By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
When Major League Baseball's amateur draft kicks off today at 6 p.m., the Washington Nationals will try their best to convert the occasion into a celebration. They'll distribute 10,000 promotional "draft party" T-shirts to fans at Nationals Park. They'll offer fans in the Lexus Presidents Club a windowed view of the team's abutting "war room." They'll likely draft a household name, San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg, with the first overall pick.
But for the Nationals, the significance of this year's draft will endure far after Strasburg is selected and the pageantry subsides. On account of their league-worst record in 2008, the Nationals have the first pick in every round. They also have the 10th overall pick in the first round, compensation for their failure to sign last year's first-rounder, Aaron Crow. That bounty of draft picks -- coupled with the franchise's desperate need for help -- explains why acting general manager Mike Rizzo has described this year's draft as "historic."
Strasburg's development will be a bellwether for the organization, if only because of the expectations and hype. The 10th overall pick won't be greeted by the same expectations -- or the same circus contract negotiations -- but Washington's front office knows it has no margin for error. Because No. 10 is a compensatory pick, the Nationals will not receive a 2011 first-rounder if they cannot come to terms with this selection.
"It's very important for us to make two good decisions on those two picks, because the organization is going to depend on those two kids for years to come," Manager Manny Acta said.
In the last few days, several candidates for the No. 10 pick have been invited for tryouts at Nationals Park. (In some cases, Acta, who is rarely involved with duties that don't involve the 40-man roster, was among those watching.)
Two of those tryout candidates were pitchers, Kennesaw State's Chad Jenkins and Stanford's Drew Storen. The Nationals aren't necessarily looking for a college pitcher with the 10th pick, but it could well turn out that way. Why? Because Rizzo, historically, has a preference for college talent. The Nationals need quick-to-the-big-leagues help. Plus, this year's draft has a thin crop of position players.
"I think it's really weighted heavily on pitching this year," Rizzo said. "The position player pool is much, much thinner than certainly last year's draft was. It's probably the thinnest it's been in the last several years."