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With the No. 11 pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Washington Nationals selected shortstop Brady House from Winder-Barrow High School in Georgia.
House, a University of Tennessee commit, doesn’t fit the description of the typical Mike Rizzo first-round pick – a right-handed college pitcher who throws hard and has tons of upside. Perhaps they made an active effort to steer away from a negative trend with those types of prospects, but regardless, House is an intriguing talent.
In their early years, the Nationals had a lot of picks near the top of the draft, which makes their track record somewhat deceiving. They selected Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010) with No. 1 overall picks, followed by Anthony Rendon at No. 6 ten years ago. Since then, they’ve been unable to draft star players.
Here’s a look at Washington’s first-round selections since Rendon:
Now you see the patterns, don’t you? Five out of Washington’s most recent seven first-round selections (prior to House) were right-handed pitchers, and four out of the seven picks were collegiate players – who are generally viewed as more big league-ready, and therefore likely to help a playoff contending team sooner than a high schooler.
This draft tendency has extended into the second round and beyond, as well. In total, Rizzo’s second pick has been a right-handed pitcher in five of the nine drafts from 2012–2020, headlined by Dane Dunning out of Florida (a compensatory round selection, which takes place between the first and second rounds), and all nine of the selections were collegiate players.
Here’s the problem. How many times has this approach worked for the Nationals during this span? In my 2021 minor league season preview, I discussed the lack of impact the Nats have gotten from players they have drafted(at right):
If we also eliminate Zimmerman and Strasburg from this discussion, we’re left with Fedde, Voth, and Stevenson – for all of whom the jury is still out. They deserve some credit for Voth, who was a fifth rounder, but they haven’t gotten what they were looking for from Fedde or Stevenson yet – although Fedde has made strides this season, albeit as a 28-year-old who entered the season in a fight to even make the big league roster.
It’s not entirely fair to include Giolito or Dunning as failed selections, but since both were parts of the trade package for Adam Eaton, neither have provided the Nationals with any direct value – although Eaton’s contributions shouldn’t be discounted.
Cavalli – a rapidly rising prospect in the organization and within the context of prospects across the league – obviously can’t be evaluated in terms of big league contributions yet, either.
The trouble is with everyone else. Kieboom and Stevenson have become stuck as “Quadruple-A” players (overqualified for Triple-A, but overmatched by major league competition). None of their second-round picks from 2012–14 are in affiliated baseball anymore, and nearly all the rest of their early picks have had their careers interrupted – if not effectively derailed – by injuries, typically to throwing arms and often requiring Tommy John surgery.
That’s part of what makes House so intriguing. Rizzo broke away from the norm and selected a big-time bat. House is as high of a pick as the Nationals have had since Rendon, and although he’s currently a shortstop, he will likely transition to Rendon’s position – much like the Nationals have tried with Kieboom.
Here’s what the experts at MLB.com say about him:
“House entered the summer as the consensus top prospect and most famous player in the 2021 high school class. He left it with a bunch of question marks after struggling mightily at the plate, though he performed better at the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in the fall and has been terrific this spring, especially in an April matchup against Dylan Lesko, the top high school arm in the 2022 class. He's a potential top-five pick and likely won't get out of the top 10.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds with plenty of strength and bat speed, House looks the part of a power hitter and has well-above-average raw pop to all fields. But after showing the ability to crush good velocity and handle quality breaking balls in past years on the showcase circuit, he got excessively aggressive and his right-handed stroke got longer and slower. Since learning what happens when he sells out for home runs, he has made adjustments, shortened his swing and gotten back to doing damage.
An average runner, House likely will move to third base in pro ball but may be athletic enough to stay at shortstop. The Tennessee recruit should be at least a solid defender at the hot corner and possesses a plus arm that can pump fastballs up to 96 mph off the mound. Scouts compare him to a more athletic version of Joey Gallo or 2018 Cardinals first-rounder Nolan Gorman.”
House was the site’s No. 8 draft prospect. He draws comparisons to some of the elite third basemen in the league, including Nolan Arenado (Cardinals) and Matt Chapman (Athletics), both of whom hit for elite power and are Gold Glovers.
As great as House looks, and as realistic as it seems that he’ll be a productive major leaguer, there’s a lot of pressure on him to deliver, and his contributions may play a large role in determining the fate of Washington’s front office.
It’s not all on House’s shoulders, though, nor does this year’s draft end with him. Rounds 2–10 will take place on Monday, beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET, and rounds 11–20 will take place on Tuesday, beginning at noon ET.
In terms of names you all might recognize, left-handed pitcher Andrew Abbott from the University of Virginia, MLB.com’s No. 51 prospect in the draft, is among the players speculated as a target for the Nationals with their second pick. Washington has had success with players from UVA, including Zimmerman and former closer Sean Doolittle, and the school also has a strong track record for producing quality major leaguers.