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The Nationals' draft plot thickens

For a while now, I've harbored a deep suspicion the Nationals would ultimately use their No. 1 overall draft pick this June on someone other than 17-year-old catcher Bryce Harper. It was an educated hunch, based on a few facts:

1. Multiple scouts have told me he had not separated himself from the rest of the elite class of No. 1 contenders, the way Stephen Strasburg did a year ago.

2. Some scouts have said they don't project Harper as a catcher, long-term.

3. Harper is being advised by Scott Boras, and has more negotiating leverage than Strasburg did a year ago, since Harper has the option of going back into the draft up to three more times if he doesn't reach a deal with the team that picks him.

4. I read this feature on Harper, who temporarily ended his media blackout to tell the Las Vegas Review-Journal that, at one point earlier this year, he was "second-guessing" his decision to speed up his draft timetable by taking the GED and starting his college career early. Normally, I would applaud such honesty and defend Harper to anyone who wanted to question his "makeup" based on that quote. But when we're talking about $10 million-$20 million at stake, I'd say those questions are fair.

5. The Nationals aren't rich in position-player prospects, but they do have a catcher-of-the-future in Derek Norris, widely regarded as one of the top catching prospects in baseball.

6. If the Nationals truly believe they can contend in 2011, as it appears they do, it would make sense to take a more advanced, older prospect, particularly a pitcher.

So if not Harper, then whom? As of a couple of weeks ago, my money would have been on LSU right-hander Anthony Ranaudo -- but that was before Ranaudo was sidelined with elbow soreness that still has not subsided. If Ranaudo returns healthy and effective, he could come back into the No. 1 picture, but teams are understandably wary of elbow injuries when it comes to first-round picks, let alone overall No. 1s. (Little-known fact: As a high schooler out of Connecticut, Ranaudo was picked in the 11th round of the 2007 draft by the Texas Rangers, whose east coast crosschecker -- and a guy who pushed for the Rangers to pick Ranaudo -- was Doug Harris, now the Nationals' director of player development.)

One other drawback regarding Ranaudo: He's also being advised by Boras.

Beyond Ranaudo, the top draft-eliglble pitching prospect is said to be Texas high schooler Jameson Taillon. Two problems there: No high school right-hander has ever been taken with the first overall pick. And Taillon is being advised by the Hendricks brothers, who were responsible for the Aaron Crow fiasco in 2008.

Meanwhile, the next-best collegiate pitching prospect is said to be Georgia Tech righty Deck McGuire, who, aside from having a great baseball name, also owns a 2-0 record, 0.82 ERA and 25-to-3 ratio of strikeouts to walks this season.

On the other hand, to bring this post full-circle, perhaps we're guilty of trying to outthink ourselves here. Perhaps the answer is staring us in the face. Here is Harper's stat line through his first 20 games at the College of Southern Nevada: .408 ave., 6 HR, 20 RBI, .500 OBP, .831 SLG. (And that's with a wooden bat, mind you.)

Oh, and Harper has also been playing some center field -- which, we're fairly certain, the Nationals' scouting department is well aware of.

It's gotta be Harper.

But check back with me in a couple of weeks.

By Dave Sheinin  |  March 12, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
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Next: Stephen Strasburg's magic number: 158 innings pitched


Yeah, it's gotta be Harper. McGuire would be more ready to contribute than high-schooler, but do we really think the Nats would use the No. 1 on another pitcher? He'd have to be a real standout.

As for his position -- Harper was never gonna be a catcher. Never mind the wear and tear on catchers. His hits too well to only play 120 games....unless he's gonna play outfield on his "off" days...

If he stays healthy, Norris is the Nats catcher of the future. Harper was take on outfield spot. So long as they get two or three years with Harper in the field before Strasburg looks at free agency, they'll be thrilled. Maybe Stras will stay? (there's lots of hot yoga places).

Posted by: fischy | March 12, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Clearly Boras is no obstacle. Last year's first pick was signed and he was a Boras guy; I forget the kid's name though. Harper started out hitting around .300, now he is over .400 with wood bats. If he maintains a 1.331 OPS, he'll be the guy.

