Finally back in town, I was following the team from afar. I noticed that almost all of the attention in the area was focused on the signing of Bryce Harper, which was important. There was focus on what guys in the clubhouse said about him as well, which was probably less important. And yes, the most important thing was getting him signed. But there were some other significant signings, including guys like AJ Cole and Sammy Solis. These were not just late round signings, they are guys that people project to be major league quality starters.
According to ESPN, “Cole is one of the most projectable pitchers of the top high school arms in this year’s draft, flashing 96 or 97 in some outings this spring, but offering the potential of more consistent plus velocity and a better breaking ball down the road.” MLB.com puts his fastball lower, around 92-94, and notes the strength of his power slurve. ESPN also notes that, “If you want a projection arm in the first round, he’s probably the top such arm in this draft, but you’ll have to buy him away from a strong commitment to Miami.” MLB.com projected that he’d be one of the first high school pitchers drafted. So he is basically one of the best high school pitchers (Keith Law ranked him #25 overall) and the Nats paid to get him to stay. Cole was a 4th rounder, available so late because people didn’t think they could sign him. The Nats did end up giving him a record amount for a 4th round pick – $2M.
Another high school pitcher (from San Diego, played one year in college due to injury), this one is a lefty. He is a mature starter that has some good offspeed pitches and throws his fastball in the low 90s. He isn’t afraid to double and triple up on his good changeup, and has very good command with decent stuff. He is projected to move relatively quickly through the system, coming out of his sophomore year in college. Solis, their second rounder, was signed for $1M.
It’s not often that we talk about a 12th round pick, except years later when the occasional one makes it to the majors and everyone laments how they passed over him. He’s got good command and a mix of three pitches according to MLB.com, and his high-80s/low-90s fastball has natural movement. They also wrote, “he does have the potential to throw three Major League average pitches for strikes. He needs to clean up his delivery more… When he’s locked in, though, he’s got the makings of a solid middle-to-back-of-the-rotation type.” They gave Ray close to $800K, which turned out to be the second most money of anyone signed after the fourth round.
Overall it Looks Good
Keith Law declares the Nats a winner after signing day, and has alot of great things to say:
Yes, they overpaid for A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis and especially Robbie Ray, but they got two first-round talents in Cole and Bryce Harper, plus a fairly quick-moving left-handed starter in Solis, and Ray will show above-average raw stuff on his better days. That’s the bulk of their draft, outside of a few relievers and extra players. One I do like is Tyler Hanks, a reliever on Harper’s junior college team who hit 95 mph for me with a sharp slider. I’m not a Rick Hague fan, as he put on weight before his junior year, had to move off shortstop, and continued to swing and miss at average stuff.
This isn’t the cheap Lerners, at least not in this part of the season. They weren’t afraid to pay, even overpay, to build this farm system. Its not the same thing as having a $120M payroll, but maybe they are doing what some of us have believed all along – waiting until the right time to spend the money. Perhaps we’ll see this offseason, if they fill in some holes with some strong free agents.