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The Trevor Holder Selection

Good morning from the Trop. I'll update everybody on the Manny watch a bit later this morning. In the meantime, consider this a brief detour; I'd meant to post this yesterday. I wrote a bit about Trevor Holder, the team's curious third-round pick. At the bottom, you'll see a Q&A (conducted on Friday) with acting GM Mike Rizzo.

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On Tuesday night, more than a dozen men in the Washington Nationals' scouting department weighed the possibility of using their third-round pick on a college senior named Trevor Holder -- a possibility even Holder himself didn't think was conceivable. Baseball America hadn't even ranked the senior right-handed pitcher among its top 200 prospects. A year earlier, he'd been drafted in the tenth round. But he returned to the University of Georgia, started 15 games, went 7-5 with a 4.48 ERA. On Tuesday night, when the draft began with the first three rounds, Holder was watching the NBA Finals.

Here's what Holder didn't know:


He didn't know that acting GM Mike Rizzo, no longer under the influence of Jim Bowden, saw in the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Holder the exact pitching model he adores: A big body, a gritty competitor. (Brandon Webb and Micah Owings are archetypal Rizzo pitchers.) He didn't know that the Nationals had ranked him within their top 40 overall players. He didn't know that Washington's four crosscheckers, as well as Rizzo, each saw him as a future starting pitcher.

"We were pretty unanimous on him," Rizzo said. "The debate we had was to see if we could gamble and wait to the fourth round and get him. Every [scout that saw him] stamped the guy as a big-league starting pitcher. Everyone in our room. Big-league starting pitcher... And if you like a guy and he's a big league player, you just take him. Why gamble? Because I asked the question: I said, 'Are you gonna throw the pen if he gets taken before our pick comes up in the fourth round?' 'Yeah.' Well then let's take him. That's kind of the litmus test."

On one hand, Holder was a discount selection. Seniors, without the negotiating leverage of juniors or high schoolers, typically accept deals that include below-slot signing bonuses. And on Friday, Holder did just that. He agreed to a contract that included a $200,000 bonus; the previous year, pick Nos. 80-82 all signed for between $490,000 and $525,000.

On the other hand, however, Holder's selection reinforced the tenets of Washington's -- and Rizzo's -- scouting philosophy. Holder pitched in the best conference in the country. The Nationals, who'd tracked Holder since high school, had five years of information on him. Under Bowden, Washington often preferred the unknown -- high schoolers, players you could project as something great. Under Rizzo, Washington likes a track record. This year, seven of the team's first 10 picks were college players. In 2006, before Rizzo joined the organization, the team's first six picks were high schoolers.

"[Jim] liked those high-ceiling, toolsy guys," Rizzo said. "I like them, too. But I like them in a certain round."

Holder, before the draft, suspected Nationals might select him; the organization's Georgia-based scout, Eric Robinson, kept tabs on him with more frequency than anybody else in baseball. It's just that Holder didn't think he'd get picked so high.

"You know, I was just extremely excited, and shocked, honestly," Holder said. "I felt like I won the lottery, honestly. It was the coolest thing in the world. I just wasn't expected it at all. I had an idea I would go somewhat early, but no idea it would be in the third round."

Said ESPN.com's Keith Law, "Nobody saw him as that type of pick."

While finishing his junior year, Holder developed a minor case of shoulder tendinitis, that caused his draft stock to slip. Pre-injury, in 2008: The Nationals had him listed within their top-30 on the draft board. Post-injury: They removed Holder entirely, and he ended up getting picked by the Marlins in the 10th round -- an opportunity he turned down. Back in school as a senior, Holder had an uneven season. But Rizzo sounded OK with that. Good outings show a player's potential. Bad outings cast light on a player's make-up.

"I know what I'm getting out a guy with all that history," Rizzo said. "I've seen him when he's been bad, I've seen him when he's been great, and I've seen him when he's been somewhere in between."

---

Q: OK, I'm curious to hear about the Holder selection.

We had him in our top 30 last year. He hurt his shoulder. But we had him up high on the list early in the season, and he developed tendinitis in his shoulder two weeks before the draft. So we all backed off, and he went in the [tenth] round. But we did the medical research on him and all that stuff, we saw him pitch a lot this year, and we like the kid. He's up to 94 mph. He's got a good breaking ball. He's got a good sinker. He's a guy that we think has a chance to be a rotation starter. He's a big, physical guy from the best conference. We've got good history on the guy.

Q: How much history do you guys have?