Posted by: Section314 | March 12, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

That was weird -- I was starting to edit and fix typos, and I swear it posted by itself. Never hit submit....Anyway, I'm sure y'all can figure out what I meant: Strasburg, pitching to Norris, and if opposing players manage to hit some beyond the infield, Harper will snag them and gun down any runners.

Posted by: fischy | March 12, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

If its not pitching then they had better hope that Karns and Holder and their mid-90's fastballs turn out to be "sleepers". Otherwise, I think it has to be pitching ... but Brian does agree with you Adam. Deck McGuire is a Rizzo type pitcher but the high school kid has to be intriguing.

Here again we see how losing Aroldis Chapman put a real crimp in Rizzo's plans. With him they definitely compete in 2011 and make the playoffs. Without him ... I just don't see it.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Get Harper, it just makes too much sense to do it.

Posted by: alex35332 | March 12, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Hmm..... 2011 starting rotation of Strasburg, Lannan, Marquis, Olsen, and Zimmermann? With a resurgent Chico added to Martis, Stammen, and Detwiler in reserve? And an offense that can produce runs behind Morgan, Dunn, Zimm, and Willingham? And Tony Plush stealing base hits in center?

Can they contend in 2011?

Of course they can.

Posted by: outsider6 | March 12, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Clearly Boras is no obstacle. Last year's first pick was signed and he was a Boras guy; I forget the kid's name though. Harper started out hitting around .300, now he is over .400 with wood bats. If he maintains a 1.331 OPS, he'll be the guy.

Posted by: Section314 | March 12, 2010 11:26 AM

Not so sure about that 314....
SS was really out of options and, if he didn't sign, would have been forced to play independent ball before re-entering the draft. He would have lost FAR more money and Boras knew that.
With Harper, he will have the option of returning to school and/or transferring to another program. Just my 2 cents (which I am not sure I can actually afford).

Posted by: TimDz | March 12, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Granted that NCAA teams are using alloy bats (I think composite bats are now banned), many of those kids play in summer leagues with wood bats, so that fact that he's swinging maple/pine/ash/whatever is not a great differentiator. However, those are excellent stats when you take a look at the stats of players in Cape Cod, Cal Ripkin Sr., and other summer leagues. And that's a 17 year old.

Having said that, it's still a JUCO playing other JUCOs. How would his performance translate to a summer league? I've got to think in the top 10%...but is that really Strasburg territory?

Bottom line: it's not going to be the stats, but the scout-on-the-ground analysis, which is right up Rizzo's alley.

Posted by: joemktg1 | March 12, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Harper, Strasburg, Chapman, Weiters....Do you honestly think it matters? They'll all be on the Yankees in 4 years anyway. We're all just their minor league proving ground.

Posted by: dovelevine | March 12, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

outsider6, you forgot Wang. He's as likely as Chico or Olsen to be in the rotation, and if he is, look out!!

Posted by: twinbrook | March 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

You can't say that the Hendricks brothers were "responsible" for the Crow fiasco. They wanted $3.5 million for their starting pitcher (a guy who went 13-0 with a consistent 96 mph fastball, who was voted college pitcher of the year). The Nats were willing to go to only $3 million. Why say the Hendricks were to the ones who were responsible? You could say both sides were, and that would be fine. I wouldn't have a problem with saying the Nats were responsible, since the price to be met was not all that high. It's not like the Nats have high budgets elsewhere in their operations, and need to save on the draft.

Storen signed (for the pick the following year granted as compensation for not signing Crow) for well below slot at $1.6. The budgetary savings could turn out OK if Soren proves to be as good or better than Crow. They are both rated rather evenly on prospect lists at this point. Crow has thrown 3 shutout innings over two games so far, but it's far too early to speculate.

Posted by: EdDC | March 12, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Adam - Boras is an obstacle. He's not insurmountable and he and the Nats seem to currently have a solid working relationship. But as others have pointed out, the options that Harper has now differ from those available to Strasburg last year.

