Nats stage franchise-changing coup in Draft
No. 1 pick Harper, crop of pitching talent excites front office
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals wanted to add franchise-changing players to their organization by means of the First-Year Player Draft.
After three days and 50 rounds, they feel they accomplished just that.
"I'm really excited about the top portion of it," Nationals director of scouting Kris Kline said. "Those first 10 rounds are the guys you really want to sign, and that you hope are at least impact type guys."
The Nationals had the No. 1 pick for the second consecutive year. And while that meant they had the worst record in baseball the previous season, it also allowed them to take the most coveted player available.
In that slot, Washington selected 17-year outfielder/catcher Bryce Harper from the College of Southern Nevada. Harper left Las Vegas High School early to compete against better talent in the junior college ranks. It was a move that allowed him to separate himself from other prep talent vying for the top spot.
Harper hit .442 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs during the 2010 season. During the National Junior College World Series, he had a game where he hit for the cycle and another where he went 6-for-6 with four home runs.
The Nationals are confident he will sign on time.
"I think there is a chance he could go the whole summer, but I feel optimistic that [Nationals general manager] Mike [Rizzo] will get this done and get Bryce out playing," Kline said. "We all want to see him get going."
But while Harper may have been the highlight of the Draft, the Nationals worked hard to improve pitching. Almost half of the 50 selections were hurlers.
Kline said they wanted to avoid smaller pitchers and focus on pitches that had size, strength and velocity.
This vision was seen in the choice of Sammy Solis -- a left-hander from the University of San Diego -- with the first pick of the second round. Despite suffering a herniated disk in his back during the 2009 season, he is fully healthy and had a bounce back year. Solis went 9-2 with a 3.42 ERA and struck out 92 batters in 92 innings.
The Nationals were happy to have prep pitcher A.J. Cole fall to them in the third round. The right-hander has size -- 6-foot-4, 190 pounds -- and throws a 94-mph fastball, with a changeup, to blow past hitters.
"One of the things we wanted to focus on was getting some bigger men, durable bodies, guys with good arms," Kline said. "Secondary stuff would be a bonus, but that's what player development is for."
Washington also used four of its first 10 selections on college shortstops.
In the third round, the Nats chose Rice University shortstop Rick Hague. After leading Team USA in hitting a year ago, Hague batted .340 with 15 home runs, 88 hits and 55 RBIs in 2010.
"We're going to let Rich play shortstop in the Minor Leagues, let him play himself off the position," Kline said. "He'll probably end up at third and is athletic enough to play second. He has good hands, good actions and can really throw."
After their selection of Cole, the Nationals took Texas State shortstop Jason Martinson in the fifth round. A former football player, he hit .311 with 67 hits and 47 RBIs last season.
Kline repeatedly mentioned Martinson's name and said he reminded him of Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.
"I'm a former shortstop -- not a very good one -- and I was really impressed with the way he played the position," Kline said, "how advanced he was with the limited time there. He'll be an interesting guy to watch."
Greg Rosenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.