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Washington Nationals 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Nationals 2011 MLB Draft Selections

I admit that I don’t read much post-draft reaction (proof that you can love something like crazy and still get burnt out on it), but the overall enthusiasm for what Washington did on draft day was loud enough that it seeped into the general baseball content that I digested in mid-June. Those first four picks are a thing of beauty, no doubt about it. Each of Washington’s first four picks are flashy names that come with enough of a human interest angle (one-time consensus first overall pick! giant right with giant stuff trying to make giant leap! college star to juco star! former first rounder trying to bounce back from injury!) to hook casual baseball fans – that’s probably why I heard the positive feedback despite avoiding post-draft coverage. Each guy has serious questions, sure, but the talent is clearly evident. Trusting guy that I am, I, well, trusted those who said Washington had a great draft. Outside of their first four picks, however, I’m not sure there is too much to be excited about here. The Nationals signed one and only one high school prospect. The Nationals drafted righthanded college relievers with five straight picks from round six to round ten.

The star quality of Rice 3B Anthony Rendon makes up for a lot of Washington’s lackluster drafting past the third round. This is hardly an original thought, and I know I repeat it more than I should, but it is really tricky finding interesting things to say about the draft’s best prospects. There are only so many ways you can say “yeah, he’s really good at X, Y, and Z, perhaps a bit lacking or flawed in A and B, but, on balance, he should be a really good big league player assuming good health, a typical developmental curve, and the continuation of the existence of mankind after 2012.”

Consider the narrative for Anthony Rendon. If you didn’t know any better you’d think he really “struggled” through a “down” junior season, right? Questions about his long-term health and his power upside with the new bats were quite popular all spring. Fun story, but little about it meshes with reality. After park/schedule adjustments, Anthony Rendon got on base over 53% of the time he came to the plate. The man walked in over a quarter of his overall plate appearances. When he wasn’t patiently waiting out pitchers too afraid/smart to pitch to him, he was putting up a park/schedule adjusted slugging percentage of .537 that, while not mind-blowing, still answers plenty of questions about his ability to hit with the unfortunate combination of a balky wrist and the limp new bats. I’m all for being critical about the prospects at the top, but there is something to be said about not wanting to create weaknesses that just aren’t there. Rendon isn’t a good runner. That’s the biggest negative I can honestly say about his game right now. No prospect is a sure thing, but Rendon is as close of a lock to an above-average big league regular as any player in this draft class. Combine that safety with his legitimate all-star upside, and it is easy to see why Washington was willing to draft Rendon despite the fact he happens to play the same spot as their current best everyday hitter. Speaking of which, I really hope that Washington comes up with some kind of solution that allows Rendon to play third base in the big leagues. He’s just too damn good at the hot corner to move elsewhere. I’m not saying they should move Ryan Zimmerman for Rendon’s sake – if Rendon turns into 3/4th the player Zimmerman has turned out to be, that would be a huge win for all involved. I just want to see some kind of happy solution where all of my selfish needs are met. Not sure I’m being overly demanding in suggesting that having great players playing their best positions is a good thing for the game.

There are a lot of amazing young arms in this year’s draft class, but Rendon is still the top prospect in 2011. There is not a single legitimate concern about his on-field performance. Despite his lack of size and some nagging injuries that held back his numbers some this year, there is little doubt that his power upside is substantial. His defensive tools are outstanding. The hit tool is well above-average and his approach to hitting is special. The two most popular comps thrown his way are Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria. I like the Zimmerman comp a lot, but I’ll toss another two names out there as well. Rendon’s play reminds me of a mix of a less physical, righthanded version of peak years Eric Chavez and current Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis, minus the unorthodox swing setup. Can’t blame the Pirates for going with the rare commodity that is a potential ace with the first overall pick, but if I was in charge — and thank goodness for Pittsburgh or every other franchise I’m not — then Rendon would be the pick without thinking twice.

