A day before the Washington Nationals drafted LSU outfielder Dylan Crews with the No. 2 pick, Manager Dave Martinez said he would tune in to watch what the team did with its potential franchise-changing selection, but he seemed more intrigued with what General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff would do following that choice.
“I’m more apt to watch the next couple of picks after we get back up,” Martinez said. “Those guys are going to be just as important as the first guy being that we’re rebuilding right now. So those are the guys that I’m kind of interested to see how things line up.”
For the Nationals, hitting on picks later in the draft could be just as vital to their rebuild as the success of Crews. Washington again focused on college players Monday in Rounds 3 to 10, using seven of its eight picks on them. The lone high school selection was Travis Sykora, a right-hander taken in the third round out of Round Rock, Tex.
In all, the Nationals have used nine of their first 10 picks on college players — seven hitters and two pitchers. After selecting Crews, the Nationals added third baseman Yohandy Morales out of the University of Miami with the 40th pick Sunday to open the second round. On a Zoom call with reporters Monday, Morales admitted he fell further in the draft than he expected. But he said he is excited to join the organization and reunite with Crews, with whom he grew up playing.
“I feel like Washington got two of the best college hitters in the draft, if I’m being honest,” Morales said.
Morales hit 20 home runs while batting .408 this past season as a junior with the Hurricanes. Morales does have a propensity for swings and misses, something he admitted he needs to work on. He also said he wants to improve his defense at third base, where he believes he can stick. Third base is crowded in the Nationals’ farm system — 2021 first-round pick Brady House and 2022 third-round choice Trey Lipscomb play there.
The Nationals opened the second day of the draft by taking Sykora with the 71st pick. Mark Baca, the Nationals’ assistant director of scouting, said Sykora had been on the team’s radar for a few years. Kris Kline, the Nationals’ assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations, said Sykora was a first-round player going into 2023, but he had some issues with his delivery.
The 6-foot-6 Sykora, 19, is listed at 220 pounds; his fastball averages in the upper 90s and has touched 101 mph, Kline said. His arsenal is completed by a what Kline called an “above-average slider” and a splitter that Kline said he will probably scrap in favor of a traditional change-up.
“We did a super job, everybody in there, making our [bonus] pool money work to the best of our ability,” Kline said. “And that kind of translated into three first-round picks at the top of our draft, so it was a good day. Good first two days for us.”
The Nationals added college bats over the next four rounds. Outfielder Andrew Pinckney of Alabama and shortstop Marcus Brown of Oklahoma State were selected in the fourth and fifth rounds before one of Crews’s LSU teammates, second baseman Gavin Dugas, was chosen to open the sixth. Then the Nationals added Lamar’s Ryan Snell, a finalist for the Buster Posey Award, which is given to the best collegiate catcher. Kline said Sunday night that it was an “unusual year” for the depth of college hitters.
Pinckney and Dugas were high performers at SEC programs. Pinckney hit .245 with a home run and 11 RBI in his first season of 2021, but this year he clubbed 18 home runs and added 58 RBI while increasing his batting average to .339. Baca said he could have huge power potential with a few minor swing adjustments. Dugas, who was part of LSU’s national championship team this season, hit .295 over his last three seasons while showing some pop with 41 home runs; Kline compared him to three-time all-star Dan Uggla.
The Nationals also added two college arms Monday: Iowa left-hander Jared Simpson (eighth round) and Vanderbilt righty Thomas Schultz (ninth). They finished the day by drafting Phillip Glasser, a shortstop from Indiana, in the 10th round.
Outside of Sykora and Brown, every other pick on Day 2 was a college senior or graduate student. Kline and Baca were confident all of their picks will sign.