Oh, it goes back five years. Since his high school days.

Q: So you feel like you know what you're getting with him?

Absolutely. We know him like the back of our hand, and we feel really comfortable with him.

Q: Now I'm guessing you didn't see him personally this year.

No.

Q: And in the past?

I saw him last year. And we liked him last year, but we took him off our board because we didn't have enough information on his shoulder.

Q: So he was, just to be clear -- he was in your top 30 last year?

Yeah, on the preseason list before the injury that's where he was. He was in that top 30.

Q: Was he one of those guys where there was a lot of debate about? Because some people seem to think he's a lesser player.

This year?

Q: Yeah.

We were pretty unanimous on him. We all saw him, we all liked him. The debate we had was to see if we could gamble and wait to the fourth round and get him, but he was a guy we really wanted. I always say this: Every [scout that saw him] stamped the guy as a big-league starting pitcher. Everyone in our room. Big-league starting pitcher. And the guy we were debating to take instead of Holder, I thought it wasn't a great gamble, because out of the two guys Holder, everyone knows better. He's been a good performer in the SEC. He's a college senior. People had seen him for too long and he'd had too much success to roll the dice. And if you like a guy and he's a big league player, you just take him. Why gamble? Because I asked the question: I said, 'Are you gonna throw the pen if he gets taken before our pick comes up in the fourth round?' 'Yeah.' Well then let's take him. That's kind of the litmus test.

Q: The other player you were considering instead of Holder, what was his profile?

He was a college junior. A pitcher. We decided that we liked this guy better. That's why Holder was ahead of this other guy on our board. We take 10 days to put the board together. It's a painstaking process, so we might as well honor it.

Q: Holder was high on your board. Like, top-40.

Exactly. Yeah.

Q: This was your first draft without Jim [Bowden]. Were there any ways in which your own philosophy shined through more this year?

I think -- maybe in a very small way. But the last two drafts, I more or less ran both of those drafts, with Jim's input. Jim would always have his input. He liked those high-ceiling, toolsy guys. I like them, too. But I like them in a certain round. You know, I've had a lot of success in the draft with the way I like to draft.

Q: Does Holder kind of exemplify something you really like?

Yeah. He's everything I like in a pitcher. He's a big, physical guy. He's got a good arm. He's had good success in the best conference in the country. He played in the Cape and had success there. He just turned 22. And in the big scheme of things, once you get to the big leagues nobody cares about that [advanced age].

Q: I know you like those big pitchers. Is a guy's track record -- seeing him over numerous years -- also something you value? Kind of like, the more you see, the better your chances are?

Definitely. I know what I'm getting out a guy with all that history. I've seen him when he's been bad, I've seen him when he's been great, and I've seen him when he's been somewhere in between.

Q: And can you learn something about a guy when you see him get roughed up a bit?

Yeah. Exactly. There's no doubt about it. There's no doubt about it. Some of these pitchers, the first time they get roughed up they go into a hole, and those are guys you don't want to take -- believe me.

Q: What about all this emphasis on character? It seems like that's the second word out of everybody's mouth, talking about all these guys. Is there a new emphasis on this? Is it kind of like, Hey, we need to make sure we have the right guys in this organization?

There's no doubt. We didn't just start that, either. Since I took over, specifically, we're weeding out the guys we feel don't fit that. Because you know what? When we're ready to be really good -- not just be competitive -- but when we're ready to compete for championships, to do that you've got to have good-character people. They're not all choir boys. But when the game is on the line, what's gonna happen? Hustle plays. Alberto Gonzalez [a few days ago]. Zimmerman running hard down the line. Those are the plays that win games. You can't quantify them on a scoresheet. But they win you games like that. And when you don't do that -- when you walk a guy to start the ninth -- little things help you lose games.

Q: OK, so you interview a guy, he puts his best face on, says all the right things. But how do you know? How do you really know what he's like?

It's your instincts. It's been scouting for 28 years. And you know what, they can't lie to you on the field. That's when you see the real thing. The body language. What you do when nobody's watching -- except I'm watching. (Laughs.) Situations, I'll stick around. After a practice, and you're seeing a guy taking 20 minutes of taking double plays because he needs work on it. That type of thing.

Q: So when you're putting together the board, where does character come in?

It's equal to how fast you can throw the ball. How fast you can run. How far you can hit. It's one of the five things we look at when we judge a player.

Q: Going back to Holder, do you have a sense of who this guy is?

