After waiting almost five hours to make their first selection of the 2013 MLB draft, the Nationals chose hard-throwing right-hander Jake Johansen out of Dallas Baptist University in the second round with the No. 68 overall pick.
Johansen, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound junior, can throw his fastball 100 miles per hour, but experts say he needs improvement with secondary pitches. At Dallas Baptist this season, he went 7-6 with a 5.40 ERA, striking out 75 and walking 26 over 88 1/3 innings. He may project eventually as a back-of-the-bullpen arm, but the Nationals view him as a potential front-line starter, with scouting director Kris Kline comparing him to Josh Beckett.
“There’s a lot of things to like about this young man,” Kline said. “This is what we seek every day when we go out to the ballpark. If you put him next to [2012 first-round pick Lucas] Giolito, you have some pretty good-looking bookends.”
Baseball America rated Johansen as the No. 182 overall prospect, while ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him the 66th best player available.
The Nationals insisted they had targeted Johansen, 22, throughout the spring. They brought Johansen to Nationals Park this week for a workout, which General Manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty attended. When Kline called Johansen to inform him the Nationals had selected him, he asked, “Are you as excited as I am?”
“If he had good numbers, he wouldn’t have got out of the top 10,” Nationals vice president of player personnel Roy Clark said.
Kline refuted the idea that Johansen lacks secondary pitches to go with fastball, which routinely zips at 94 mph and reaches 100. Johansen can throw a slider, which travels between 88 and 90 mph and behaves like a cutter, along with a power curve and a changeup.
Kline admitted all three offspeed offerings are “inconsistent.” The Nationals believe Johansen can emerge as an eventual No. 3 starter by making mechanical tweaks. They want him to be less deliberate and keep his front shoulder closed longer in his delivery.
“When we turn this kid over to the best player development system in baseball, in our opinion, we’re going to see that we got a gem,” Clark said.
In previous years, the Nationals have faced last-minute staredowns to sign their top choices. Johansen, they believe, will not provide that issue. Kline said there is a “very good chance” Johansen signs well before the deadline.
The Nationals forfeited their first-round pick, which would have been No. 29 overall, this winter when they signed closer Rafael Soriano in free agency. The Yankees, Soriano’s former team, received the No. 33 pick as compensation and took high school left-handed pitcher Ian Clarkin.
“We feel like this guy is a great second-round pick,” Clark said. “And we feel like Rafael Soriano is a great first-round pick.”
Soriano also cost a bit more than the average first-round pick — $28 million over two years. The signing also put the Nationals in a strange spot. They waited until every other team had picked before they could make their first choice, just before midnight.
“It’s awful,” Kline said. “It was like watching paint dry.”