This year, the draft brings greater challenges to signing players drafted between rounds 11-15. For those with remaining eligibility, the 125K cap is a test. Does the college eligible player believe that by going back, he’ll get a bigger payday? Bryan Montes de Oca did, and he was drafted in the ninth round by the Mets and got a 152 thousand dollar payday. Was it worth it? He lost a year for a bit more money. Now, post COVID, he has only started pitching in the minors at age 25, and is showing up well in A+. Mack Lemieux, on the other hand, was a JUCO when the Nationals drafted him in Round 14 in 2015. He did not sign, but when drafted the next year by Arizona in Round 6, he did. That’s a good case scenario of betting on one’s self, and Lemieux is now in AA and steadily building on lower minor successes. The scales are further tipped with players now being able to earn money for endorsements if they can be a BMOC, especially in a college-centric sports town. Major league baseball has not yet adjusted to the ramifications of the new NCAA earning rules, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the 11-15 signability.
One thing is certain; the Nationals have drafted pitchers heavily in recent years, but not since Robbie Ray was paid 800K as a 12th round pick has a draft choice in this range made it all the way in the end. Those drafts, with the notable exception of the 2018 draft, were plucking a lot of JUCO talent and players from smaller schools. The 2018 crew, which included major college products Aaron Fletcher, Frankie Bartow, and Evan Lee, has done quite well. It looked like the Nats might be on to something, just as Max Schrock emerged from the 2015 draft as a 13th rounder from an SEC school. But the Nationals went back to the small college route in 2019, and the results were again marginal, with not one position player or pitcher yet out of Low A. And it’s not like Fredericksburg was setting the world on fire.
So as we ready for the class of 21, picks 11-15 edition, we appreciate the dilemma; do you tie up a pick so other teams don’t get ‘em, knowing a player who dropped out of the top the rounds may shoot for next year? Do you draft seniors because they are more signable? Do you beef up your metrics for finding a diamond who will make it out of a small college and fall out of the top 10, or a dedicated player who is JUCO caliber who doesn’t have it to play at a university but is a baseball savant?
11. Marc Davis – Here is a JUCO player found at Florida Southwestern, where he enrolled after being an All-State performer in Georgia and spurning the opportunity of a 38th round pick of the Cubbies. All he did this year, as a starter converted to relief pitcher, was strike out nearly 16.5 batters per nine innings. Video game numbers aside, he walks plenty and is by no means a sure thing. Yet he has well-regarded breaking pitches in a multiple pitch arsenal. Would a bump to higher competition work out the kinks with Division 1 tutelage? Does he have the academics to do so? The Nationals have generally had excellent success convincing JUCO products to turn pro.
12. Andrew Alvarez – Back to the lefties, and a starter and senior. Not much else is available about him, other than the measurables of 6’3 215 and his being a religious Christian. So how does this player get to the 12 round? Signability? Is that it? Hard to say. But while his overall numbers are meh, Alvarez’ record over his last eight starts was 4-1 with a 2.75 ERA. One of those starts was a complete game, and in another he had twelve strikeouts. So there’s something there.
13. Mack Anglin – Well thought of by the prospect maven class, Anglin is a curious pick here, having just finished a decorated freshman campaign at Clemson, a school with determination to use NIL to reward their athletes. It may just be that Anglin returns to Clemson to aim at a much higher draft slot in due time, but the Nationals will know the player and what it will take to dislodge him. As it is now, he started eight games last year and struck out 75 in 56 innings with a multi pitch arsenal, including a fastball that routinely hits the mid-90’s and a breaking pitch with elite “spin rates.” Of course, that can mean all kinds of things, but this year it seems to be the hottest thing since launch angle was a thing. And at 6’4 220, he’s got that frame that the Nationals love. But he also gave up six home runs, and he walks about 6 per nine innings, which is why he may have been available in the 13th round. As a former Ohio prep player of the year, however, he was not flying under the radar. And having shown he can dominate top ACC competition when he is on, Virginia to be specific in one start, Anglin may have flashed the Nats at just the right time to get paid.
14. Erik Tolman – This is a place in the draft that I am far more comfortable drafting a once heralded Tommy John recipient. Tolman was one of the top lefthanded high school pitchers in the country after finishing high school and pitched parts of three years at Arizona State. He impressed from his freshman year, and continued to impress through 2020 and into 2021, when he pitched primarily in the rotation. Then in March, he went on the shelf and soon proved to need TJ surgery. No doubt the Nationals have done their homework on him and have checked his medicals. As someone with two years of eligibility remaining, Tolman can take it easy next year and hope for a higher draft call in 2023, when he will likely be able to return to the mound and show a body of work. But that means two years of wasted developmental time. I have to think the Nationals can sell him on all of the higher profile successes who rebounded with the Nats medical and coaching track record. If so, then at 125K this is lower risk than the early round selections of the past. One is reminded of the successes of Nathan Karns, himself a 12th round pick who overcame surgery. Back in 2009 and a different bonus structure, the Nats gave him 225K to sign. High, but it was worth it.
15. Jaden Fein – An excellent two way player at a team with a fine baseball tradition, Fein was on track to hit .400 until he faded at season’s end. Still, his hitting – and errorless season in rightfield, in which he sported good range – was enough to earn him award recognition. Despite only four home runs, he finished second in the conference in RBI. That’s a lot of clutch hitting. He is 6’3 and is thought to have over the fence power in his doubles hitting profile, partly because he makes a lot of hard contact. Fein is moreover a scholar athlete. Not much not to like about this pick, if they can sign him.
Whatever their destiny, the hitters of the first fifteen picks have impressive pedigree. The promise of re-stocking outfielder talent all at once is attractive.
Moreover, the Nationals have taken more players with continued eligibility than in year’s past. They could sign none of them, or all of them. The boom or bust tilts toward bust, but Holman, Fein, Anglin and Davis are intriguing performers. Let’s see whom they have been communicating with. Are the Nationals saving money on the first signed picks (over 200K) for overpays in this 11-15 range? Or for Brady House and Daylen Lile?
So the philosophy is different. Does the philosophy continue to manifest through picks 16-20? We’ll find out in the next installment.