Kentucky RHP Alex Meyer would be a fun prospect to do a crystal ball report on because his future can conceivably go in so many different directions. He could be a top of the rotation arm, a lockdown reliever, or a total washout incapable of getting past AA. I’m a believer because I think the gains he made in 2011 are real based on the introduction of his sinker and more consistent softer stuff. His biggest issues are almost exactly what you’d expect from a 6’9” 220 pound behemoth: repeating his mechanics and release point and the subsequent inconsistencies with both command and control. I’m banking on his better than given credit for athleticism and hoping that a good pro pitching coach will get through to him, but there’s really no way of knowing which way Meyer’s future will turn out. Ah, the joys of prospecting.

Having seen both young starters in person collegiately, I must say that Aaron Fitt’s comp of Meyer to Andrew Brackman really made me think. Despite what those who only deal with the benefit of hindsight say, Brackman was an outstanding looking amateur prospect. He was at least as highly thought of as Meyer and was quite possibly a better long-term prospect. To put it in some context, the Pirates, the team that picked fourth in Brackman’s draft year, had front office higher-ups (e.g. Ed Creech and Dave Littlefield) in regular attendance at every Brackman start I saw that year. I’m on record as loving Meyer’s raw stuff and I believe he’ll be a top of the rotation anchor once he figures it all out, but the story of Brackman’s pro struggles should serve as a cautionary tale.

Kentucky JR RHP Alex Meyer: sitting 93-97 FB, dips closer to 92-94 later in games; inconsistent but plus 84-86 spike CB that works like a SL; 79-86 CU that flashes above-average when he throws it with more velocity; 92-93 two-seamer; all about command and control – if it is on, he’s incredibly tough to hit; FB is plus-plus down in zone, very hittable when left up; mechanical tweaks are likely needed; 6-9, 220

I heard a pretty crazy comp on Miami Dade JC OF Brian Goodwin that I will share knowing full well it is about as “out there” as any comp you’ll hear. It comes from somebody close to Goodwin – not friend/family close, but more like somebody local to him who has tracked him since his high school days – so take it with a block of salt. I’d imagine that Washington fans would be pretty thrilled if Goodwin can even scrape the ceiling of this Bernie Williams comp. I like the old faster Austin Kearns comp I heard back in the day, but anytime we can make comparisons to a potential Hall of Famer is a good time. Goodwin looked much better as the year went on, so I’m hopeful he’ll continue to show all five tools as a pro. His broad set of tools should make him a solid regular in due time.

[well-rounded with average at worst tools across board; average present power with plus-plus upside; above-average to plus-plus (70) speed; strong arm; fantastic athlete; update: plus athlete; very explosive; some question his swing; 10-20 homer upside as pro; above-average (55) runner; average arm for CF; raw fielder, but all the tools are there; 6-1, 190; DOB 11/2/90]

Texas Christian LHP Matt Purke ranks as one of this draft’s men of mystery. Injuries are the root cause of much of the uncertainty. Without access to his medical records, there is really no way of making a confident prediction about Purke’s future. At his healthiest he throws three plus (or almost plus) pitches: fastball, change, and slider. When banged up, he simply isn’t very good. There’s not much middle ground here.

TCU SO LHP Matt Purke: originally ranked 8th overall, but injury scare drops him; at his best throws 91-95 FB, 96-97 peak; command of FB needs work; potential plus 77-79 CU; solid CB; has shown plus 76-83 SL, but doesn’t use it anymore; SL was inconsistent, but best in upper-80s; plus makeup; sat 88-92 to start 2011, now down to upper-80s; loses feel for offspeed stuff quickly; 6-4, 180

Santa Barbara CC LHP Kylin Turnbull is a tough nut to crack. On the surface, his skill set paints the picture of a really good potential reliever. Case in point: he has an excellent fastball for a lefty, but struggles with velocity loss as innings pile up. Knife to your throat – I prefer my own grislier imagery to the played out “guy to your head” trope – I’m betting that “good lefty reliever” would be the consensus on Turnbull’s ceiling. A more daring prognosticator – or, simply, one without the fear of death driving the prediction – might look at Turnbull’s pro-caliber size, hard splitter with promise, and a slider that could be kind of sort of maybe decent after tons of reps and believe he could hold his own as a backend starter down the line. I’m hesitant about making such a bold claim (he’s more of a maybe reliever for me), but lefties with size and velocity are always in demand.