I think we know. He's a gritty performer. He's got the stuff. He's 90-94 with sink. He's not afraid. But beyond that, we've seen him battle. We've talked to him, we've talked to his coaches, we've talked to people he lived with in the Cape. He's a quality young man, and it's a big part of it.

By Chico Harlan  |  June 14, 2009; 10:32 AM ET
 
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Comments

Chico - Thanks for the detailed interview regarding Holder and the character-focus of this year's draft.

Posted by: Brian_ | June 14, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I second the thanks from Brian.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 14, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

There's nothing wrong with digging the guy. However you could have gotten him 1, 2, 3 or even 4 or more rounds later. That's the rub. No one was breaking this guys door down.

This pick makes absolutely no sense in the third round. It's absurd. And BTW Rizzo and the Nats scouting dept hasn't shown anything special to anyone to suggest that they know more than all the other scouting institutions.
So they haven't earned the benefit of any doubt.
This looks like a completely ridiculous pick at this level. No matter how they spin it.
Just more of the same.

Posted by: dovelevine | June 14, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

With all of the dollars they are saving in these below slot deals, they are increasing the requirement to get Strasburg signed (if that was at all possible).

Posted by: Brian_ | June 14, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Seriously how does anyone have any faith in this team to sign Strasburg. This team is crippled with paralysis. They can't even fire their manager in a normal timely manner.

Boras will have them running from the table quivering with their tail between their legs looking happily forward to next year's makeup pick where they can grab a another 10th rounder in the first round and sign him on the cheap. Why did these folks even buy the team?

Posted by: dovelevine | June 14, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Well, this makes sense to me - but I still think that Mr. Rizzo and his scouting department know more than this blog population does. After just 3 years of ownership the guys they have brought in look excellent to me.

Patience. We'll be remembering these times as those that tried our souls. What fun it is to have baseball here.

Posted by: dand187 | June 14, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

>> What fun it is to have baseball here.Posted by: dand187

Are we having fun yet?

Posted by: dovelevine | June 14, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

BTW let's not forget this team forfeited its number 1 pick last season over $500,000. That's right-- half a million-- they gave up the best right handed pitcher in the draft. Way to draw a line in the sand. And you peeps think they'll fork over the amount of millions that Scott Boras will be asking for? Really? They'll pay in excess of 15 mill when they wouldn't pay half a mill?
Really??

Posted by: dovelevine | June 14, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Dove

Exactly what has Rizzo done which has indicated paralysis? And what missteps have we made since the firing of Bowden?

Sure you can argue Manny should have gone sooner, but if we fire him now, or in July or if we'd fired him in May, it makes no difference to the team as a whole.

I'm not being aggressive, I would just like your analysis.

Posted by: soundbloke | June 14, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

"And BTW Rizzo and the Nats scouting dept hasn't shown anything special to anyone to suggest that they know more than all the other scouting institutions.
So they haven't earned the benefit of any doubt."

I would say Rizzo earns a lot of benefit of the doubt for his years in Arizona, where he was director of scouting and basically built that team. Rome was not built in a day. Neither were the DBacks, and neither will be the Nationals.

Posted by: nunof1 | June 14, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Patience is always a wise admonition. But why are the Nats' minor league organizational rankings going backwards over the years? Why is the major league club going backwards? Patience is fine, as long as some forward progress is discernible. When Baseball America starts saying encouraging words about the Nats' minor league and major league systems, then it will be time to start feeling much better about the Nats. Then we can have the patience.

Posted by: EdDC | June 14, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I'd withhold basing too much on the records of the minor league affiliates. The focus their is player development and then winning. It does not necessarily make sense from a macro level but the Nationals are more interested in how individual players are improving (or regressing). Pitchers are working on pitches (and learning how to be pitchers vice throwers). Hitters are working on developing an approach at the plate (pitch identification, situational hitting, etc).

That being said, the Nationals farm system is still lagging. The problem is the system has seen another shift in culture in just five years. From the bare bones Expos management to the Bowden toolsy player focus to Rizzo's new ideas of character as one of the more important tools. And if Rizzo isn't the ultimate choice at the end of the GM search, we will likely see another approach.

Posted by: Brian_ | June 14, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Rizzo did a fine job with the D-backs and I have faith he'll do it here.

However, the rub is the cheapskates backing him. If they don't provide the dollars to sign legit players to the ML roster and draft picks then Rizzo's efforts don't mean squat and won't work.

Posted by: Section505203 | June 14, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

There are guys that make the All Star game chosen in the 3rd, 4th and 5th rounds.

