Time Is Short For Top Picks To Sign Deals

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2008

MILWAUKEE, Aug. 9 -- Six days remain before baseball's deadline for draft-pick signing, tightening the pressure for Washington's front office to come to terms with any of the Nationals' four unsigned top five picks. Unlike last year, when the Nationals issued several signing bonuses to players exceeding Major League Baseball's slotting recommendations, the franchise this year -- under a directive from ownership -- is operating with a more conservative approach, according to numerous sources.

That means a final, frantic week to secure players touted two months ago as key pieces for the future. Among those still unsigned? Selections Aaron Crow, a pitcher from the University of Missouri drafted ninth overall, third-round pick Daniel Espinosa (a shortstop from Cal State Long Beach), fourth-round pick Graham Hicks (a left-handed pitcher from George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Fla.) and fifth-round pick Adrian Nieto (a high school catcher from American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla.).

Negotiations with Crow, a right-hander represented by adviser J.D. Smart of Hendricks Sports Management, have made little progress, according to a source; the team expects talks with Crow to continue until the deadline. If the Nationals fail to sign Crow -- whom they had hoped to sign quickly, so he could spend a full season in their minor league system -- the pitcher will return to Missouri for his senior year, and Washington will receive a compensatory first-round pick for next year's draft. Smart did not return numerous messages seeking comment.

In 2007, the Nationals signed seven of their eight selections from the first five rounds, including first-round pitcher Ross Detwiler, before July 5. This year, the only top five pick to sign thus far is Destin Hood, a high school outfielder from Mobile, Ala., who last month agreed to a five-year deal worth $1.1 million.

In part because the last days of the signing period will be used to focus on the highest picks, a tentative Monday deadline has been imposed for negotiations with Nieto, a high school catcher whose stock fell because of an elbow injury. On the day he was drafted, Washington scout Ed Durkin called him a potential catcher of the future. Nieto is asking for above-slot money.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company