Santa Barbara CC SO LHP Kylin Turnbull: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; loses velocity early; above-average low-80s splitter; SL need work; 6-4, 200

Poor Georgia Tech 3B Matt Skole. You are in the wrong organization, my friend. If we’re talking about the possibility of Anthony Rendon moving off third or even picturing a world where a franchise player like Ryan Zimmerman moves on via trade or free agency, then what hope is there that things will work out just so and allow Skole to play third base in Washington. Like Rendon, I hope Skole gets the chance to man the hot corner somewhere, someday. His defensive tools (arm, athleticism, footwork, etc.) are better than his current ability, so one would think, given time and reps, that he could at least become average at the position. Adding the value of average defense at third on top of his existing patient and powerful bat would make him a good bet to become a solid regular down the line.

It took me a while to warm up to Skole, but I’d rather be late to the party than too stubborn to change my mind. The plus power bat should play wherever you put him (first base is a safe fall back option, catcher is the riskier but more appealing choice), though it would obviously be preferable if he can continue to work to turn his surprisingly strong defensive tools (good arm, decent foot speed, quality athleticism) into at least league average caliber third base defense.

Vanderbilt RHP Taylor Hill was my seventh favorite senior sign in 2011, but you could make a really strong argument that he’s the senior with the highest ceiling. Hill takes the notion that keeping the ball down is good and turns it up to 11. His sinker/slider combo is deadly when on, and his split-change drops clear out of the strike zone when he has it working. I tend to think of him as more of a groundball specialist reliever (his stuff definitely plays up in short bursts), but continued improvement in pro ball could allow him to start.

Vanderbilt SR RHP Taylor Hill: 88-91 FB with plus sink, 93-94 peak that I’ve seen with my own two eyes, have heard rumors of him hitting 95; 79-85 plus SL; very good 78-83 sinking CU also called a splitter; mechanics need smoothing out; 6-4, 225 pounds

I’ve seen more of Notre Dame RHP Brian Dupra over the years than I’ve seen certain members of my own immediate family. His fastball gets there in a hurry, but it flattens out badly when he either a) overthrows it, or b) gets deep into his pitch count. His slider is a good enough second pitch that he still has a chance to contribute as a relief arm at some point. Also helping his cause is his newfound upper-80s cutter that could become a weapon with continued use. He’s a better shot than many to help a big league pitching staff, but still a long shot.

Notre Dame SR RHP Brian Dupra: 91-95 FB; 88-91 cutter; good 79-81 SL; CU; 6-3, 205 pounds

Alright, now this is just getting ridiculous. I get that Washington spent so big on their first four picks that they had to dip into federal funds to pay everybody off – so that’s why my district keeps closer schools! – but are you really telling me they had to completely ignore the high school ranks and go back-to-back-to-back with college seniors in rounds 6, 7, and 8? One or the other, maybe, but doing both is no way to build up the kind of organizational depth an emerging franchise like Washington needs to keep the big league roster fresh. North Carolina RHP Greg Holt, come on down. Like new UNC reliever Derrick Bleeker (we’ll get to him soon), Holt has been known as much for his raw power at the plate as his pitching prowess. He has the fastball/slider thing down pat, so there is a chance he’ll pop up in a few years as a viable relief option. I’d rank the three seniors in the same order Washington drafted them with a really large gap between Hill and Dupra, and then a slightly smaller gap between Dupra and Holt.

Now Holt is a relief prospect with a fastball that sits 88-91 (93 peak) and a good low-80s slider.

I once had such high draft hopes for California RHP Dixon Anderson. Alexander, a fourth-year junior, was in line for a big 2011 season, but never found the velocity he lost from the previous season. He once showed the power stuff – mid-90s fastball, above-average low-80s breaking ball, and an emerging splitter – needed to excel in a relief role, but may have to reinvent himself as a sinker/slider/cutter guy if his four-seam heat doesn’t return. All in all, Anderson is a worthy gamble at this point in the draft.

