zinicola to the franchise, and he split time between AA and AAA as a middle reliever.

Ironically, two of last year’s Rule5 protection players are now candidates to be dropped OFF the 40-man just one year later because of Injury (in Jaime’s case) or performance (in Thompson’s case).  Severino had a very nice season and should be in the mix to be the LOOGY out of the MLB bullpen in 2011.  In fact, Jaime was taken off the 40-man on 11/18/10 for just this reason.

This year, we definitely face a number of interesting choices on what prospects to protect.  RIP NatsFarmAuthority, but at least Brian Oliver has not taken down the Draft Tracker xls, so we can see who is 2010 Rule5 eligible.   Here’s the list of guys who are at risk with some thoughts in this year’s rule5 draft.   Remember; any team that grabs one of these guys has to keep them on their MLB roster for the entire 2011 season, so the analysis is based on who realistically is in jeopardy of this situation happening with.  These are ordered by the team that they played the majority of 2010 with:

Syracuse

  • Whiting, Boomer OF: light hitting speedy center fielder.  A .313 slugging percentage in the weaker AAA league just isn’t going to cut it.  He’s not in the mix for even a backup OF spot in the majors and seems destined to be an organizational guy/career minor leaguer.
  • Mandel, Jeff RHP: a decent starter for the Nats over the past couple of seasons who moved to the bullpen in Syracuse towards the end of the season.  He’s not overpowering and not a high K/9 guy, and seems to be now a middle relief guy at best.  Might be worth the protection since he may be a candidate for the 2011 MLB bullpen.
  • Wilkie, Josh RHP: I didn’t initially have Wilkie on the list, since we got him as an undrafted FA.  Zuckerman noted that he is rule5 eligible so we’ll discuss.  He has definitely performed for this franchise through the years, and was showcased in the 2010 AFL.  Having just finished his 5th professional season, he has methodically moved up the ranks and spent the entire 2010 in Syracuse.  He’s a middle reliever, a righty, with a good BA against and good peripheral numbers.  Is this worth protection in the draft?  Perhaps.  I feel he could compete for a spot in the MLB bullpen in 2011 but he’s behind several other proven right handed throwers and may be destined for AAA again.

Harrisburg

  • Rhinehart, Bill 1B/OF: demoted towards the end of the season to Potomac.  Now a 26-yr old guy who hasn’t been successful above High-A.  Days are numbered.
  • Marrero, Chris 1B/OF: our first round draft pick in 2006 and pretty much the sole first baseman prospect in the system.  He played a full season at AA and put up a decent line (.294/.350/.450) with 18 homers as a relatively young player in the league (he turned 22 in July).  I don’t know if he can turn into a producer at the MLB level and a large FA contract to Dunn or Pena could block him even further.  But he merits protection until we find out what we have with him.
  • Peacock, Brad RHP: He has been a decently effective starter for the team on multiple levels, this year stepping it up in terms of K/9.  He’s at the Arizona Fall League working out of the bullpen and is putting up similar numbers there that he did in the regular season (good k/9 numbers but an eras in the mid 4s).  Putting Peacock in the AFL surely will increase his visibility, but his mediocre performance there probably guarantees his safety in the Rule5 draft.  No need to protect him, but we hope he turns into a decent middle relief option in a couple years.  11/20/10 Correction; as noted by Kilgore here, Peacock’s Draft-Follow-Evaluate status means he gets one extra year.  We’ll revist in 2011.
  • Meyers, Brad RHP.  Meyers was the ace of the 2009 league winning Potomac staff and was named the Nats minor league pitcher of the year.  For 2010 he moved up to Harrisburg and was dominant in his first 6 starts there (1.47 era, 35 ks in 30 innings and under a 1.00 whip) before going down with complications to foot surgery and failing to pitch the rest of the season.  Because of this injury he seems a safe bet NOT to need protection despite his capabilities; no team is going to guarantee a 25-man roster spot all season to a guy who hasn’t pitched since June and who has never appeared above AA.  But we may want to be safer than sorry.
  • Solano, Jhonatan C: another who I didn’t initially have on this list, the Nats got him as an undrafted FA in 2006 and he is rule5 eligible.  While you never like to lose catching depth out of your system, suddenly the Nats are swimming in it.  We have 4 catchers on the 40-man right now, and that’s two too many for the MLB roster as it is.  We are probably non-tendering Nieves at some point but that means one of Flores or Ramos is starting in AAA.  Derek Norris is definitely moving up to Harrisburg for 2011, so that means Solano is designed to be a backup either way.  He’s not going to get picked up in a rule5 draft, so we can leave him unprotected.

Potomac, Hagerstown or Vermont.  It is really difficult to think that any player at A-ball or below is seriously a candidate to be taken in the Rule5 draft, but we’ll zip through the candidates.

  • Alaniz, Adrian RHP: put up pretty good numbers at Potomac after losing out in a rotational numbers game in spring training.  Has now spent parts of 3 straight seasons in Harrisburg but cannot stick.  He’s getting too old for A ball though and might need to show something out of spring to keep a pitching job.
  • Phillabaum, Justin RHP: he’s a later-innings/8th inning guy who got hit very hard this year in Potomac.
  • Beno, Martin RHP: no progress for the righty, having played the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons in high-A.
  • Gibson, Glenn RHP: traded to the Rays to obtain Elijah Dukes and then released.  I guess the Nats picked him back up because they liked him enough to draft him in the first place.  Assigned to Hagerstown, demoted to Vermont after putting up an 8+ ERA.  Not a prospect.
  • Erb, Shane RHP: he posted a 6.19 era at low-A this year, the LOWEST ERA he’s had in 3 years in the system.  Days are numbered in the organization.
  • King, Stephen 3B: struggled between short and low A this year, and possibly still held in contempt by the organization for a 50-game drug suspension that cost him the early part of the year.  May be out of a job soon.
  • Lyons, Dan, 3B: Batted .223 between low-A and high-A as a 26 year old.  Clearly too old for either level and may be outright released.

Conclusions:

If I were the Nats i’d protect Mandel, Marrero and Meyers to be safe.  With the Jaime move that would put us exactly at 40/40 on the 40-man.   At that point we possibly consider adding in Peacock or Wilkie but probably not: if one or the other of these two needed to go on, we have a few guys who could be dumped off the 40-man and probably would clear waivers.

11/20/10 update: The Nats chose to protect Marrero, Adam Carr and Cole Kimball.  In retrospect, I suppose I should have taken guys like Carr and Kimball into account.  They first became rule5 eligible last year and were not protected, and were not selected.  In the year since both have become valuable power arms out of the bullpen and are leading candidates to compete with and/or replace the likes of Batista, Peralta and Walker in the 2011 bullpen.  Next year :-)