And if the Nats are lacking in position prospects, why not Bryce Brentz from MTSU.

Posted by: comish4lif | March 12, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Will the Nats have proper spelling on their uniforms for all 162 games this year?

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | March 12, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Hmm..... really outsider6? Reminds me of some of the Redskins predictions?

2011 starting rotation of

Strasburg, [YES]

Lannan, [YES]

Marquis [33 year old soft tosser? Livo-like but not Livo],

Olsen [ shoulder still NOT RECOVERED he may be CUT!], and
Zimmermann? [TJ surgery not yet RECOVERED who knows?]

With a resurgent
Chico [Quality starts? Past the 4or 5th inning? TJ? likely relief pitcher]
Martin [Livo really likes this guy but yes TJ again!]
Detwiler [YES}
added to Martis [NO]
Stammen, [Relief Pitcher]

Without one of Holder or Karns they maybe get to .500 or a little past.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

As Boz so aptly put it:

Wang, Olsen, Zimmemann ... love to be wrong but no, you can't rely on these guys ... you may actually have a better chance with "sleepers" Holder and Karns

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Adam - Norris is a top prospect because of his bat not his defensive skills behind the dish. He may in for a position change too, although I would doubt it if Flores spends most of 2010 on the DL.

Posted by: markfd | March 12, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Totally agreeing with periculum on the 2011 rotation.
It could be good, sure.
But it could just as likely be bad.

As for Harper and Boras, TimDz is right, Strasburg had no leverage. Boras waiting until the last minute to sign was obviously the way that deal was going down.
Harper will have more leverage, and is a riskier pick in terms of getting him signed.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 12, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Norris would be ranked higher than Harper if he gains the defensive skills.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe that Nats think they will be contenders in 2011. It is possible but the odds are long against it. IT would only happen if everything goes well like the 1969 Mets.

Dukes would need to become an offensive force, somebody has to replace Guzman at short, will need a second baseman and catcher. That is a lot of questions that need to get answered this year.

Posted by: Pensfans | March 12, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Call me crazy, but after Texeira and now SS, one could make an argument that Boras might have a better understanding about the Nationals than almost any other team. He knows the Nats offered Texeira some big bucks (and helped up the ante for his services) and that they were able to spend record money to sign SS. I no longer see Boras' representation as a negative on the Nationals drafting someone.

Also, you said that 1 of the reasons the Nats might not draft Harper is because some scouts don't see him as a catcher long-term (item #2) and then talk about the fact that the Nats have a long-term catcher of the future in Norris (#5). So, isn't the fact that Harper is not seen as a catcher long-term something that might make the Nationals MORE likely to draft him, not less, since the Nats have Norris?

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | March 12, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Kid should be a junior in high school, he's playing for the #1 ranked Juco team in the country hitting .400 with draft and sign him. We'll contend in '11, won't win it but we'll contend.

Posted by: yodude1 | March 12, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

"Can they contend in 2011?
Of course they can."

Not with Willingham in left and suspect defense up the middle, they can't.

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 12, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Periculum... you prove year in and year out that the sheer volume of one's opinions can't be substituted for actually knowing what you're talking about. Whenever you bloviate, I'm reminded of Kevin Pollack chastising Demi Moore in "A Few Good Men" about the difference between paper law and trial law. Knowing the names of every player in the minors and being able to recite their stats off the top of your head still doesn't add up to knowing anything about the game. It's entertaining -- even comical at times -- but it's not the same as knowing what you're talking about.

Bet you're great at fantasy baseball though.

Something tells me your next comments will threaten me with physical violence. Another reliable standby of yours.

Posted by: outsider6 | March 12, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Sure seems to work for Joe Mauer. Then again, I don't think anyone is predicting this kid to be a Gold Glove catcher, either.

It has to be Harper. Whether they hope to contend in 2011 or 2021, they have to select the guy.

Some of the other issues are negligible. They'll get a compensation pick if he doesn't sign. I don't care what position he plays, either; you can't argue it's a bad thing to have too many good players in your system.


