"It's a lot less clear the type of player that we're going to get," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said Sunday afternoon in a quick conversation with reporters about the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft which takes place tonight starting at 7:00 pm EDT. "Picking in the middle of the pack [16th overall], it's kind of, we put together our list and the next guy that's on the top of the list is the guy you're going to take." In the three years that Rizzo has been the GM of the Nationals, the Nats have had the no.1 overall pick twice ('09 and '10) and three 1st Round picks last June. This year there's just the 1st Round pick [16th] and the Nationals don't pick again until the 80th overall pick selection comes around.
"We're going to do all the work. We've done all the backgrounds and all the work on about 1,100 players in the Draft and we're going to rank them 1-to-100 and we're going to take the best player available."
The new rules for the Draft that were agreed upon as part of the new CBA limit the amount of money teams can spend on their picks. According to Baseball America's reporting, the Nationals spent $11.5M+ on signing bonuses in 2009, $11.9M+ in 2010 and $15M+ in 2011 and those totals don't count money guaranteed in Major League deals. There are no more major league deals under the new rules, and other changes to this year's Draft include the introduction of draft bonus pools, prescribed slot bonuses and significant fines and penalties in the form of taxes and potential loss of future draft picks for exceeding the prescribed totals. According to Baseball America, the Nationals have a total bonus pool of of $4,436,200 that they can spend this year without incurring any penalties, and there's a recommended bonus of $2,125,000 for the Nats' first selection this year.
According to the Nats' GM, however, the changes haven't really altered the Nationals' approach to what Rizzo routinely refers to as the most important day of the year. "It hasn't impacted us one bit," the general manager said, "We're going to take it as we always have. We're going to put the board together, ability-based and we'll do our due diligence on health, makeup, signability of the players and we're going to pull the trigger and pick the best player available."
Rizzo told reporters that, of course, the rule changes regarding the amount of money teams can spend, "... will certainly change the way we've done business in the near-past," when the Nationals signed record-setting contracts with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and gave well-above-slot deals to pitchers like A.J. Cole and Matt Purke, but as the GM explained, "It goes down to getting the right player in each of the right spots and now it's more important to have a great scouting staff rather than being less important."
Especially for a team that's rebuilt the entire organization through the Draft.
"We've built the whole ballclub on the draft," Rizzo explained, "Scouting and player development is the reason for all 40 guys on the roster. You look at the ballclub and either our regime or the regime before us has put almost every player that we've got on the team as a National, be it either by trading people in your system or by drafting and developing the guys that we have. It's the backbone of any organization. It's cliche, but you look at our situation here and you look at the way we've done our business, it's a clear-cut case that when we started scouting and developing players better we became a better team on the major league level."
The strategy for this year is simple according to the Nats' GM. "We're going to go best player available," Rizzo said. "We need to build a base and we need depth, and if an impact-type player is available at a position that we have great depth at, we still have to take that player, because things change quickly here, because the players that you're drafting aren't immediately going to help on the major league level, so you need to create depth and the best way to create depth is with guys that you feel give you your best chance to have an impact player and we're going to draft with that in mind. Best guy available, best impact possibility there."
"Personally, it's my favorite time of the year," Rizzo continued, "Tomorrow's Super Bowl Sunday for the draft people. We've been hard at work here in the 'War Room' for about 12 days. The scouts, the cross checkers, the scouting director, Roy Clarke, Kris Klein, they've been on the road on a daily basis for about eight months, and tomorrow we put it all together and it's a big day for the scouting department and it's a big day for the Nationals, because as we've seen up here, who you draft has a direct correlation to how good you are at the major league level."
"There's a lot of good high school arms out there," the one-time scout and former D-Backs' scouting director said, "There's a lot of talented college players out there and we feel that we've got a good lineup of players that potentially could help the Nationals on the board and it's time to pull the trigger and get some guys to help the Nationals win." The Nats' GM said he's personally seen and has an opinion on 35-40 prospects eligible for this year's draft, the rest of the work has been done by the staff Rizzo assembled when he officially took over as the GM.
"They're a hard-working staff," Rizzo said, "We feel that we've got as good or better [a] scouting staff than anybody in baseball, the staff that we handpicked three years ago, and to me, it's more important now to have top flight scouting staff than it has been in the past." The one other big change this year is the fact that the signing deadline has been moved up from mid-August to mid-July, but not even that is a big deal for the Nationals' GM. "A deadline's a deadline," Rizzo concluded, "If it's July th, August 15th or the day before the [next] year's draft like we've had in the past. The deadline's there to get the players signed or not, so July 15th will come and we'll know where we're at with all of our signings."
"I think it's a refreshing thing," Rizzo said, "We'll get our new signs out and playing in the minor leagues this year, which will be good."
The Nationals estimate that they'll make their 1st Round pick at 8:30 pm EDT at the earliest. Rizzo will meet with reporters again at that point to talk about the player the Nationals make their top pick.