SAN DIEGO — If it were any other year before this one, the Washington Nationals would have entered the offseason knowing they held the top pick in next year’s MLB draft. But for the first time — unluckily for the Nationals — MLB instituted a lottery, under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, in an attempt to reduce the incentive for teams to tank.
On Tuesday, the Nationals landed the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft instead. They lost out to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who despite finishing this past season with the third-worst record in the major leagues had the same odds to land the top pick and will select first for the second time in three seasons. The No. 2 pick will be the Nationals’ highest since 2010, when they selected Bryce Harper.
The Detroit Tigers rounded out the top three. The Oakland Athletics, who with the Nationals and Pirates shared the best odds to land the top pick, dropped all the way to No. 6.
“When you’re picking that high in the draft, something poorly has happened the year before,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “You don’t relish that situation, but it gives us a chance to make an impactful draft pick, so we’re excited.”
As the picks were slowly revealed in a ballroom at the Manchester Grand Hyatt — home of this year’s winter meetings — Nationals Manager Dave Martinez and members of the front office watched from a distance. They nodded their heads and pumped their fists when they were one of the final two teams remaining, though their reaction was more reserved when the card sporting a “2” had the Nationals’ logo on it.
Rizzo joked afterward that he wished the lottery would’ve started next year, when the Nationals might not have the most losses in baseball. Washington knows the benefit of having the top pick, after all; its No. 1 choices in 2009 and 2010 turned into Stephen Strasburg and Harper.
With the new CBA limiting how high teams can pick in the draft, the Nationals will not be able to pick higher than 10th in 2024, an MLB official said. Last season, the Nationals drafted high school outfielder Elijah Green with the No. 5 pick. Now, they’ll look to hit on the No. 2 pick next year before adding more talent in the later rounds.
“We’re excited to put another group of really good, impactful players into the system,” Rizzo said. “Along with the last two trade deadlines and the last three drafts, we feel really good about where our system is and seeing these players really ascending to the big leagues in the very near future.”