Nationals Draft/Development – Is It As Bad As You Think It Is?

Photo by Laura Peebles for TalkNats

The conventual wisdom is that the Nationals have been historically awful, compared to other teams, when it comes to developing players. That is really a two part question:

  1. Do they draft badly?
  2. Do they fail in properly teaching their draftees what they need to know?

Lets discuss and compare the Nats to four other teams: two teams that are recognized as elite: the Dodgers and the Rays; a team that is on the cusp between very good and average – the Cardinals; and a team that is flat-out awful – the Phillies.

The Baseball Almanac site was used to get the data for the 20132014201520162017 drafts.

Team 1 2 3 Total
Arizona Diamondbacks 6 8 5 19
Atlanta Braves 8 7 5 20
Baltimore Orioles 6 6 5 17
Boston Red Sox 6 4 5 15
Chicago Cubs 5 4 5 14
Chicago White Sox 6 4 4 14
Cincinnati Reds 9 6 4 19
Cleveland Indians 7 6 5 18
Colorado Rockies 8 7 5 20
Detroit Tigers 7 4 4 15
Houston Astros 8 7 5 20
Kansas City Royals 8 6 5 19
Los Angeles Angels 4 5 5 14
Los Angeles Dodgers 8 6 5 19
Miami Marlins 8 5 6 19
Milwaukee Brewers 7 7 5 19
Minnesota Twins 6 7 6 19
New York Mets 5 4 6 15
New York Yankees 7 5 5 17
Oakland Athletics 7 6 6 19
Philadelphia Phillies 5 5 6 16
Pittsburgh Pirates 9 8 5 22
San Diego Padres 6 8 5 19
San Francisco Giants 5 5 5 15
Seattle Mariners 4 6 5 15
St. Louis Cardinals 9 5 6 20
Tampa Bay Rays 7 7 5 19
Texas Rangers 6 5 5 16
Toronto Blue Jays 8 6 5 19
Washington Nationals 4 6 5 15

Don: The first thing that occurs to me to look at is how many draft picks have they had in the past few years compared to the rest of MLB. Let’s look at the first three rounds for 2013 thru 2017 – draftees from those years should have made it to the big leagues by now.

So here are the counts by round. The compensation and competitive balance picks are shown at the end of the round – but are listed with that round number.

The main point that jumps out at me is how the Nationals have fewer picks compared to the rest of MLB. The Nats had 15 picks over that period, tied with 5 other teams. And three teams only had 14. And they are tied with 2 other team with the fewest number of first round picks.

Steve: Before you go any further, I think we need to exclude the top 10 picks from any further analysis. Picks that are that high should certainly make it.

Don: Instead of excluding them, how about I categorize them differently in any future queries. So, along those lines, here is how many top 10 picks teams have had in the 5 year period from 2013 thru 2017:

  • 4 Top Ten Picks: Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies
  • 3 Top Ten Picks: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins
  • 2 Top Ten Picks: Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays
  • 1 Top Ten Pick: Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers
  • No Top Ten Picks: Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals

These results certainly suggest that having lots of high picks is not a sure-fire way to improve yourself. Of the 7 teams with 3 or 4 top ten picks in the 5 year period we are looking at, only one, the Astros, have had a lot of success.

Looking more closely at this, all 4 of the Astros top 10 picks were also top 5. The Rockies and the Twins were the only teams with 2 top 5 picks

Steve: Yes, the Phillies have been awful. The Twins have at least made the playoffs, and Houston won the World Series. The Rockies — what can you say with their owner Monfort. That period of 2013-2017 also shows how the Cubs got both Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in consecutive years as Top-10 picks and won themselves a World Series quickly. The Braves most impactful 1st round pick was their 41st overall in the 1st round of 2015: Austin Riley.

The hindsight look at who made it and who flopped is often interesting. Many times it is a bad injury that derails prospect’s career. If you go back to Riley’s 1st round draft class, you will find 2 superstars and that was Alex Bregman and Walker Buehler. They are the only two players along with Andrew Benintendi who have over a combined 9.0 career WAR at this point in time from that 2015 draft.  Dansby Swanson and Riley will get there, but so far that 2015 draft is not looking good. By the way, the Nats forfeited their 1st round pick that year when they signed a guy named Max Scherzer. I think that worked out well.

