The 2022 MLB Draft long loomed on the calendar for a Nationals franchise that began a drastic rebuild a year ago. It would be their first Draft with the rebuild in mind and they possessed the No. 5 overall pick in deep Draft with several good options at the top of the board.
Considering the No. 1 reason for the demise of the post-2019 Nationals is years and years of botched Drafts, it is absolutely paramount that general manager Mike Rizzo and Co. get this one right. And with no compensation picks, the No. 5 overall pick is going to tell the story of this Draft when we evaluate it years down the road.
So, how did they do?
Round 1 (No. 5 overall): OF Elijah Green – IMG Academy, Fla.
With one of the worst Major League rosters in the sport and a moribund farm system, the Nats decided to shoot for the moon with the fifth overall pick of the 2022 Draft, selecting the immense tools of Green over safer college players on the board. Time will tell if it pays off, but the system badly needed a jolt and Green immediately becomes the face of the farm system. The son of two-time Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green, Elijah possesses the highest upside of any player in the ’22 class and was projected to be the No. 1 pick in the year leading into the Draft. The only knock on him has been his swing-and-miss rate. But he transferred his senior year to IMG Academy to play elite competition and his K rate went down significantly despite the jump in competition. So, the Nats got arguably the best player in the Draft at No. 5. Green is the guy who everyone watches when he steps on the field. The tools are off-the-charts loud. He possesses 40-homer power in a Gold Glove center fielder’s defensive profile, drawing comparisons to the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Byron Buxton. He’ll probably always strike out plenty, but if he can keep it reasonable, he will hit more than enough homers to make it irrelevant. Quite simply, he’s the most electric prospect the Nats have had since Bryce Harper, though he’s not the sure thing Harper was. Green will require patience and it’s valid to be concerned about the Nats’ poor developmental history with a player such as Green. But there is really no ceiling with Green. We’re talking a potential MVP-type player if all goes well. And despite his freakish physical tools and football bloodlines, Green isn’t a football player who plays baseball. He’s a pure baseball player who loves the game and is well versed in its history. He has the requisite swag you want in a prospect of this caliber, but he is a mature kid who also loves to promote his teammates over himself. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Round 2 (No. 45): LHP Jake Bennett – University of Oklahoma
A fellow high school and college teammate of Cade Cavalli, Bennet is a contrast in style. Bennett is a pitchability lefty with good command of a low-to-mid-90s fastball, plus changeup and developing slider. Bennett has fared well against right-handed hitters due to his changeup, but will need to refine the slider to take the next step. While he will never blow you away with his stuff, he presents a tough matchup for hitters thanks to his 6-foot-6 frame with the size to carry a heavy workload and eat innings. With his advanced command and college resume – he played a pivotal role in leading Oklahoma to the 2022 College World Series final – Bennett is a pretty good bet to move through the system quickly and establish himself as a reliable No. 3-4 starter. The way the board played out leading into this pick, he was a logical choice given the other top options were mainly injured college pitchers (a bad demographic for this franchise) and risky bats.
Round 3 (No. 84): 3B Trey Lipscomb – University of Tennessee
Lipscomb, a Frederick, Md., native out of Urbana High School, is somewhat of a pop-up prospect. Despite good size at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Lipscomb was buried on the bench at a loaded Tennessee program until getting the chance to start as a senior in 2022. Lipscomb took advantage when his time came, mashing 22 homers, 44 extra-base hits and 84 RBIs, the last two of which led the SEC, for the best team in college baseball. Defensively, he should be average all-around with the requisite size and traits for third base. Lipscomb was one of the best college seniors in the 2022 Draft class and given the circumstances at Tennessee, you can dream that he’s just tapping into his talent and has room to improve. As a senior, Lipscomb was a nice third-round pick given that he will likely sign an under-slot deal while not being a reach pick.
Round 4 (No. 111): OF Brenner Cox – Rock Hill High School, Texas
Cox was a surprise Round 4 selection and quite a departure from the Nats’ traditional approach in this part of the Draft. Cox wasn’t ranked in MLB’s top 250 Draft prospects and checked in at No. 351 on Baseball America. However, that’s not due to his lack of talent, but his lack of experience. Cox is an excellent football player in a football-crazed state who was expected to go to Texas and possibly play both football and baseball. But the Nats were able to sign him out of his commitment to the Longhorns, which surprised some. Cox is a projectable 6-foot-2, 190-pound centerfielder with a smooth lefty swing and developing power. As expected with his football prowess, Cox is a plus runner who should stay in center field. He also throws in the mid-90s as a pitcher. The Nats have too often filled out their Draft with low-ceiling college players in this range, so I loved to see them take a gamble on tools right here. He needs a lot of reps, but there’s the makings of a five-tool player here.
Round 5 (No. 141): OF Jared McKenzie – Baylor University
In the best of scenarios, the Nats bought low and got a steal with McKenzie, who was one of the best hitters in college baseball his first two seasons at Baylor, hitting a combined .389. However, there are some major red flags with McKenzie. After an excellent sophomore season, McKenzie struggled mightily with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League and his numbers took a dive in his junior season in Waco. Overall, Baylor had a nightmare season that led to a coaching change, so maybe there was something happening behind the scenes that affected McKenzie. He doesn’t currently have much power and profiles more as a contact hitter, but he’s aggressive, doesn’t draw walks and his strikeout rate went way up as a junior. Defensively, he has good enough speed to stick in center for now, but he doesn’t impact the game on the basepaths. He’s a confusing prospect to evaluate, and he’s likely more a versatile backup type in the big leagues if he makes it there. But he had first-round buzz only a year ago. We don’t know who the real Jared McKenzie is, but we’re likely to find out soon if the Nats got a steal here.