A guy named John Lannan was an 11th round pick!

Conversely, there are plenty of duds chosen in the 1st round!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | June 14, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Just to be clear about it, the organizational rankings of the MLB clubs (which show the Nats slipping toward the bottom in all of MLB in their overall organizational system) are not based on W-L records, but are based on the improvement and talent of prospects, regardless of W-L records.

How many Nats' prospects show up in the top 100 of baseball? Not many.

Anyway, I would like to see Baseball America and the three or four others who do these rankings give the Nats a little credit for just moving in the right direction (up not down), even if the improvement is very slow. I would love to start believing the Nats are on the right track.

Posted by: EdDC | June 14, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I understand your point and agree with it to a certain degree.

The only thing I keep in the back of my mind is that the high praise the Nationals received after the 2007 season seemed way too rosy. They were better but not #30 to top 10 better. I figured they were a 17-20 team back then and given the injuries/performances of 2008, a slide into the 20s is not out of the question.

The problem the Nationals face (will continue to face) is that they can only improve through draft picks. They realistically don't have the major league pieces to deal for premium guys. Nick Johnson, Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn might return mid-tier guys but nothing close to what Texas got for Teixeira or Baltimore for Bedard. And their international focus had to be razed and re-established, so internationally they are well behind where they should be.

The idea of a quick turnaround were/are untenable. The move to a consistent top 10 minor league organization is still a few years down the road.

Posted by: Brian_ | June 14, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Brian:

Are the Nats' hands really all that tied? I know they want you to believe that.

Sign your top draft picks.

Draft the best player available (not under-slot guys, unless they really are the best available)

Sign some international kids in the big bucks range (over 100K). The Nats don't do that. They did have to revamp their international operations after the Smiley disaster, but how does that translate into not signing the 100K guys like the other clubs do?

Trade for guys who make decent salaries. Trade them later for prospects. Or if you keep them, then you get top draft picks, including sandwich draft picks, when their contracts expire.

Sign some free agents, and trade them for prospects. Or reap the draft picks when they sign elsewhere after their contracts expire.

All of this doesn't take as much money as is generally supposed.


Posted by: EdDC | June 14, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Sign your top draft picks.

I agree 100%. I don't want to revisit the pointless debate about 2008. Each person has selected their side and there is no point trying to sway them.

Draft the best player available (not under-slot guys, unless they really are the best available)

This is the unknown unknown. Storen was not as much of an overdraft as some of the experts suggest. The lack of a safety net on the #10 made that pick almost a lock it was going to be signability. They could not afford to lose a top ten pick. If anything, that should help teams realize that using the compensation as an out on negotiations with early picks is very dangerous. With a pick in the 40-60 range, you can be a bit more firm in negotiations but counting on recouping comparable value in the following year with a top 20 pick could very well be an impossibility.

Sign some international kids in the big bucks range (over 100K). The Nats don't do that. They did have to revamp their international operations after the Smiley disaster, but how does that translate into not signing the 100K guys like the other clubs do?

The problem with the international market is that the Nationals cannot truly re-enter that market until July 2 of this year. The players still out there now are either too old or have too many questions. They've added some younger players (18-19) in the DSL and pared away a large portion of their older players (20+) but no real progress can be made there until July of this year.

Trade for guys who make decent salaries. Trade them later for prospects. Or if you keep them, then you get top draft picks, including sandwich draft picks, when their contracts expire.

Who would they trade for these players? I agree that this has value in rebuilding but what team is going to deal away its decent priced players? Especially since the Nationals realistically have little to offer. And the gaming of the picks is a double-edged sword, they need to be sure the player is going to reject arbitration. And given the economy, that is not certain.

Sign some free agents, and trade them for prospects. Or reap the draft picks when they sign elsewhere after their contracts expire.

They can also do this, but it has to be players who don't require draft pick compensation, because that defeats the purpose of building the depth through the draft.

Posted by: Brian_ | June 14, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

where are the lineups?

Posted by: sammoMD | June 14, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the best news of the day:

Bryce Harper, according to MLBtraderumors.com has enrolled in a JUCO in Nevada and will get his GED, so he will be eligible to draft with the first pick in the draft in 2010. Let the countdown begin.