Don: I noticed that none of the teams we agreed to look at in more detail, I decided to look at top 10 picks have done. That provided a list of 50 players. I decided to list those players who met any of the following criteria:

  • No MLB games (in the 2018-2021 Game Day data I have downloaded)
  • Less than 20 MLB games for pitchers
  • Less than 100 MLB games for non-pitchers

And note the standard disclaimer on the downloaded Game Day data – it does have minor differences from, for example, Baseball-Reference. The additional wrinkle is that I had to match using the player name instead of their MLB ID number.

Regardless of those disclaimers, I have to admit that I was surprised that 19 (almost 40%) of those players were included.

Pick Team Player Position School Games
Year 2013
1 Houston Astros Mark Appel RHP Stanford
7 Boston Red Sox Trey Ball LHP New Castle High School
Year 2014
1 Houston Astros Brady Aiken P Cathedral Catholic High School
2 Miami Marlins Tyler Kolek P Shepherd High School
5 Minnesota Twins Nick Gordon SS Olympia High School 66
6 Seattle Mariners Alex Jackson C Rancho Bernardo High School 57
Year 2015
6 Minnesota Twins Tyler Jay P University of Illinois
10 Philadelphia Phillies Cornelius Randolph SS Griffin High School
Year 2016
1 Philadelphia Phillies Mickey Moniak OF La Costa Canyon High School 24
4 Colorado Rockies Riley Pint P St. Thomas Aquinas High School
5 Milwaukee Brewers Corey Ray CF University of Louisville 1
7 Miami Marlins Braxton Garrett LHP Florence High School 10
9 Detroit Tigers Matt Manning RHP Sheldon High School 18
Year 2017
1 Minnesota Twins Royce Lewis SS JSerra High School
2 Cincinnati Reds Hunter Greene RHP/SS Notre Dame High School
3 San Diego Padres MacKenzie Gore LHP Whiteville High School
4 Tampa Bay Rays Brendan McKay LHP Louisville 17
6 Oakland Athletics Austin Beck OF North Davidson High School
10 Los Angeles Angels Jo Adell OF Ballard High School 69

For the 2017 draft we perhaps need to give these guys (especially those drafted out of HS) more time. This also perhaps provides perspective regarding dismissing Stras and Harper as gimme’s. We have 3 guys that were the number 1 pick who have yet to see an MLB game.

Steve: Stras and Harper were can’t miss. The Nats got lucky because not every 1st overall pick is a lock. Another note is the high school kids on the 2015 and forward chart still have a shot but some as we’ve seen are already busts.

Mickey Moniak anyone?

Don: Yes, luck is involved. But so is skill. Most every #1 pick is a lock to at least make MLB if not becoming a star. And you also need to be able to sign them. And since 2009 when Rizzo became GM (or acting GM) every single player drafted up until the 2017 draft has gotten to MLB.

Steve: Anyone will tell you Stras and Harper were locks as stars. Few have been destined for greatness like that since Alex Rodriguez in 1993. Rendon not as much because of his health and that turned out huge. But I wouldn’t brag about any 1st round pick afterwards by Rizzo unless the White Sox want to thank him for gift wrapping Lucas Giolito. The fact that Erick Fedde, Carter Kieboom, and Seth Romero all have played MLB ball is nothing to brag about when you consider that Fedde’s career Fangraph’s WAR is 1.1 over 5 seasons, Kieboom’s is a NEGATIVE -1.4 with 414 plate appearances, and Romero -0.1.

Don: Before looking at the players, I decided to first look at the positions the 5 teams drafted. Here are those results.

