After the first 10 rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, the Washington Nationals’ plan has been made clear. They will draft pitching — polished, high-floor pitching — in an undeclared but undeniable attempt to restock their farm system. The Nationals have built a half-decade of success around drafting and developing good, young pitching depth. They are working to rebuild their foundation.
In Rounds 3 through 10 of the draft, which will wrap up with rapid-fire selections in Rounds 11 through 40 on Wednesday, the Nationals took seven pitchers and one position player. Add that to the two pitchers they selected on Day 1, and the Nationals have chosen nine pitchers with their first 10 picks.
“We wanted to fortify our system with pitching,” Nationals Scouting Director Kris Kline said. “That was the goal going in.”
All nine are junior college or college pitchers, the kind generally considered more polished sure things than their high school counterparts. So while they may not have the upside of the more talked-about high school arms, they are more easily projected.
“Once you get past a certain point in the draft, the high school kids become unsignable,” Kline said. “That leaves a lot of college pitching. We all have a better feel for what they are.”
Four of their eight picks Tuesday pitched most recently in power conference college baseball. Nick Raquet, a six-foot lefty who was their third-round choice, transferred to William & Mary from North Carolina. He ranked fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association and first on the Tribe with 95 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings this season.
“Big fastball, up to 98 from the left side,” Kline, who thinks Raquet projects to a back-end reliever, said. “Nick’s got two breaking balls. He’ll show you above-average with the slider and the curveball … power stuff coming out of the back end, which is hard to find.”
The Nationals snagged a Southeastern Conference standout in the fourth round, choosing 5-11 right-hander Brigham Hill from Texas A&M. Hill had Tommy John surgery in high school but pitched three seasons for the Aggies and began this season with a scoreless streak of 20 2/3 innings. In the sixth round, the Nationals drafted another big righty, Texas standout Kyle Johnston, and his high-90s fastball.
Among the more intriguing names on the Nationals’ board was Jackson Tetreault, who they selected in the seventh round. Tetreault has played two seasons of junior college and is committed to join the University of South Florida next season. Baseball America ranked him as the 118th best right-hander in the draft. The Nationals got him with the 223rd pick overall. Kline said he is one of the more “projectable” — read, “less polished” — pitchers in the Nationals’ class so far.
Among the more amusing names on the Nationals’ board is Trey Turner — no, seriously — and it belongs to a Missouri State right-hander, who was a two-way player in junior college but pitched to a 2.03 ERA and held opponents to a .093 batting average against this season. Turner had Tommy John surgery in April, and therefore might as well have been branded with a curly W.
“He has really good stuff. We’re going to rehab him the right way,” Kline said. “He wanted to come with our organization, so we’re going to take care of him.”
The only position player on the list is second baseman Cole Freeman, who returned to LSU for his senior season despite being drafted in 2016, too. Freeman hit .327 in his final season and finished second in the SEC with 18 stolen bases — “a guy you’d like to have at the top of your order,” Kline said.
The Nationals drafted another promising college hitter, Michigan State’s Alex Troop, who they will develop as a pitcher. Troop hit third for the Spartans and was their Friday night starter.
So with Day 2 in the books, and nine pitchers in their hold, Kline said he and the Nationals’ scouting corps will redo their board tomorrow morning, trying to identify big league talent.
“There’s some in there,” Kline said, pointing to the fact that picks after the 10th round come with a $125,000 bonus cap that often limits options.
The Nationals generally adhere to a best-available mind-set, though they certainly found pitchers to be the best available players more often than not Tuesday. For an organization short on pitching but growing deeper on position players after their international spending spree last summer, “best available” effectively means most valuable. As evidenced by their choices in the first 10 rounds of the draft, mature, experienced pitching seems to be most valuable to the Nationals now.