Posted by: jfromPG | June 14, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Lineups according to MASN:

Harris, 3B
Johnson, 1B
Zimm, DH
Dunn, LF
Dukes, CF
Patterson, RF
Gonzalez, SS
Bard, C
Hernandez, 2B

Posted by: jfromPG | June 14, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Rizzo is a good scout. Period. If it was easy to pick talent, then there would be a no 1 pick pitcher in the hall of fame by now.

Drafting is a "black swan" activity. I like that they decided on Trevor Holder and went for him, all other "experts" be damned.

Seriously, Baseball America is just another group of mortals. If they were right all the time, then it wouldn't be necessary for teams to hire scouting staff.

Posted by: nattydread1 | June 14, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Brian_,

Are you saying the Nats have done all they should and could have done over the past 3 years of Lerner ownership? Are you saying that a team playing under .275 is the best that we can expect from this franchise given 3 years to build after the sale? On the minor league level are you saying that the player development and drafting and signing of players has been as effective as it could be? I am confused as to your points? Either all this mess is merited or it is not. If it is not then their must be something that should have been done differently right?

Posted by: JayBeee | June 14, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

If there has been an orginizational philosophy to date, it seems to have been draft arms, buy bats. That gets you depth in pitching, but gets you hitters, not players.

Look at the current 25/40-man roster; RZim (Draft-'05), Bernadina (Int'l-'01), Montz (Draft-'06), & Maxwell (Draft-'05) are the only "players" who have been acquired directly by the Nationals orginization.

The fly in the ointment is that buying players (via either FA or trade) has a team ending up with flawed players; good glove - no bat, fair glove - weak bat, good bat - no glove. That's what we're currently dealing up with on the roster.

It's irritating, perplexing & frustrating for the fans of this team, but it is what it is.

Posted by: BinM | June 14, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Are you saying the Nats have done all they should and could have done over the past 3 years of Lerner ownership?

Nowhere did I say that. No, they have stumbled multiple times. They erred in retaining Jim Bowden after they took over. They erred in not firing him after the 2008 season. They erred in the whole Crow situation. They erred in the fiasco in the Dominican Republic.

Are you saying that a team playing under .275 is the best that we can expect from this franchise given 3 years to build after the sale?

Nor did I say that. This is on the shoulders of the Lerners ultimately for retaining Bowden. Bowden had no idea how to construct a roster and these are the results of his blueprint.

On the minor league level are you saying that the player development and drafting and signing of players has been as effective as it could be?

I did not say that either. There are issues there and as I mentioned earlier, the Nationals are now on their third point of view organizationally in five years. The thing you have to realize is that it's impossible to grade the ultimate player development ability today. Two years is not enough. Three years is not enough. It's a long process and while results to date are not fantastic, I can't say without question they have failed

This mess right now is to be laid at the feet of the Lerners (and Lasten). They have made mistakes and unfortunately it is going to take time to fix the issues

Posted by: Brian_ | June 14, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Jaybee,

I don't speak for Brian, but in reading his analysis, I don't believe he is excusing the Nats at all nor saying this is the best that can be done. In fact the first two questions you ask are not entirely relevant to the analysis he offered. What we should be asking is "how do the Nats get better?" Brian makes a good point on the minor league and drafting system when he says the culture has changed and if Rizzo is not hired is poised to change again. I trust Rizzo a great deal more than Bowden and am optimistic things will get better. No sense trolling through the past.

Posted by: jfromPG | June 14, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

"Lasten"....nice touch....thanks for clearing up your view. I for one do not have the patience for a whole new redo for this organization. If that is the case then I want Lerners and Lasten to admit they cased the problem and apologize to the City and fans; lay out a new plan where they get out of the decision making process and truly spend as they promised.

Posted by: JayBeee | June 14, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

That's helpful in understanding the Holder pick. But really, we've all been told repeatedly that MLB front offices are all over the board on their top 100 players. A guy can be top thirty on NY's list and fifty slots lower on Boston's. It's not that one scouting report is so much better than the other. It's that they're looking for different things.

That's the Moneyball message: different clubs can win through different strategies. Billy Beane wanted hitters who got on base and figured he could come up with a top closer anytime he wanted. The O's during the Weaver years went overboard for guys who could produce the fabled 'big inning'. Whitey Herzog teams were built for speed and defense, not power. Those Atlanta clubs that won the division every year were designed around pitchers who threw strikes, changed speeds, and stayed off the disabled list.

What they had in common was they won, and pretty consistently.

Thanks for a look into Mike Rizzo's strategy.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 14, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Or a typo, "k" and "l" being next to each other on the keyboard.

---

"Lasten"....nice touch...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 15, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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