Position Los Angeles Dodgers Philadelphia Phillies St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays Washington Nationals Total
1B 1/5.3% 1/1.1%
2B 1/6.3% 1/5.3% 2/2.2%
3B 1/5.3% 1/5.0% 1/5.3% 1/6.7% 4/4.4%
C 2/10.5% 1/6.3% 2/10.5% 1/6.7% 6/6.7%
CF 1/6.3% 2/10.5% 3/3.4%
OF 3/15.8% 3/18.8% 4/20.0% 2/10.5% 3/20.0% 15/16.9%
P 12/63.2% 5/31.3% 13/65.0% 8/42.1% 8/53.3% 46/51.7%
SS 1/5.3% 5/31.3% 2/10.0% 2/10.5% 2/13.3% 12/13.5%
Total 19 16 20 19 15 89

Don: I find it interesting that the Nationals penchant for drafting pitchers is close to, but exceeded, by both the Dodgers and Cardinals – especially given how many more picks those teams had (19 and 20) vs. just 15 for the Nats. With more picks, you think they would diversify more. But then again, maybe the point is the focusing on pitching in the draft is a good strategy all other things being equal (e.g., no sure-fire position players).

Steve: The great teams know that it starts with pitching.

Don: Now let’s look at the teams we agreed to include in the comparison. Lets look at each year separately. I decided to include the two years the Nationals did not have picks (2013 and 2015) so we could see how the other teams did and if the picks lost were costly losses. And note the same disclaimer regarding the number of games as mentioned earlier.


Pick Team Player Position School Games
Round 1
16 Philadelphia Phillies J.P. Crawford SS Lakewood High School 353
18 Los Angeles Dodgers Chris Anderson RHP Jacksonville
19 St. Louis Cardinals Marco Gonzales P Gonzaga 96
21 Tampa Bay Rays Nick Ciuffo C Lexington High School 21
28 St. Louis Cardinals Rob Kaminsky LHP St. Joseph Regional High School 5
29 Tampa Bay Rays Ryne Stanek RHP Arkansas 202
Round 2
53 Philadelphia Phillies Andrew Knapp C Cal 243
56 Los Angeles Dodgers Tom Windle LHP Minnesota
57 St. Louis Cardinals Oscar Mercado SS Gaither High School 214
60 Tampa Bay Rays Riley Unroe SS Desert Ridge High School
68 Washington Nationals Jake Johansen RHP Dallas Baptist
Round 3
89 Philadelphia Phillies Cord Sandberg CF Manatee High School
92 Los Angeles Dodgers Brandon Dixon 3B Arizona 177
93 St. Louis Cardinals Mike Mayers RHP Mississippi 165
96 Philadelphia Phillies Jan Hernandez SS Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy
97 Tampa Bay Rays Thomas Milone CF Masuk High School
105 Washington Nationals Drew Ward 3B Leedey High School

Don: The Nationals did not have a first round pick due to the signing of Rafael Soriano. While that was not a good move overall, the impact on the draft, given the Nats would have picked last, probably did not hurt too much. Crawford is the only player from that list that I would have liked to have. But he was not going to be available even if the Nats had a first rounder.

And didn’t Jake Johansen have injury issues? Have to admit that all I remember about him was that he never got far.

Steve: Johansen was a fastball pitcher with 4th round projections. A complete bust. His college career wasn’t even good. I understand taking a chance on him, but not in the 2nd round.


Pick Team Player Position School Games
Round 1
7 Philadelphia Phillies Aaron Nola RHP Louisiana State University 113
18 Washington Nationals Erick Fedde P UNLV 73
20 Tampa Bay Rays Casey Gillaspie 1B Wichita State University .
22 Los Angeles Dodgers Grant Holmes P Conway High School .
27 St. Louis Cardinals Luke Weaver P Florida State University 66
34 St. Louis Cardinals Jack Flaherty P Harvard-Westlake High School 92
Round 2
47 Philadelphia Phillies Matt Imhof P Cal Poly .
57 Washington Nationals Andrew Suarez P University of Miami 55
60 Tampa Bay Rays Cameron Varga P Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy .
62 Los Angeles Dodgers Alex Verdugo OF Sahuaro High School 333
68 St. Louis Cardinals Ronnie Williams P American Senior High School .
71 St. Louis Cardinals Andrew Morales P University of California-Irvine .
72 Tampa Bay Rays Brent Honeywell Jr. RHP Walters State Community College .
Round 3
81 Philadelphia Phillies Aaron Brown OF Pepperdone University .
93 Washington Nationals Jakson Reetz C Norris High School 2
96 Tampa Bay Rays Brock Burke LHP Evergreen High School 6
98 Los Angeles Dodgers John Richy P UNLV .
104 St. Louis Cardinals Trevor Megill RHP Loyola Marymount University 28

Don: Have to say that it would have been great if Rizzo had known to pick Flaherty or Weaver instead of Fedde. But it is worth noting that the Dodgers picked a pitcher before either of these two who has yet to appear in an MLB game. And even the Cardinals, picked Weaver first.

