The Nationals’ primary off-the-field focus at the moment is the July 31 trade deadline, but beyond that they are still putting the final touches on signing their 2011 draft picks. The Nationals have effectively finished signing their draft class outside of the top picks, including each player picked from the fifth through 10th round.
The top four picks – third baseman Anthony Rendon, pitcher Alex Meyer, centerfielder Brian Goodwin and pitching Matt Purke – have yet to sign and will likely go down to the Aug. 15 deadline, particularly the first three, all of whom are represented by Scott Boras.
Nationals amateur scouting director Kris Kline called that aspect of the draft “a waiting game,” a sort of midsummer kabuki that will likely end soon. One change expected in the new collective bargaining agreement, which will take effect next year, is a harder slotting system designed to get draft picks signed more quickly. This year, though, will bring more last-minute stare-downs.
“I think that every club is going to have to deal with the same thing,” Kline said. “I think it will probably take to the end or close to the end. Hopefully next year some sort of system is put in place so we won’t have to do this anymore. I’d really rather have these kids out playing.”
General Manager Mike Rizzo will handle the negotiations for the top choices himself. While in Houston, Rizzo met with the agent for Purke, Peter Vescovo, whose office is based in Houston. The Nationals are convinced Purke, who dealt with shoulder issues that knocked from being a top-five pick to the fourth round, is fully healthy, Kline said.
Rendon, the sixth overall pick, is from Houston, too, but Rizzo he would not be meeting with him while the Nationals played the Astros. In the past years, when the Nationals negotiated huge deals with Boras for Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, Boras has not initiated discussion until the deadline beckoned.
The Nationals had one unique case from late in the draft. They took Hawtin Buchanan, a high-potential, hard-throwing high school pitcher from Mississippi, in the 18th round. The Nationals considered it only a flier pick at the time, and they’re resigned to not signing Buchanan, who will attend the University of Mississippi.
“That was going to require way too much money for where he was at this point,” Kline said. “That’s more of a summer-follow type deal.”
Another prominent name from late in the draft is Bryan Harper, a left-handed pitcher from South Carolina chosen in the 30th round and, more notably, the brother of Bryce Harper. Bryan Harper has yet to sign, but “he should be ready to go soon,” Kline said.
Kline remains optimistic about the Nationals’ haul this season. A long-time scout, he called the Nationals’ draft, “the best one I’ve ever been part of. When you can get Rendon and Alex Meyer and Purke and Brian Goodwin, all those guys to me are legitimate first-round guys, and top-of-the-draft type guys.”