California SO RHP Dixon Anderson: 92-94 FB; 96 FB peak; very good low-80s SL; splitter; 6-5, 225 pounds (4.89 FIP; 5.68 K/9; 3.55 BB/9)

Cuban born Barry RHP Manny Rodriguez, yet another older righthanded relief prospect from college (that’s five in a row!), impressed in his first taste of pro ball. His fastball was more consistently hitting his mid-90s peak, and the upside shown with his curve has some thinking it could be an above-average pitch in time. A nascent change gives his supporters hope he can stick in the rotation, but I believe Rodriguez would be best served airing it out in shorter outings. As much as I don’t approve of Washington using five straight early picks on college righthanders likely destined to the pen, getting one (likely), two (maybe), three (probably pushing it, but who knows) cost-controlled big league relievers out of it would help alleviate the temptation to go out and spend big bucks on volatile veteran bullpen pieces. As one of the great philosophical minds of our time once said, “that ain’t not bad!”

I always have admired Houston OF Caleb Ramsey’s (Round 11) approach to hitting, but fear he is too much of a tweener both offensively and defensively to ever rise above a AAA depth ceiling.

Great to see oft-injured Indiana LHP Blake Monar (Round 12) get the chance to give pro ball an honest shot. He’s a soft-tosser known for a big plus curve who has battled back valiantly from injuries.

mid- to upper-80s FB, peak at 87-88; plus CB; SL; injury set back progress in 2010; 6-2, 185 pounds

I can’t wait to see Walters State CC OF Cody Stubbs (Round 14) back on the field playing against major college opposition this spring. Going from Tennessee to Walters State to North Carolina certainly qualifies as the road less traveled, but Stubbs’ nomadic existence is not due to a lack of on-field talent. He has a chance to rise way up draft boards and get early round consideration in a year with little in the way of impact college bats.

Due to a similar positional reclassification (OF to 1B), Stubbs’ prospect stock gets the same artificial boost as fellow first baseman Jacob Anderson’s. Easy to like Stubbs’ power to all fields and above-average athleticism for a big man (6-4, 225). I remember thinking he could be a top five round prospect after three years at Tennessee. Things obviously didn’t work out for Stubbs as a Volunteer, but the talent that led me to that original conclusion hasn’t evaporated. If he slips past round five, as I think he will, you could wind up with a player with high round ability at the cost of a low round pick.

Biloxi HS (MS) RHP Hawtin Buchanan (Round 19) is upside personified. He’s big, he throws hard, and, due to the fact that he is big and already throws hard, he could very well throw very hard down the line. The reports on his curve improving as his senior season went on are really encouraging. That kind of aptitude will serve him well as he tries to put everything together and get himself a first round grade in a few years.

RHP Hawtin Buchanan (Biloxi HS, Mississippi): 89-91 FB with room to grow, 93-94 peak; good command; raw CB, but much improved as year went on; strong Mississippi commit; 6-8, 230

Tennessee 2B Khayyan Norfork (Round 23) was a favorite in college, but a long shot to contribute anything at the big league level. Somebody I know in the know dropped a Junior Spivey comp on him. That got a good laugh out of me, but not because it is a silly comp or anything. Who in their right mind would comp a player now or ever to Junior Spivey?

I wanted so badly to include Norfork on my preseason list, but chickened out at the last minute for reasons still unknown to me. He’s got the prerequisite leadoff man skill set — plus speed, great jumps from first, good bunting skills, some patience, some hit tool — and the defensive versatility to play around the infield. I don’t think he has the bat to ever log consistent starter’s at bats, but unlike a few of the guys chained to 2B now and forever, Norfork should be able to move around the infield in a backup’s role with success.

The comment from last year (below) on Arizona State LHP Kyle Ottoson (Round 24) holds true today. He’ll head back for one last year at one of America’s most entertaining campuses to continue to build his junkballing crafty lefty street cred. (EDIT: Ottoson’s senior year will be at Oklahoma State, not Arizona State. Totally forgot about this.)

Ottoson’s strong commitment to Arizona State makes him another difficult sign. He doesn’t have a present above-average pitch, but throws three pitches (85-88 FB; 76-79 KCB; low-70s CU) for strikes.

You have to believe Washington scouts saw local product Georgetown C Erick Fernandez (Round 25) plenty over the years. Fernandez went to Georgetown despite being recruited by schools like NC State and Miami out of high school. He has retained much of the athleticism from his days as a middle infielder and his defense is top notch. All told he isn’t likely to be more than an organizational player, but he could hit his way into a backup role someday, especially if Washington likes how he works with some of their young organizational pitching talent.