In addition, Suarez did not sign with the Nats. He was drafted the following year by the Giants.

Steve: Right, Suarez didn’t sign. I think instead of looking at games played, you have to look at impact.


Pick Team Player Position School Games
Round 1
10 Philadelphia Phillies Cornelius Randolph SS Griffin High School .
13 Tampa Bay Rays Garrett Whitley OF Niskayuna High School .
23 St. Louis Cardinals Juan Hillman OF Olympia High School .
24 Los Angeles Dodgers Walker Buehler P Vanderbilt University 106
35 Los Angeles Dodgers Kyle Funkhouser RHP University of Louisville 70
39 St. Louis Cardinals Jake Woodford RHP Plant High School 38
Round 2
48 Philadelphia Phillies Scott Kingery 2B University of Arizona 309
52 Tampa Bay Rays Chris Betts C Wilson High School .
58 Washington Nationals Andrew Stevenson OF Louisiana State University 198
66 St. Louis Cardinals Bryce Denton 3B Ravenwood High School .
67 Los Angeles Dodgers Mitch Hansen OF Plano High School .
69 Washington Nationals Blake Perkins OF Verrado High School .
74 Los Angeles Dodgers Josh Sborz RHP University of Virginia 74
Round 3
83 Philadelphia Phillies Luke Williams SS Dana Hills High School 53
87 Tampa Bay Rays Brandon Lowe 2B University of Maryland 353
100 St. Louis Cardinals Harrison Bader OF University of Florida 403
101 Los Angeles Dodgers Philip Pfeifer P Vanderbilt University .
103 Washington Nationals Rhett Wiseman OF Vanderbilt University .
105 St. Louis Cardinals Jordan Hicks P Cypress Creek High School 112

Don: The Nationals did not have a first rounder in 2015 due to signing Scherzer. As you said above Steve, that worked out. And even if they had a pick, the Dodgers grabbed Buehler a few picks before the Nats.

And too bad the Nats did not pick Lowe in Stevenson’s slot, given that he was local, before the Rays were able to grab him. Or Bader that the Cardinals grabbed later.

Steve: No issues there. Max Scherzer might have been the greatest free agent signing ever when the Nats got him.


Pick Team Player Position School Games
Round 1
1 Philadelphia Phillies Mickey Moniak OF La Costa Canyon High School 24
13 Tampa Bay Rays Josh Lowe 3B Pope High School 1
20 Los Angeles Dodgers Gavin Lux SS Indian Trail Academy 146
23 St. Louis Cardinals Delvin Perez SS PJ Education School High School
28 Washington Nationals Carter Kieboom SS Walton High School 105
29 Washington Nationals Dane Dunning RHP University of Florida 35
32 Los Angeles Dodgers Will Smith C University of Louisville 241
33 St. Louis Cardinals Dylan Carlson OF Elk Grove High School 187
34 St. Louis Cardinals Dakota Hudson RHP Mississippi State University 71
36 Los Angeles Dodgers Jordan Sheffield RHP Vanderbilt University 30
Round 2
42 Philadelphia Phillies Kevin Gowdy P Santa Barbara High School
53 Tampa Bay Rays Ryan Boldt CF University of Nebraska
58 Washington Nationals Sheldon Neuse SS University of Oklahoma 49
65 Los Angeles Dodgers Mitch White RHP Santa Clara University 23
70 St. Louis Cardinals Connor Jones P University of Virginia
77 Tampa Bay Rays Jake Fraley OF Louisiana State University 95
Round 3
78 Philadelphia Phillies Cole Stobbe SS Millard West High School
90 Tampa Bay Rays Austin Franklin P Paxson School High School
94 Washington Nationals Jesus Luzardo LHP Stoneman Douglas High School 46
101 Los Angeles Dodgers Dustin May RHP Northwest High School 40
106 St. Louis Cardinals Zac Gallen RHP University of North Carolina 50

Don: A couple names that might have been better picks than CK. But nothing that is something that one could suspect should have been obvious.

