Photo by Eric Dearborn
Lucas Giolito might have been the No. 1 pick this year if not for injury concerns.
If healthy, the Nationals believe Lucas Giolito compares favorably to Roy Halladay.
Giolito, however, is not necessarily healthy. A potential No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, the right-hander from Santa Monica, Calif., saw his stock plummet as questions about the state of his throwing elbow came into question throughout his senior season.
In the end, the Nationals chose potential reward over risk, confident enough in Giolito's arm to make him the 16th overall pick in the country Monday night.
"A top-of-the-rotation guy that you can get at 16?" assistant general manager Roy Clark said. "Our doctor reports were [that] everything's fine. It was a no-brainer for us."
It may have been a no-brainer for the Nationals, but those injury concerns were enough to scare off 15 other clubs who had the opportunity to draft Giolito and passed. The full extent of that injury isn't clear -- GM Mike Rizzo described it as "a strain of his elbow" -- but the Nationals say they had full access to his medical records and plan to have their own doctors examine him before putting him on a mound as a professional.
"We did our homework and our due diligence on his health and his makeup," Rizzo said. "And we decided this is the type of player, the type of stuff and the type of ceiling we want here in the Washington Nationals organization."
There's no question about Giolito's potential. Already 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds at 17, he went 9-1 with a 1.00 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings this season at Harvard-Westlake High School.
Giolito's repertoire includes a fastball that has reached triple digits, a power curveball and a changeup that scouts believe will be an effective pitch at the big-league level.
Does that sound like any current All-Star?
"A good comparison might be Roy Halladay when everything's clicking," Clark said. "So we'd take that."
Clark and scouting director Kris Kline first saw Giolito pitch last season, when his fastball consistently hit 98 mph. They noticed a dip in velocity this year, though he was still throwing 96 mph.
"You could tell something wasn't quite right," Kline said. "But we stayed on him. When he's 100 percent, he goes top three in this draft, so it's kind of a no-brainer."
Giolito has continued to throw off flat ground since his high school season ended and is currently throwing long-toss from 220 feet.
The Nationals have shown a willingness before to take flyers on players with medical questions. Last year they selected third baseman Anthony Rendon and left-hander Matt Purke; each dealt with shoulder issues during their final season at college.
Giolito has committed to UCLA, so the Nationals will need to convince him to sign, and they'll have to do it under MLB's new rules that set a cap for draft signing bonuses. The Nationals are allowed to spend a total of $4.4 million on their top 10 picks; if they go over by even a small amount, they'll be subject to taxes and the potential loss of future picks.
The Nationals also have a limited window to sign Giolito (who is advised by the same agency that represents Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen and John Lannan) with MLB's deadline moved up to July 13 from August 15.
Giolito is only the third high school pitcher drafted by the Nationals in the first round since the franchise arrived in Washington. The only others: right-hander Colton Willems (2006) and left-hander Josh Smoker (2007).