WASHINGTON -- In 2009 and last year, the Nationals had the first overall picks in the First-Year Player Draft. It was a given they were going to select right-hander Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper, respectively.
This year, it's not known who the club will select, for it has the sixth and 23rd picks in the Draft's first round on Monday. The Nationals were able to get the extra first-round pick because first baseman Adam Dunn was a Type A free agent and signed with the White Sox this past offseason.
Since moving to Washington after the 2004 season, the Nationals have a reputation of focusing on pitching in the Draft. Chances are, the game plan will remain the same.
"Obviously, it's a little different," said scouting director Kris Kline. "Last year with Bryce, it was kind of a slam dunk we were going to take him. I think everybody knew that he was obviously the best player, but this year it is a little different. We are trying to find six guys or more that we really like over the course of the year. We have accomplished that. We have the names that we want in line."
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following@MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
General manager Mike Rizzo and his staff, led by Kline, have scouted amateur players who could be part of the organization. Rizzo declined to say who the club will pick in the first round, but he has an idea which players he would like to select.
"I would rate this Draft without an elite No. 1 -- that's safe to assume -- but it is probably as deep a Draft with power arms and impact players," Rizzo told the media Wednesday before his team played the Phillies. "There's a cluster of pitchers that have above-average stuff. There's several pitchers that throw 95 to 100 miles per hour, and that was hard to say in the past couple drafts."
"We always go with the most impactful player, whether it's a college pitcher, high school pitcher, college player, high school player. What ceiling gives us the most comfort level that we'll get a really good impact player?"
While Rizzo and Kline declined to say who the Nationals were looking at in the last week, a baseball source indicated that they were looking at pitchers such as left-hander Danny Hultzen, right-hander Dylan Bundy, outfielder/right-hander Bubba Starling, left-hander Jed Bradley, right-hander Trevor Bauer and right-hander Alex Mayer.
"The arm strength, power and repertoire of pitchers this year is much deeper than I've seen in the last five or six years," Rizzo said. "Two years ago was the Strasburg phenomenon because he threw 95 to 100 with secondary stuff and command. We see several pitchers this year with that type of velocity. Now Stras was a unique package, but there are some guys out there with great stuff who will be quick to the big leagues and can be upper-rotation guys."
In about 50 words
Rizzo, Kline and the rest of the staff are currently in Washington to rank the best players in the Draft. Rizzo has kept the plans a secret. The last two years, it was known before the Draft that the Nationals would select Strasburg and Harper as the No. 1 overall picks.
"I think it's safe to assume the sixth pick in the country will be a guy I have seen," Rizzo said. "And probably the 23rd pick will be a guy I've seen. But there's a possibility that doesn't happen. It depends on how the Draft falls and if a player gets plucked before us."
In MLB.com's first mock draft, the Nationals were projected to take right-handed pitcher Archie Bradley, from Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma.
It's not known what the Nationals are thinking with their 23rd pick. They need bats. It would not be a surprise if they picked a power hitter with the pick.
Nats' recent top Draft picks
While the pitching is getting stronger in the organization, the Nationals also need to look at hitters. Most of their good hitters, such as Harper, are in the lower Minor Leagues. They could take a bunch of hitters in the later rounds.
"We are always looking for bats," Kline said. "There are some bats that we like a lot in this Draft. There are 29 other teams, so no matter how you look at it, it's the luck of the draw. We could always get better. We are trying to put a team together in the big leagues that the fans and the organization can be proud of."
Rizzo and Kline always say that they will take the best player available in the Draft, but they always seem to select a lot of pitchers in the Draft. It would not be a surprise if that were the case this coming week.
When he was sent to Minor League camp this past Spring Training, Harper said he would be in the big leagues by July. However, Rizzo recently said that Harper will not play in the Majors this year.
Harper is playing for Class A Hagerstown. In 50 games, Harper is hitting .331 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He is playing mostly right field, though he has seen action in center field and will see time in left field soon.
If he does get promoted, Harper most likely will be headed to Double-A Harrisburg. There isn't a timetable on when the promotion will happen.
In order to get the promotion to the next level, Harper must continue to show that he can make adjustments against left-handed pitching, and improve his defensive and baserunning skills.
Slowly, players from the 2006 Draft are inching closer to the big leagues. First, it was reliever Cole Kimball. Now, look for right-hander Brad Peacock, who is having his best season in professional baseball. Entering Thursday's action, Peacock was 7-1 with a 2.03 with Harrisburg. Even more impressive, Peacock has 82 strikeouts and 13 walks in 62 innings. If he continues to be successful, Peacock could be in the big leagues sometime next year.
In The Show
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was the team's second-round pick of the 2007 Draft. He has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and is expected to be one of the top pitchers for years to come. Lack of run support is the reason Zimmermann has a losing record this season, despite his respectable 3.88 ERA.
Zimmermann is expected to throw around 160 innings this season before being shut down. Zimmermann and Strasburg, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, are expected to be a 1-2 tandem in Washington's rotation next year.