As for his position -- Harper was never gonna be a catcher. Never mind the wear and tear on catchers. His hits too well to only play 120 games....unless he's gonna play outfield on his "off" days...

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 12, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Adam - Why, exactly is the "plot thickening?" There is nothing new in your article. The plot is no thicker now than it was a week ago. Sloppy once again.

Posted by: kfisher32 | March 12, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Its Harper...even if by default. None of the other guys jump out at all. Worst case is Harper doesnt sign, then we get the pick back (#2) the following year.

Posted by: Redskins2Win | March 12, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Best. Player. Available. Period.

Posted by: bottomfeeders10 | March 12, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Before we select Harper let's arrange to have him face Strasburg - see what he can do in five pitches or so - surely Mr. Boras wouldn't mind.

Posted by: lowcountry | March 12, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

The couple of you responding to "Adam": this is Sheinin's post, not Kilgore's.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 12, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter whether he's a catcher or a center fielder or whatever, most of the smart people say you don't draft for MLB need, partly because, by the time a draftee makes it to The Show, it's usually a few to several years later, and you can't ever know what your needs are going to be three years from now.
Of course, even at #1 (nevermind further down the list), they don't get the "best player available," they get "the guy they hope will become the best player available." And even then, best can be relative.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 12, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Maybe we should just trade the draft pick, sofa . . .

Posted by: lowcountry | March 12, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

If I understand correctly, there was a strategic reason for Harper trying to get to the draft now, and not just because he would go number 1. I think the point is that baseball management and existing major leaguers may want to limit the amount of money draftees get, because it takes away from money the major leaguers themselves can get.

Boras wants Harper signed to a huge contract before a new labor agreement goes in place that might limit the payday. If that is the case, it doesn't make as much sense to say Harper has a lot of options.


Posted by: kevincostello | March 12, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Its Harper all the way. Position players of his caliber at such a young age is hard to find. Even if he does not pan out and hit .500 in the big leagues, he looks like a sure bet .300 hitter with power. Just need to work on laying off the curves and sliders (I am talking about the baseball, not women!). Besides, the Nationals should have up to $20 million in hand (from the failed Aroldis Chapman bid) to sign Harper to at least a 10 year contract (just in case if this kid needs at least 4 years in the minor to mentally develop!).

Posted by: JohnWWW | March 12, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

The Hendricks brothers were responsible for the Crow fiasco? Come now. Sure, they come in for their share of blame, but have you ever MET Jim Bowden? And doesn't the player have a role? And the Lerners? The Hendricks brothers also represented Austin Kearns, who signed the the longest term contract the Nationals have given anyone since coming to DC, aside from the Guzman 4-year debacle. So do they get 100% of the credit for making that happen?

Posted by: sbiel2 | March 12, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

And Stan Kasten, of course. How could I forget the guy who stood over the phone at midnight and said, "nope, I walk over 500k because I want to show all the agents of the world what an enormous unit I have." Paraphrase.

Posted by: sbiel2 | March 12, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

+1/2St. - You sir, are absolutely correct. The current CBA/Labor agreement expires in 2011. This could be the last chance for players to ca$h-in off of the Rule 4 draft.

Posted by: BinM | March 12, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Wait, so Stan walks over 500 kilometers? That's pretty impressive, depending on the timeline involved. And as for the size of his unit... What? Oh. Never mind.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 12, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

sbiel2, what an enormous unit you are. Paraphrase.

Posted by: TBCTBC | March 12, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I've always thought that Harper would be an excellent fit in right field. He's got a gun, which would come in handy for nailing guys at third. That keeps Flores/Norris/Rooney on track at catcher and, presuming they re-sign Dunn, it keeps left free for big-bat plodders such as Willingham and Marrero.

Posted by: Drew8 | March 12, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

With the new draft compensation rules, you need to take the best player possible. Especially since it doesn't appear to be a "1A/1B" type of situation - where there is a strong debate as to who is the best player in the draft. If Harper doesn't sign, the Nationals get next year's #2 pick. In the end, the MLB Draft is as much of a crapshoot as anything else - play your best hand and hope for the best...

