The Nationals’ draft experience this year differed wildly from recent seasons, and the pattern continued today when they signed their top pick, right-hander Jake Johansen, less than 24 hours after they drafted him.
Picking at or near the top of the draft the past four years, the Nationals grew accustomed to waiting until minutes – if not seconds – before the deadline to sign their top choices. This year, Johansen agreed to an $820,000 signing bonus, precisely the recommended slot for the No. 68 overall pick, Friday afternoon.
“I’m processing everything pretty great,” Johansen said in a conference call Friday. “It’s a pretty unbelievable experience. I’m extremely excited. Just dealing with [scouting director Kris] Kline and [General Manager Mike] Rizzo, they were just extremely positive to be around. I wanted to go out and play as quickly as possible so I could increase my chances to make the big leagues as soon as possible.”
Johansen, a 6-foot-6 starter from Dallas Baptist University with a 99-mph fastball, will fly this weekend to Viera, Fla. for a physical and the signing of his contract. The Nationals plan to start him at Class A Auburn, their rookie ball affiliate, when the short season begins June 17.
Johansen worked out in front of team officials, including Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty, last week at Nationals Park. He also worked out for the Royals and Rangers, he said, but something about the Nationals stuck in his mind. “It was different,” Johansen said. “It was just a different atmosphere. I was just very impressed.”
Johansen, 22, sounded confident and composed in a conference call with reporters. He called his secondary pitches “projectable,” saying he felt comfortable throwing his changeup, curveball and slider, which can at times behave more like a cutter. At Dallas Baptist this year, he went 7-6 with a 5.40 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings.
“I don’t believe the box score necessarily depicts the type of pitcher that I am,” Johansen said. “I am a late bloomer. I have so much room to grow. I’ve heard great things about the Nationals’ player development system. I know the amount of knowledge I learned right now is nowhere near the amount of knowledge I’m about to learn.”
Johansen said he hit a growth spurt and never felt fully comfortable in his body until his sophomore year of high school. Tall pitchers often mature later, because their long limbs make it more difficult to repeat the same delivery. Nationals scouting director Kris Kline noted Johansen’s clean, consistent delivery. Johansen said he had only been able to repeat his mechanics for the past year.
When Johansen worked out for the Nationals, team officials told him they saw him as a starting pitcher, not a reliever. “I kind of logged that away,” he said. The message made Johansen hope the Nationals would pick him.
“I also view myself as a starter,” Johansen said. “Just to hear the words from Mr. Kline and Mr. Rizzo is extremely motivating. I definitely do see myself as a starter. I feel like I have some pretty good intangibles. I feel I can hold my velocity, if not get better in the later innings. I know I am durable to last. I feel as though I have great composure and presence on the mound that a starter needs.”
The Nationals finished off the rest of their first 10 rounds – nine picks in all – this afternoon. “We did what we do,” Nationals vice president of player personnel Roy Clark said. “Big guys with big arms. Power arms and power bats.”
Clark and Kline said they expect to be able sign all of their players quickly, and that all would likely start at Class A Auburn or the Gulf Coast League.
Kline said Jimmy Yezzo, a sixth-round first baseman out of Delaware, could hit at a higher level, “because he’s so advanced.” Kline called Yezzo a combination of Yonder Alonso, Erubiel Durazao and Laynce Nix.
One other fun thing Kline said: Third base Gunter Cody, picked in the sixth round out of Grayson Community College, has “major league swagger.”