There was not a lot of buzz surrounding the Nats prior to last year’s MLB Draft, as they didn’t have their first pick until the end of the second round (68th overall) due to the Rafael Soriano signing. This year, they’ll be back in the middle of the first round, a range that treated them well in 2012 (Lucas Giolito, 16th overall) and 2011 (Alex Meyer, 23rd overall).
The 2014 draft class is a bit strange, as no true consensus top pick exists. HS LHP Brady Aiken, NC State LHP Carlos Rodon, HS RHP Tyler Kolek and HS C/OF Alex Jackson seem to be the ones in the running, but there is no chance in hell that any of them reach the Nats at 18th overall. There is no player in the draft that is a slam dunk superstar, and it instead is a melting pot of high risk/reward guys, high floor/lower ceiling guys and pitchers battling through injuries or recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Because there isn’t even a consensus for the top few picks, I haven’t a clue who will even be on the board when the Nats pick rolls around. Many “expert” mock drafts project the Nats to chase one of the college righties who had Tommy John surgery in May: Jeff Hoffman (ECU) or Erick Fedde (UNLV); I’m trying to decide for myself if these so-called experts are being lazy and shuffling these guys off to the Nats just because of their recent good history with prospects having TJ surgery, or if they are actually geniuses suggesting the Nats grab excellent value in exchange for missing a year of development time. Some other names being thrown around include prep infielders Jacob Gatewood and Michael Chavis as well as college bats such as Derek Fisher, Michael Conforto, Casey Gillaspie and Kyle Schwarber.
Here are a few names you might see (presented in alphabetical order):
RHP Tyler Beede – Vanderbilt
2011’s 21st overall pick spurned the Blue Jays to go to Vanderbilt. Despite not improving his mediocre command over his three years in school, Beede will probably be drafted higher in 2014. His fastball is his best pitch, hitting up to 96 with last-minute action, and his change/curve both have potential to be solid, but there are just too many if’s with his mechanics and command for me to be excited about him. He has a chance to last to the Nats at 18, but I feel like he’ll probably go beforehand.
IF Michael Chavis – Georgia HS
If Chavis was 6’2” instead of 5’11”, I bet he’d be a top 10 pick. He’s got a smooth swing and good pop for a relatively smaller guy, but could have tremendous power if his frame had more meat to it. The comparison doesn’t match up perfectly, but I kinda equate him to a Rendon type of player (albeit not quite as good of a hitter); he has a nice all-around game with his hit tool standing out the most, but with similar question marks such as “can he play the middle infield?” and if not, “will he develop enough offensively to play 3B?” I think he’ll be at least league average at 3B defensively, and see him as a safe pick as high school hitters go, but he does not have the upside that a guy like Jacob Gatewood has. Chavis is regarded as a likely mid-to-late 1st round pick and will likely be on the board when the Nats pick.
OF Michael Conforto – Oregon State
Would you be happy with a Lucas Duda type in the first round? If so, Conforto may be your guy. I think he’s one of the safest options to be a major league player in this draft, with solid hit and power tools to pair with good plate discipline, but he’s a minus defensively. If his ability to get on base remains solid, I’ll give him a chance in my mind to be better than Duda, but right now he’s typecast as him to me. I’d say there’s about a 30% chance he drops to the Nats.
RHP Erick Fedde – UNLV
Largely seen as a top-ten pick before tearing his UCL in early May, Fedde is the lesser of the two college righties missing the rest of the 2014 season as they recover from Tommy John. I like his 1-2 punch of fastball and slider, but it is hard to succeed as a big league starter without an average or better third pitch. I won’t be upset if the Nats grab Fedde at 18, but more than likely if they take him, they’ll have passed on at least a handful of guys who I have higher on my board. Fedde is regarded as a mid-1st round pick and will potentially be on the board when the Nats pick.
LHP Brandon Finnegan – TCU
Finnegan is not your typical “safe” college pitcher; he’s small (5’11”) and has battled through shoulder troubles this season (although he apparently has a clean MRI now), but has advanced command and three solid pitches already. If he’s healthy, he could be in the big leagues as a reliever very quickly, but long-term, I like him as a number three starter given his three good pitches and strike zone aura. Finnegan is regarded as a mid-1st round pick and will potentially be on the board when the Nats pick.
