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Will Nationals Choose Youth or Experience With No. 5 Pick?

There hasn’t been a whole lot to get excited about for the Washington Nationals this season, as some young players like Josiah Gray and Luis Garcia have made strides at the major league level, but most veteran players on the roster – including Juan Soto – have struggled throughout most of the first half of 2022.

The team will continue to get younger at next month’s Trade Deadline, but their most impactful young player will likely be added via the MLB First-Year Player Draft Sunday night.

The Nationals own the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, and it’s the highest pick they’ve had since selecting Bryce Harper first overall in 2010. With their top pick, they’re almost certain to select a position player for the second consecutive year (Brady House in 2021). Last season was a departure from their typical approach, which had been to select a high-risk, high-reward pitcher. I discussed Washington’s recent draft history last year, and NexGen Nats offered a harsh but fair critique of the team’s failures in the first round since 2012.

This time around, they won’t really even have the option of taking a pitcher, because this year’s group is rather subpar.

The consensus top two prospects in this year’s crop are outfielder Druw Jones and shortstop Jackson Holliday – both of whom are sons of long-time, highly productive Major Leaguers (Andruw Jones and Matt Holliday). Beyond that, there’s less agreement within the draft community. However, there’s a group of four players from whom Washington’s selection seems most likely to come.

Outfielder Elijah Green- IMG Academy (FL)

Green seems to be the No. 3 prospect in the eyes of most experts. The 18-year-old, right-handed hitting Miami commit is the son of former NFL Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green. He stands at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, and he grades as above average in every major scouting category, most notably power and speed – even in spite of his size. In fact, he’s expected to stick as a center fielder as a professional. There’s some swing-and-miss in his game, especially against offspeed pitches, but he’s made strides in that area this spring/summer, and it’s hard to find another flaw in his skillset.

Much like House, Green is a high schooler, so the Nationals would develop him slowly. He likely wouldn’t appear in Washington sooner than 2025, yet the upside is obvious. They’ll need a couple teams to make mistakes for him to be available at their selection, though.

Infielder Termarr Johnson- Mays High School (GA)

Much like Green, Johnson is a youngster. Unlike Green, there’s a good chance that the Nationals will have the opportunity to select him if they so choose. He profiles as a less flashy player who likely has to shift from shortstop to second base, but can hit any pitch. He’s drawn some comparisons – albeit likely too lofty – to Wade Boggs and Vladimir Guerrero Sr.

The left-handed hitting Johnson is only 5-foot-10 and is currently committed to Arizona State, where Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler once co-manned the middle infield. Those are two former players whom he profiles similarly to, and Washington could do much worse than that type of player. The greatest case against him might be Luis Garcia, especially if he can’t stay at shortstop.

Infielder Brooks Lee- Cal Poly

Lee’s profile is fairly similar to Johnson, with one notable exception: he’s older. He currently plays shortstop, but a move to third base isn’t out of the question – and seems likely. Lee is a 6-foot-2, 205 pound switch-hitter who has advanced bat-to-ball skills, batting .351 and slugging .647 in his three collegiate seasons.

Interestingly, Lee is the son of a coach, and scouts believe that’s reflected in his play. He’s viewed as virtually mistake-free with a high likelihood of being a very productive player for years to come.

For what it’s worth, Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline polled 27 insiders, and the majority opinion was that the Orioles will select Lee at No. 1 overall, opting to save money to allocate it to later selections. That’s one of the bizarre nuances of the MLB Draft, but it’s an approach that Orioles General Manager Mike Elias has taken recently.

Catcher Kevin Parada- Georgia Tech

This is the name that shows up the most in mock drafts, but makes the least sense – although it’s widely reported that the Nationals have done extensive homework on him. Parada draws high marks as a hitter, projecting as a likely .280 hitter who can hit at least 20 home runs per season. He’s a good pitch framer, but his arm strength and accuracy fall clearly short of incumbent backstop Keibert Ruiz.

That’s what makes this proposition so puzzling. Unless the Nationals would look to trade either him or Ruiz, Parada would almost certainly need to switch positions. That’s not unprecedented – Bryce Harper is a prominent example of someone who made a change following his amateur career. The likely defensive struggles this would create might cap Parada’s upside, especially since he doesn’t run well. He is a very solid hitter, so if Green is off the board and the Nationals want to stick with Garcia and House up the middle of the infield, Parada could be their best pivot.

My Pick

A few other names to know – although I’d be surprised if they selected any of them – are infielder Jacob Berry (LSU), second baseman Jace Jung (Texas Tech), third baseman Cam Collier (Chipola Junior College), and outfielder Gavin Cross (Virginia Tech).

The most likely selection seems to be Kevin Parada, but he wouldn’t be my choice. The Nationals will almost certainly have two of Elijah Green, Termarr Johnson, Brooks Lee, and Parada available at their pick. That’s precisely the order I would prioritize them in.

Given the state of the rebuild, which I believe will take some time to get through, I’d favor high-upside high schoolers over high-floor college bats. I believe Green’s ability to hit for power and play a premium defensive position gives him the highest ceiling beyond Jones and Holliday, and I see Lee as a better hitter than Parada at a position they’re more in need of.

Whoever the selection is, he’ll have a spotlight placed on him immediately, given the importance of this pick. I’ll provide a detailed analysis of the No. 5 pick – and perhaps a couple other Nationals selections – next week.


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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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