For MLB draft, Nats do their homework

For MLB draft, Nats do their homework
June 3, 2014, 10:00 am
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The Washington Nationals will have to wait 17 picks before they are on the clock at No. 18 in this Thursday's draft, but just about all of the hard work has already been done. Forget just going back to last year's draft, scouting prospects for the Nationals is a process years in the making.

General manager Mike Rizzo gave some insight into that inexact science over the weekend, sharing some of the methods the Nationals and other teams around baseball employ to put together a scouting report.

As you can imagine, it's quite extensive.

"We better know everything about that player," Rizzo said. "We've seen these guys for a number of years. The area scouts are the anchor of our scouting department. They know the ins and outs of every player in their territory. We have the health histories, the psychological testing, and a myriad of other checkpoints before we consider taking a player."

Medical records and psychological testing? You bet. They even go to the players' high schools to dig deep into their past.

"The area scouts get the information any avenue that they can get it," he said. "They go through the process of getting the medicals and doing background checks. They are always investigating. They will go to high school guidance counselors to high school teachers to find out about the player. There's a lot of digging and a lot of groundwork that goes into the draft."

The area scouts the Nationals employ comb the United States for major league talent. All year long they are driving from stadium to stadium, flying from city to city, all in search for the next big thing. After all, over 1,200 baseball players get drafted each year, depending on compensatory picks. There are 40 rounds and the Nationals have to have a player in mind each time their pick comes on the board.

"There's a specific calendar," Rizzo explained. "We have all of our area scouts come in individually for face-to-face meetings. We get their take on what their area is and then they'll go out to see the conference tournaments and then the college regionals and all the high school showcases, right towards the end of the draft, to get a final health check on where the guys are."

Rizzo came up as a scout through the Chicago White Sox organization and was later in charge of scouting with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His father, Phil, was a scout for the Angels. It's in Rizzo's blood, and he still enjoys evaluating talent.

Rizzo, in fact, still goes on scouting trips. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes Rizzo will go out on the road to give a final stamp on a certain player. Usually it's with guys who are near the top of the team's draft board, ones that assistant GM and vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline has singled out.

"The parts where I actually get out to look at some high school players, some college players, is enjoyable to me. It brings back a lot of good memories for me," Rizzo said.

"We sneak out below the radar. I go out and see a specific amount of players that Kris Kline wants me to see. It's a kind of tiebreaker, if you will, on specific players. Mostly the upper echelon guys we are considering in the first couple of rounds. It's an active time."

Rizzo and the Nationals front office have put in endless amounts of time evaluating the current MLB draft class. But though it's years in the making, things obviously start ramping up as the first day nears.

Last week the Nationals began officially transitioning into draft mode. They had evaluators come in to meet with top front office executives as they form their draft board.

"We've had our crosscheckers, our scouting directors, in here this last week. We've ramped up starting to get the board together. We've been in there countless hours this past week. Hopefully by Thursday we'll have our Ts crossed and our Is dotted, and be ready to pull the trigger when our time comes."

The 2014 MLB Draft begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday with the first two rounds taking place on the first night. The Houston Astros hold the No. 1 overall selection for the third consecutive year.