First-round pick Lucas Giolito signed with the Washington Nationals moments before the deadline — as little as 30 seconds before, he has said — but part of what made the biggest difference between attending UCLA on a scholarship and signing was his visit to Nationals Park in June.
A month ago, after being selected with the 16th overall pick in the draft, Giolito visited Nationals Park for a marquee game against the New York Yankees. He chatted with Nationals players, took a tour of the stadium and snapped photos along the way. So when it came time to deciding between college and the Nationals, he thought back to that trip and his experience.
“Being able to see how major league baseball players interact, how they work together and how they play, those are the kinds of things that really did it for me,” he said. “Those are the things that helped me make that kind of decision.”
Sitting in the Nationals dugout on Tuesday, sporting a Nationals hat and a No. 30 jersey over a blue plaid collared shirt, Giolito talked about his choice to become part of the Nationals and his budding love of Washington.
Growing up in Southern California, the right-handed pitcher said he tried his hand at a variety of sports, from snowboarding to surfing to basketball to water polo to golf. He started playing baseball in tee ball and it didn’t become his calling until his early teenage years.
Washington is a change from Los Angeles but that’s part of the allure, Giolito admitted. His visit in June was his first visit to Washington, and Tuesday was only his second. He called it one of the best cities he has ever visited.
“Being able to come here, all the monuments and all those kinds of things, those are the things I’ve seen on T.V. and the internet,” he said. “So being able to walk up to it, to see the Memorial and see the monuments, that was an awesome experience.”
Many experts consider Giolito the top prospect in the Nationals’ system already. He had been considered the possible first overall pick before he strained his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow ligament the spring of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif. Giolito has thrown his fastball 100 mph, and he pairs that with a hard curve and a workable changeup.
Giolito is scheduled to fly to Viera, Fla., on Wednesday to continue the rehabilitation of his elbow at the Nationals’ spring training facility. General Manager Mike Rizzo said Giolito would be evaluated by minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams and rehab coordinator Steve Gober. They would assess him and meld his current rehab with a new one, Rizzo said.
“We’re going to assess where he’s at as far as his progression to return to throw,” Rizzo said. “We expect him to climb on the mound in some type of competitive baseball sometime this year, hopefully in instructional league. We’re going to take it cautiously because he’s an extremely talented young pitcher.”
Giolito has yet to pitch off the mound yet, throwing only long toss and such on flat ground. He said he hoped to soon begin throwing some bullpen sessions.
“It feels really good right now,” Giolito said of his elbow. “The rehab has been going really well. And the elbow feels really strong and my arm feels really strong. I feel really good about pitching really soon.”
Giolito signed with the Nationals just before the 5 p.m. deadline on Friday, agreeing to a $2.925 million signing bonus. And while he admitted he was a little nervous as the deadline approached without an agreement, he and his family were relieved to get started on the new step in his career. He turned 18 the following day.
“Now I get to be able to put all my focus on rehabbing and getting better and making my way up through the system,” he said.
Giolito’s parents have worked in Hollywood, and after he signed last week, the teenager received a congratulatory tweet from actor Samuel L. Jackson. Rick Giolito, is an actor who had turns on “As The World Turns” and “Who’s The Boss” and is a producer. His mother, Lindsay Frost, has appeared in a handful of movies and TV shows, including “Lost,” “Without A Trace” and “Boston Legal.” His uncle, Mark Frost, co-created “Twin Peaks.”
Giolito said Jackson is a friend of his father, and has received presents from him over the years, including a signed purple lightsaber, a memento from Jackson’s roles in the newer Star Wars movies. “Those are the kinds of things up in my room,” Giolito said, smiling.
But for now, the kid with the Hollywood connections and a strong arm will head down to Florida to continue his own journey.
“Being able to be out on the field and wear this jersey and the hat, it makes me feel like part of the team,” he said. “It makes me want to work that much harder to get up here as soon as I can.”
“It’s an up-and-coming team, a really good team and obviously, the way they’re playing right now, it’s really cool to be a part of,” he added.
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