OF Derek Fisher – UVA
There’s more offensive upside in Fisher than your typical college hitter, with 35 HR potential if he can hit lefties at higher levels. He’s got a nice swing in general, but occasionally struggles with his motions. Like Conforto, he won’t be a very good defensive outfielder, but his bat has the potential to more than make up for it. You know I hate to say this, but the Nats did pretty well with their last UVA first round pick. He’ll likely be on the board when the Nats pick.
SS Jacob Gatewood – California HS
If a Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton or Yasiel Puig type of game changer comes out of this draft, my money is on Gatewood. He’s got huge boom/bust potential, with excellent power but a poor feel for hitting at the moment. He struggles repeating his mechanics and has timing issues, but those problems are at least coachable. If he can prove to make contact at a decent rate, 40 HR seasons are on the horizon. In a draft that doesn’t feature an insane amount of upside, Gatewood is one of the few with the chance to be a superstar (but not without the downside of working at the supermarket in a few years). He is regarded as a late-1st round pick by most, but it would not surprise me if one team loves his potential and grabs him earlier; still, I’d say he’ll likely be on the board when the Nats pick.
1B Casey Gillaspie – Wichita St.
The brother of White Sox corner infielder Conor Gillaspie, Casey looks like a major league 1B already at 6’4” and 240 lbs. With advanced strike zone command (40 BB/20 K this year) and ability to make solid contact, the switch hitting behemoth looks to be a safe bet to become a big leaguer. Commonly said knocks on Gillaspie include his lack of huge power upside and inability to play anywhere but 1B, but with a big frame like his, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him develop more power. He could randomly go as high as the top 10 to a team that wants to reach for a safe guy, but again, I think he’ll be on the board when the Nats pick.
RHP Jeff Hoffman – ECU
Hoffman is being bundled with Fedde due to them both having Tommy John surgery, which simply isn’t fair to the ECU righty. There’s a lot to like with Hoffman, starting with a lively mid-90’s fastball and continuing to a bat-thrashing curve. At the moment, Hoffman has solid control and a decent change, but needs to work on his command, as he tends to miss his spots but stay inside the strike zone too much. Without his injury, Hoffman would have been in the running for the #1 overall selection, and seems to be a lock to be chosen before the Nats’ pick; I’m guessing he goes no later than the Blue Jays’ second pick, 11th overall.
C/1B/OF Kyle Schwarber – Indiana
Currently a catcher, Schwarber has excellent power upside but an overall batting package that needs to stay behind the plate to justify a first round pick (even if he is mediocre defensively). I like his ability to get on base, but worry about his strikeout potential as well, and don’t see him being much of a baserunner at 6’0” and 240 lbs. Still, if a team can carve a competent defensive catcher out of Schwarber, he’ll be your #1 fantasy catcher each year. Part of me wants him to go to the Rockies just to see if he can hit 40 HR as a catcher (obviously unlikely). He should most likely be around when the Nats pick.
RHP Touki Toussaint – Florida HS
There’s a lot of boom/bust potential in Toussaint, as he has a high performance fastball and a slippery curve but not much else at the moment. If he can harness those two pitches with better command and further develop his change, he can be a stud, but there’s a lot of risk involved. He’s also committed to Vanderbilt, who seems to hold on to their drafted recruits very well. Nonetheless, I doubt he’ll last to the Nats pick, as he seems to be gaining a lot of helium going into the draft.
OF Bradley Zimmer – U of San Francisco
To me, the younger brother of Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer is the most intriguing college hitter in the draft. Currently, he’s an above average defensive outfielder with a solid chance to stick in CF long-term. Zimmer could use some help with his swing mechanics, but has solid contact/plate discipline and a 6’5” 205 lb. frame that just screams power development. He’s all over the place in the “expert” mock drafts, but seems to be falling and could be in the Nats’ range at 18th overall.