Steve: That was a deep draft though.


Pick Team Player Position School Games
Round 1
4 Tampa Bay Rays Brendan McKay LHP Louisville 20
8 Philadelphia Phillies Adam Haseley OF Virginia 108
23 Los Angeles Dodgers Jeren Kendall OF Vanderbilt .
25 Washington Nationals Seth Romero LHP University of Houston 3
31 Tampa Bay Rays Drew Rasmussen RHP Oregon State 48
Round 2
40 Tampa Bay Rays Michael Mercado RHP Westview High School .
45 Philadelphia Phillies Spencer Howard RHP Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo 25
62 Los Angeles Dodgers Morgan Cooper RHP Texas .
65 Washington Nationals Wil Crowe RHP South Carolina 32
Round 3
79 Tampa Bay Rays Taylor Walls SS Florida State University 49
83 Philadelphia Phillies Connor Seabold RHP California State University Fullerton 1
94 St. Louis Cardinals Scott Hurst OF California State University Fullerton 4
100 Los Angeles Dodgers Connor Wong C University of Houston 5
103 Washington Nationals Nick Raquet LHP College of William and Mary .

Don: So we end with the draft that brought us Seth Romero, Will Crowe (a piece in the Josh Bell trade) and Nick Raquet (who likely we won’t be seeing at Nats Park anytime soon, if at all.

Again, no obvious choices that were better than the gamble on Romero. Rizzo probably counted on him growing up; it appears that so far he hasn’t. Time will tell.

Steve: Phillies drafts have been horrible.

In Summary

Don: When I suggested this Point-CounterPoint article, I thought I would conclude that the Nats were probably average; not nearly as bad as the TalkNats folks seem to think. Clearly they are below average; but I still don’t think they are nearly as bad as many here think.

Seems like the Cardinals are actually better than the Dodgers and the Nats are not nearly as bad as the Phillies – but not in the same league as the Rays, Cardinals or Dodgers. But, as I just said, not nearly as bad as most of the TN folks think. I suspect a large part of the Nats issue is, IMO, few picks; and very few high picks.

Steve: To me, it is impact of the draft picks. If you exclude Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper from the Nats history of drafts under Rizzo, he has one guy who has made an All-Star impact for the Nats and that is Anthony Rendon. The rest were used in trades and developed by other teams like Giolito and Robbie Ray, and other than that you got dozens of busts. I wouldn’t brag about Fedde or Stevenson or Kieboom or Romero because if you add up their cumulative WAR it is a net negative.

Don: Which reinforces my point about fewer picks and higher picks. The Nats hit on all of their truly top picks. Ask the Astros about their #1 picks. Regardless I think the upgrades to the development staff is a very good thing and I am hoping the Nationals are competitive again very soon.

So now I have to ask you Steve, do you still think that the Nats have been bottom of the barrel: or just below average?

Steve: The Astros hit on 5 picks in the first round: Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa but they also hit on George Springer (11th overall), and look at their 2015 pick of Kyle Tucker, he is now playing well, and there was Lance McCullers Jr. That is just part of it. Also, while the Astros drafted Brady Aiken at 1 overall, they backed out due to injury concerns and his pick compensation got them Bregman. When the Nats drafted Aaron Crow and didn’t sign him they used the pick compensation to get Drew Storen at #10 overall. But beyond 1st round picks. Houston got Dallas Keuchel who was a 7th round pick, and that goes to the overall point that the Astros had swings and misses but more overall success than the Nats in the draft and they scored big with Keuchel in the 7th round.

Clearly Mark Appel in 2013 was the Astros biggest FAIL. But they hit on many other players and enough to have a dominant run even with the cheating. They didn’t deserve a WS championship but they built a good team.

The draft is so much more than the 1st round. The Nats record of drafting and developing players beyond Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon has been horrific. That is going back 16 years and including players who were drafted while Jim Bowden was GM. If there is any good news going through this exercise, the Phillies have been the worst team in drafting and developing over the past decade. The good news for the Nats is I have optimism that De Jon Watson will turn this around. I think Brady House is going to be a star, and I have similar hopes for Cade Cavalli. This is a new era in Nationals’ baseball.

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