This is where the draft has come to resemble the NFL late rounds. Teams have players on their board; but unlike previous years in which the draft extended up to 40 rounds, and can make selections for a variety of organizational reasons, late round picks now are less disposable. Since we have no insider line into the Nationals, and Kris Kline mumbles a narrative that is carefully engineered, these are the knowns – the Nationals drafted five players that they wanted to make sure they did not lose to another team in the competitive free agency marketplace, and players they were willing to pay up to 125K for, perhaps even more.
Very interesting to see whom these might be, especially when you consider the team draftees from 11-20 (including Alvarez in the 12th, a player whose numbers would not otherwise have set him apart). All of those players have signed except for Marc Davis, Mack Anglin and Elie Kligman. But with the Nationals not far under slot and two high school products unsigned (Brady House and Daylen Lile), one has to wonder whether they can thread the needle to get all five outstanding 1-20 picks (1, 2, 11, 13, and 20) in the fold.
Let’s now consider 16-20. The Nationals drafted more pitching in the 11-15 range, and continued that emphasis to close out the draft. Given the underperformance among many in the minors, and how injuries have felled many an arm, flushing the system of pitchers washing out can be expected. All of these new arms have signed, so let’s see what’s coming into the system:
- Jack Sinclair – A U. Central Florida product who schooled in the Broward prep scene, Sinclair feels like one of those players the Nationals got to know from his proximity to their Florida base of operations and tried unsuccessfully to sign last year after the truncated COVID year. He posted uninspiring numbers working primarily as a starter this year. But in 2020, the 6’4 right-handed Sinclair was dominant in eight relief outings, with a .178 batting average among the 55 opponents he faced – who hit only two extra base hits off him. He may be no more than an organizational multi-inning healthy arm at this stage. But as an All-Conference All-Academic team member, he has the maturity to take the baton from those who flopped at Fredericksburg before him.
- Brendan Collins – This 6’4 righthander passed up more eligibility to get his pro career going. In 2021 he started at UNC Greensboro, and walked enough hitters to make your hair hurt (over 9 per 9 innings), but gave up far fewer hits. This after making lemonade out of lemons by playing in a North Carolina summer collegiate league last summer, having bounced from Radford and a Community College. Given his successes in high school in Maryland, where he was the third ranked right-handed pitcher in the state, one has to think the Nationals have scouted Collins for a long time. As a local product, he profiles like the kind of person the team could have signed as a free agent, but the Nationals locked him down at 17. He grew up watching the team, and now he’ll watch them a bit closer.
- Steven Williams – The Nationals have had conspicuously underwhelming organizational results at catcher before Tres Barrera hatched a bat this past week after being thrown into the fire. Perhaps all the catchers need is time, but Williams will have opportunity to make a statement after coming over from Auburn. Williams was a nationally regarded prospect coming out of high school with big left handed power (there it is again), good athleticism, and a strong arm. He was drafted by the Yankees back then in round 35 and did not sign. Splitting time behind the plate and in the outfield in college, he flashed a bat and had some big hits for the Tigers in post-season play. His senior year dissolved after being hit in the face by a pitch and suffering fractures that ended his season. Still, to get a player of this caliber and versatility with loud tools and coming out of an SEC school in round 18 is nice value at a need position.
- Riggs Threadgill – The Nationals continued their Auburn shopping spree (Stay tuned for the undrafted signings in the next installment) with this JUCO product. Threadgill, as his earlier LSU commitment would suggest, was a highly regarded prospect as a Texas high schooler, and he has grown to a 6’4, 220 frame. Coming off a season with an ERA over 6, he’s got a lot to fix, but a live and healthy arm with low mileage to bring into the low minors.
- Elie Kligman – For some months now, Kligman was in line to be the first observant Jew drafted, when fast-rising Jacob Steinmetz came along and stole the show with the Diamondbacks taking him in Round 3. Kligman has not signed, and has not named a college alternative either. His father is a sports agent, and so I think the signing will come. This is because Kligman’s success in baseball would have the same impact among the orthodox Jewish community in the United States that Tal Brody had as a basketball star who passed up an NBA career to star in Israel. The moment is iconic for many thousands of Jewish Americans, and both Kligman and Steinmetz know they are playing for more than themselves. I am not surprised to see the Nationals draft Kligman at #20, and wondered whether the Nats had their eye on Steinmetz before the D’backs snagged him at #77. After all, the team drafted Max Ungar from the Charles Smith Hebrew Day School in 2012, perhaps the first time a Jewish parochial school product was drafted. The Lerners are big donors to the school, and we all know that they have drafted children of coaches and team staff. Whether Ungar ever intended to play baseball as a career is debatable. Kligman, however, is from a baseball family, including a younger brother pitcher, and clearly has a sense of wanting to prove religious observance can be balanced with baseball – although his level of observance is greater than Steinmetz. The multi-position left-handed hitter from Las Vegas is ticketed for catcher. That position, some say, makes it easier for him not to play on Shabbat. And for the Nationals, a young and developing catcher adds to a list of positions in need of competition.
At this writing, only four draftees remain unsigned. Eight other ballplayers (that we know about) are coming aboard as newly-signed undrafted free agents. The 24 players join an organization that has one less minor league team for whom a new player can get on the field. And so one is right to expect that many of these players will not be heard from until the instructional league – or even 2022. But competition is great for refining winners – and so with the last installment, I hope it brings even more signees into the discussion.