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:
- Do they draft badly?
- 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 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 drafts.
|Boston Red Sox||6||4||5||15|
|Chicago White Sox||6||4||4||14|
|Kansas City Royals||8||6||5||19|
|Los Angeles Angels||4||5||5||14|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||8||6||5||19|
|New York Mets||5||4||6||15|
|New York Yankees||7||5||5||17|
|San Diego Padres||6||8||5||19|
|San Francisco Giants||5||5||5||15|
|St. Louis Cardinals||9||5||6||20|
|Tampa Bay Rays||7||7||5||19|
|Toronto Blue Jays||8||6||5||19|
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.
|1||Houston Astros||Mark Appel||RHP||Stanford|
|7||Boston Red Sox||Trey Ball||LHP||New Castle High School|
|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|
|6||Minnesota Twins||Tyler Jay||P||University of Illinois|
|10||Philadelphia Phillies||Cornelius Randolph||SS||Griffin High School|
|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|
|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|
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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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||.|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
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.