July 17, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals first round draft pick Lucas Giolito in the dugout before a game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Nationals took a risk on a highly-regarded pitcher who suffered an elbow injury before the 2012 Draft, but now right-hander Lucas Giolito appears ready to make his pro debut.
As 2012 Washington Nationals' 1st Round pick Lucas Giolito's father Rick told it in a recent episode of Baseball Prospectus's Up and In Podcast, his son was throwing a 75 mph fastball by the time he was 11 or 12 years old. Lucas took a year off from Little League ball at that point and stuck to traveling teams because he threw too hard, lacked control and occasionally hit and injured other kids. A day before he turned 15 in 2010, at an All-Star Game before his sophomore year at Harvard-Westlake High School in California, Giolito threw a fastball that hit 92 mph on the radar. A scouting report from the 2010 Area Code Games by the Baseball Analysts' Rich Lederer noted that the right-hander's fastball was, "... consistently hitting 91-93 and touching 94 on at least one occasion," though the report also mentioned that Giolito, "... was wild with his entire repetoire [sic] of pitches."
As a 16-year-old in the Area Code Games in the summer of his sophomore year, Giolito hit 93-94 and dialed it up to 96, catching the attention of both college and MLB scouts as the 6'6'' right-hander recounted in an article that August.
The Harvard-Westlake right-hander was (9-1) with a 1.00 ERA, three shutouts, four complete games, 76 Ks (9.73 K/9) and 28 BBs (3.58 BB/9) in 70.1 innings as a junior setting himself up over the course of a few years as one of the top prep school arms in the country. In his senior year, a week before he suffered a strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, a Baseball America report on Giolito said he'd hit 100 mph on the radar gun. It was during his next start that Giolito would suffer the season-ending elbow injury that resulted in him going from a potential no.1 overall pick to the biggest question mark at the top of the 2012 Draft. The right-hander fell to the Washington Nationals with the 16th overall pick and the Nats, as the pitcher's father explained in the Baseball Prospectus' podcast, impressed the father and son with their knowledge and history of working with and rehabbing elbow injuries.
When the Nationals drafted Giolito, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters that they were comfortable taking the right-hander in spite of the injury. "We weighed the risk against the reward," the Nationals' general manager explained. "We felt that to get a 6'6'', 220lb right-handed pitcher with a great body and plus velocity and good stuff, great character and great makeup, we've been on this guy from day one, and we just felt that the reward outweighed the risk and we did our homework and our due diligence on his health and his makeup and decided this is the type of player, the type of stuff and the type of ceiling that we want here in the Washington Nationals' organization."
"I saw him several times last summer," Nats' Assistant GM Roy Clark said, "Up to 98 [mph] with a plus breaking ball and real good change up... 6'6''... again, a top-of-the-rotation guy that you can get at 16? Our doctors' reports, everything was fine. It was a no-brainer for us. Hopefully we get him signed and get him out in a Nats' [uniform]."
"The elbow is good," Rizzo stated confidently on the night of the draft, "He's been throwing on flat ground. He's been long-tossing and doing a throwing program so we feel confident about [his health] and he feels confident about it and we'll see once we get our hands on him [and get him] in our uniform we'll see where he's at." The Nationals had dealt with this sort of thing before. "We're going to put our best foot forward" the GM said the day of the 2012 Draft, "and try to sell him on our place here in Washington as the place that will get him the healthiest and get him the best opportunity to do what he wants to do and that's to pitch in the big leagues."
The Nationals' approach worked. When the Washington Nationals' representatives met with Lucas and Rick Giolito, the father explained on the Baseball Prospectus podcast, the Nats, "... were prepared to talk to us about how they handle guys with elbow problems because they have a tremendous amount of experience doing that and, you know, I was convinced that if he went to the Nationals he would be well taken care of."
But the family was comfortable with Lucas going to UCLA too, where the right-hander had made a commitment, and as the Nats' 1st Round pick's father explained, he was sure, "If [Lucas] stayed healthy he would come out no.1 in three years."
"But," Rick Giolito said, "the thought was, 'What if?' What if everything's going well, he's come back, he's pitching his freshman year, pitches his sophomore year and then he goes into his senior year and this happens again? What if his second or third or fourth or fifth start or his last start of his senior year he hurts his elbow again? Well, we're back to square one and we're going to have to go through this again. And at the end of the day, and I told [UCLA baseball coach] John [Savage], I said at the end of the day, we could just not live with the three years of the fear of that possibility happening."
The negotiations went down to the last minutes before the July 15th deadline with Nats' GM Mike Rizzo admitting afterward that, "[There was] a time there that we thought that it was a possibility that it wouldn't get done." According reports from both the team and player the deal was officially agreed upon with just 30 seconds to go before the deadline. "[Giolito] was the coup of our draft," Rizzo told reporters after they'd signed a $2.925M dollar deal, "And we thought that he was a big-time prospect that fell to us at [no.] 16 and to get a guy that we had so far up the board at 16 and then to get him signed. We feel really good about it."
"He'll report to Florida and begin his minor league career," the Nats' GM said, "He'll be on a rehabilitation program and we'll hope to ramp him up to pitching competitively very soon."
When the Nationals introduced their top pick to the D.C. press corps several days after the deadline on July 17th, Rizzo explained further what the future held for the just-turned-18-year-old right-hander. Giolito said at the time that he hadn't yet started throwing off a mound. "He's leaving for Viera, Florida tomorrow," the Nats' general manager said, "To start his professional career." Giolito would go through a progression Rizzo explained, "... from flat ground and long toss to getting on the mound and hopefully [seeing] some competition if not during the regular season [then] in the instructional league."
MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr spoke to Nats' Director of Player Development Doug Harris for a July 31st article in which Mr. Harris reported that Giolito was, "... building strength in his arm. He is making progress. Hopefully, he will be mound-ready soon." The right-hander's father wrote on Twitter in the first week of August that Lucas had thrown off a mound. "35 pitches FB/CB/CU. Says he's really letting it go: 'felt really gooood'. So it's great!'" This past Friday, Rick Giolito tweeted news that probably came as a surprise to some who'd passed on the pitcher at the top of the 1st Round of the 2012 Draft:
Before the elbow injury there was talk that Giolito could be the first prep school pitcher taken no.1 overall. In a Washington Times' article by Amanda Comak quoting a scouting report by ESPN.com's Keith Law, the writer described Giolito, "... as perhaps the only pitcher in this draft who has true No. 1 starter upside." The Nationals gambled with their first round pick because they believed his upside was worth the risk. There's no official word from the team yet that he'll pitch in Tuesday's game. He's listed as active on the Gulf Coast League Nationals' roster. The Nationals and Cardinals are scheduled to play this week as per the Tweet, but they play on Wednesday not Tuesday. One day this week, we'll see when, it appears likely that the 18-year-old right-hander will start his professional career.