Nationals adjust to drafting in middle of pack

Because the Washington Nationals have drafted so well in recent

years, they’re going to have to adjust to picking in the middle of

the pack.

Washington has the 16th overall selection in Monday night’s

major league draft, their worst position since 2003, when they had

the 20th choice.

Picking Stephen Strasburg with the top pick in 2009 and Bryce

Harper at No. 1 in 2010 was easy. Finding a gem at 16 isn’t nearly

as simple.

”It’s a lot less clear, the type of player we’re going to

get,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday. ”You put together a

list, and the next guy that’s on the top of the list is the guy

you’re going to take.”

There’s no telling who the 15 teams ahead of Washington are

going to select, so Rizzo and his staff have no choice but to watch

and wait.

”It’s hard to plan,” he said. ”We’ve done all the backgrounds

and all the work on about 1,110 players in the draft. We’re going

to rank them 1 to 100 and going to take the best player available,

like we always do.”

Such is the price of success. By drafting in the top 10 in six

of the last seven years, the Nationals built a team that went 80-81

last year – an 11-game improvement from 2010. Washington began play

Sunday in first place in the NL East, thanks greatly to former top

picks Strasburg, Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler.

”We’ve built the whole ballclub on the draft,” Rizzo said.

”Scouting and player development is the reason for all 40 guys on

the roster, either by trades, trading players in the system or by

drafting and developing the guys we have in the system. It’s the

backbone of any organization. It’s a cliche, but it’s clear-cut:

When we started scouting and developing players better, we became a

better team on the major league level.”

When it comes time for Rizzo to make his first selection he

won’t be looking to fill any particular position, even though the

Nationals could use a few good arms in their minor league


”That’s not how we do business in baseball,” he said. ”That’s

more conducive to football and basketball, that kind of draft. We

need to build a base and we need depth. If an impact type player is

available at a position you have great depth at, you still have to

take that player because things change quickly here. ”

Even though the Nationals don’t have a high pick, Monday night

won’t be any less exciting for Rizzo, who was director of scouting

for seven years before coming to Washington in 2008.

”Personally, it’s my favorite time of the year,” he said.

”(Monday) is Super Bowl Sunday for the draft people, the day we

put it all together. It’s a big day for the scouting department and

a big day for the Nationals because as we’ve seen here, who you

draft has a direct correlation on how good you are at the major

league level.”