He’s more than just a courtesy draft, I swear! South Carolina LHP Bryan Harper (Round 30), older brother of Bryce, has good enough stuff from the left side to hang around pro ball for at least a couple years. His size and mature, if still inconsistent, offspeed stuff are plusses. His upside is obviously limited and he’ll have to keep proving himself for years in the minors, but Harper has more of a shot than other older brothers of more famous top draft picks ever did. Jake Mauer, I’m talking about you.

Harper: 88-92 FB; solid 76-78 CB; emerging CU; 6-5, 190 pounds

If Southeast Guilford HS (NC) SS Josh Tobias (Round 31) can handle the defensive responsibilities at either center field or second base, he’s a potential early round pick in 2014. His raw power is exceptional for a man his size and his speed is at least an average tool (potentially much better than that depending on what day you see him run). I’d almost always err on the side of pro instruction over college, but spending three years working with the brains behind the resurgence of Florida baseball works just fine. Like a few of the other “ones that got away” you’ll read about below, Tobias has first round potential in 2014.

[above-average to plus-plus speed; very strong; plus raw power; leadoff profile; ability to stick in CF will make or break him]

San Diego RHP Calvin Drummond (Round 34) has always had better stuff than results, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can put it all together this season for the Toreros.

San Diego SO RHP Calvin Drummond: 91-93 FB, 94 peak; 84-87 cutter/SL; 78-79 CB; 83-84 CU

Howard JC RHP Derrick Bleeker (Round 37) could really turn heads this spring as a late-inning relief option for the Tar Heels. He fits the reliever mold in all your typical ways: he throws hard (mid-90s peak), shows a breaking ball, and has intimidating size (6-5, 220 pounds). Bleeker is also a talented hitter with massive raw power who should get more and more at bats as the season unfolds.

Stanford LHP Brett Mooneyham (Round 38) is a little bit like a less famous Matt Purke. Both guys were big stars in high school that turned down sizable bonuses to play college ball. Both guys saw their stuff drop drastically because of a multiple injuries. And both guys were drafted by Washington in 2011. They are like twins! Purke signed, but Mooneyham will give it one more shot for Stanford this spring. He has the size and offspeed repertoire (love the cutter, like his change and breaking ball) to succeed, but his draft stock and pro future will be determined by his ability to reclaim his once above-average low-90s fastball. In this year’s so-so college class, Mooneyham has top three round stuff if healthy.

Stanford JR LHP Brett Mooneyham: 88-90 FB, 91-92 peak; sits 90-92 now; also seen 87-91; weak FB this summer at 86-88, 90 peak; average 78-80 SL; good 75-78 CB; good CU; 6-5; improved cutter; missed 2011 season due to finger injury

Mississippi 1B Matt Snyder (Round 44) is an all-bat prospect who faces very long odds if he hopes to play in the big leagues. That doesn’t take away from him being an excellent college slugger. Ole Miss is loaded with future talent, so Snyder will get his chances to impress scouts from the first pitch to the last out this season.

Positive reports on Snyder’s bat this spring had me give him a slight boost, but his defense, speed, and arm are all really weak. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is likely to be back for his senior season.

Georgia OF Peter Verdin (Round 39) has set himself up to become one heck of a 2012 senior sign. He’s a great athlete with plenty of speed for center field and intriguing raw power. There has been some talk in the past about his defensive skill set working behind the plate. All that is missing is the teeny tiny matter of actually putting those tools to use on the field. Guys are senior signs for a reason, after all. If Verdin can put it all together, he could jump up close to 30 rounds next year.

Dorman HS (SC) 3B Hunter Cole (Round 49) will join Verdin in the Georgia lineup this spring. He could also play alongside Verdin in the Bulldogs outfield if the coaching staff prefers the incoming freshman there instead of at third. If he stays at the hot corner, I think he has the offensive upside and defensive tools to become a first round pick.

Cole is another really tough sign (strong Georgia commit) with loads of raw power and good defensive tools. His bat is currently way more advanced than his glove, so maybe part of the idea of heading to Athens is to polish up his overall game and help him pop up as a first rounder in 2014.

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