6/7/2014 8:13 P.M. ET
Experience, pitching highlight Nationals' Draft
By Daniel Popper / MLB.com
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline have often indicated that the team does not draft based on need. Rather, they focus on the best player available, regardless of position.
Over 40 rounds of the First-Year Player Draft, which started Thursday night and concluded on Saturday, Washington displayed some interesting trends about which positions on which it wanted to focus.
The Nats selected 21 pitchers out of their 40 picks, and 14 of those were right-handers, including first-round pick Erick Fedde out of UNLV and fifth-round pick Drew Van Orden out of Duke.
In terms of hitters, Rizzo and Kline noted the wealth of left-handed power entering the Draft, and the team cashed on that talent in Days 2 and 3. With their eighth-, ninth- and 10th-round picks, the Nationals drafted three left-handed sluggers: Louisville outfielder Jeff Gardner, Nevada first baseman Austin Byler and Oklahoma Baptist right fielder Matthew Page.
Gardner was named the American Athletic Association Player of the Year after compiling a .340 batting average, with eight home runs, 19 doubles and a league-leading 61 RBIs during the regular season. Gardner added another home run and seven RBIs in the postseason while leading the Cardinals to the Super Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Louisville won the opening game of that Super Regional against Kennesaw State, 5-3, on Friday night, and it's now a win away from the College World Series.
Byler led the Mountain West Conference with 14 home runs and a .624 slugging percentage in his junior season for the Wolf Pack. Meanwhile, Page hit 11 home runs with 84 RBIs and a .700 slugging percentage in the NAIA.
After drafting Fedde -- who had Tommy John surgery on Tuesday -- with the No. 18 pick in the first round, the Nationals selected another pitcher, Miami left-hander Andrew Saurez, in Round 2. Like Fedde, Suarez has an injury history after missing all of the 2012 season with the Hurricanes because of a shoulder injury. But the Nationals rarely back away from quality talent because of injuries, as they displayed in the past with first-round investments in Anthony Rendon and Lucas Giolito.
"He has not missed any time since then so that gives us comfort," Kline said of Saurez, who will likely fit in as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. "The velocity is there. The secondary stuff is there. Everything's crisp. He throws strikes, tremendous competitor. …We're never going to take a hurt guy, whether it's a guy like Fedde or somebody that's going to require surgery, unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick. And Suarez fits that criteria."
The Nationals drafted only one high school player through the first two days of the Draft -- power-hitting catcher Jakson Reetz in the third round -- and they continued that trend in the early stages of Day 3 on Saturday.
Kline said high school players must display the ability to overcome the mental and physical rigors that accompany the everyday grind of professional baseball if Washington is even going to consider drafting them.
"If a high school player was at LSU or Texas or Arizona State or one of these big schools, where would he fit?" Kline said. "Could he fit in and be a three- or four-hole hitter at that school as a freshman? Could he be the Friday or Saturday or Sunday guy?"
Including Reetz, Washington drafted 11 high school players in 40 picks, but eight of those 11 came in the team's last nine selections of the Draft.
The Nationals made noise in the 15th round when they selected Ryan Ripken, son of Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr., out of Indian River State (Fla.) College with pick No. 454. The left-handed first baseman passed up an opportunity to play professionally in 2012, when the Orioles drafted him in Round 20. He signed with South Carolina instead, but he later transferred.
Washington added three catchers and two shortstops on Day 3. In Round 32, it drafted center fielder Elliot Cary -- who is the son of former Tigers, Braves and Yankees pitcher Chuck Cary -- out of Clackamas High School in Oregon.