Posted by: BT23 | March 12, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I know a couple of you mentioned it and Sheinin talked about Harper's 'leverage' because he could go back to college for the next three years, but i'm not buying it. Harper didn't leave H.S. two years early just to stay in JUCO or transfer to a bigger college. He skipped high school so he could be in THIS draft class. Had he stayed in H.S. he wouldn't have been eligible until 2011. Part of the reason he did that, is because there is a possibility that there might be a hard cap on signing bonuses by then, or other tweaks to the draft process that could affect his price tag. If he goes back he's risking that MLB will have a new CBA in place that could limit his bonus. Now there is a chance by the signing deadline he'd know for sure whether or not any changes will happen for future drafts, but he might not. It might not be finalized by then.

Also by going back he loses his personal 'leverage'. Right now he will be a year younger than any High School prospect and 4-5 years younger then the college prospects. If he goes back, then he is the same age as any H.S. prospect (though has the advantages of better competition and wood bats), and only 3-4 years older than the college players. Also remember 2011 projects as a banner draft year, with Anthony Rendon, Danny Hultzen, Alex Meyer, Gerritt Cole, Sonny Gray and Matt Pruke (he will be eligible) all in the mix. And the class is so good that there are even other players in the mix. Harper is by no means a lock to go number 1 that season, even if he has another great year in the wooden bat league.

Now I'm not suggesting the Nats can low ball him and offer him $3 or 4 million. But if Harper thinks he is going to get some record bonus in 2011 he is out of his mind. I'm sure he'll still manage around $7 million+ but he's not going to get $10-15 million in that draft class. Not to mention the fact that he would lose even more money, by losing a year on starting his arb. and free agency clock. Also, until he gives up his amateur status he can't sign major endorsement deals, which is millions more he would be wasting. If he comes out this year he will be the top prospect in raking up endorsements, if he waits a year he will be sharing the spotlight and the money.

We will have to see how it plays out, but I think a ML contract and $10-12 million will get the job done.

Posted by: Steveo11 | March 12, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Hmm..... 2011 starting rotation of Strasburg, Lannan, Marquis, Olsen, and Zimmermann? With a resurgent Chico added to Martis, Stammen, and Detwiler in reserve? And an offense that can produce runs behind Morgan, Dunn, Zimm, and Willingham? And Tony Plush stealing base hits in center?

Can they contend in 2011?

Of course they can.


They joys of playing in the National League

Posted by: dugly2ugly | March 12, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Contending in 2011? Really? This team has has lost over 100 games the last two seasons, and we cannot say we have a projected, solid pitching rotation. I hope I am wrong, but this team is still several years off.

Posted by: BT23 | March 12, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

when talking about contending, I think it prudent to mention if that contention is for the NL East/NL Wildcard spots, or actually winning the WS. I hope none of us are crazy enough to think WS in '11.

Contending to me is actually being good enough come August that we're mentioned for Wildcard and/or NL East winner possibilities. Contending is August and September games that actually have meaning, and are not just playing out the string. Contending doesn't mean we win it, but that we aren't out of it at the All Star break, or worse, May 1st! :)

Posted by: Rogueone | March 12, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I think most folks are unaware of the fact that the College of Southern Nevada plays in a conference that uses wood bats. I saw them play last weekend against the College of Southern Idaho, in Twin Falls. Bryce Harper hit a line drive home run to right center field that didn't appear to get twelve feet off the ground. It was one of those instances where you question if you actually saw what you just saw! Wood bat, seventeen years old, and one of the hardest-hit balls I have ever seen in my fifty years around Baseball.

Posted by: tombartlett | March 12, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

The reason why LSU's Ranauado's Connecticut High School info is a "little known fact" is because it is wrong. Ranaudo went to St. Rose High School in Belmar, New Jersey.

Posted by: BradleyBeach | March 13, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

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