Round 6 (No. 171): SS Nathaniel Ochoa Leyva – Notre Dame Catholic, Ontario
Not much is known about Ochoa Leyva other than he’s a monster of a man at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and certainly not a shortstop as a pro, but a projectable third baseman with great strength. He’s an extremely raw project, but I like taking chances on tools here, something the Nats have not done historically.
Round 7 (No. 201): RHP Riley Cornelio – Texas Christian University
Cornelio, ranked No. 244 in MLB’s top 250 Draft prospects, emerged as TCU’s Friday starter this season after some ups and downs along the way. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s with a plus slider and decent changeup he uses against lefties. Reports say he doesn’t miss enough bats with the fastball despite decent velocity. He will certainly start his career as a starting pitcher, but given the direction of modern baseball, it’s safe to wonder if he may not be better suited down the line as a “slider monster” reliever, as his slider is his calling card, inducing lots of really bad swings.
Round 8 (No. 231): RHP Chance Huff – Georgia Tech University
Huff transferred to Georgia Tech from Vanderbilt and despite possessing good stuff, never really figured it out at the college level. He’s a total stuff over stats guy. His fastball sits 93-94 as a starter, but he’s likely a reliever going forward and can get it up to 98 in short stints. He has two potentially good breaking balls and a changeup in his arsenal. Yet despite an excellent 23.3% K rate and a vastly improved walk rate, Huff was never productive on the mound. He’s a project, but there is arm talent to work with.
Round 9 (No. 261): C Maxwell Romero Jr. – University of Miami
Another Vanderbilt transfer, Romero is a solid defensive catcher with a strong arm who can do damage from the left side of the plate. But there are serious questions about his ability to make contact against good pitching. A good catcher with a loud lefty bat is worth following.
Round 10 (No. 291): 3B Murphy Stehly – University of Texas
While the Nats did somewhat deviate from past Drafts in seeking upside over production, they went with a super-productive college senior with their final pick of Day 2. Stehly was a utility player for the Longhorns before blowing up during his final season in Austin, slashing .367/.424/.662 with 19 homers. Encouragingly, he hit good pitching and handled velocity well. However, his track record is still only one big year and he will turn 24 before the end of the 2022 season. He also doesn’t have a set position. He played mainly outfield this year, but the Nats announced him as a third baseman. Given his age and big production, he could be given aggressive assignments early to get a feel for what they got. If he hits well early, he could move quickly and maybe you get a utility player out of this pick.
Players chosen on the final day are unlikely to make it to the majors. Players selected here don’t count toward the team’s bonus pool unless their signing bonus exceeds $125,00, in which case, only the overage counts toward the pool. I won’t go into depth on each pick, but instead give a brief synopsis and grade the entire day, overall.
Round 11: RHP Luke Young – Midland College, Texas
Ranked No. 389 on Baseball America’s Top 500. Projectable 6-foot-3 pitcher who throws strikes with a mid-90s heater and good curveball. Deceptive delivery. Has the polish to remain a starter.
Round 12: OF Nick Peoples – Northview High School, Calif.
Not ranked in Baseball America’s Top 500. New Mexico State commit with a projectable body and raw power from a skinny frame.
Round 13: RHP Marquis Grissom Jr. – Georgia Tech University
Yes, the son of THAT Marquis Grissom. He has a good arm, but is still pretty raw. Despite poor stats for the Yellow Jackets, he’s ranked No. 261 by Baseball America. However, he’s a Draft-eligible sophomore who could return to college and try to improve his stock next year.
Round 14: SS Cortland Lawson – University of Tennessee
Gives the Nats the entire left side of Tennessee’s infield in this draft, and he is also a local kid. Ranked No. 322 by Baseball America, Lawson has pretty average tools across the board.
Round 15: RHP Kyle Luckham – Arizona State University
Transferred to ASU from Cal State-Fullerton. Didn’t post particularly good stats at either school, but finished his career with a flourish down the stretch. He’s a senior sign.
Round 16: SS Everett Cooper III – Pro5 Baseball Academy, N.C.
Cooper isn’t ranked by Baseball America, but is ranked the No. 385 overall recruit in the country by Perfect Game with a commitment to Old Dominion University. He’s a local kid from Owings Mills, Md., and ranked the top shortstop and No. 3 overall recruit in the state of Maryland. Projectable athlete at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds.
Round 17: 1B Blake Klassen – UC-Santa Barbara
Ranked No. 423 by Baseball America. He’s a pure lefty slugger with no real defensive position. His value is entirely derived by what he does with the bat as a pro.
Round 18: RHP Brad Lord – University of South Florida
An unremarkable college senior sign, from what I can tell.
Round 19: OF Jhonathon Thomas – Texas Southern University
Speed, speed, speed and more speed. Thomas led the country with 62 stolen bases in only 53 games. So, he’s a specialist, which I don’t mind taking a shot at late in the draft. See if he can become viable enough defensively to become a late-game sub.
Round 20: SS JeanPierre Ortiz – IMG Academy, Fla.
Ranked No. 212 by MLB.com and No. 373 by Baseball America. A teammate of top pick Elijah Green at IMG Academy, Ortiz is almost certainly not going to sign with the Nats. He’s a late-round flier they’ll try to sign if someone in the top 10 picks does not. He’s considered an elite defender at short who struggles offensively, so he likely will want to go to college and raise his stock.
Overall, Day 3 was underwhelming, as the two of the most talented guys they took seem like a good bet to go back to school. Young seems to be a potential steal. Peoples look interesting enough. It’s rare for someone in this range to make it.
Day 3 Grade: B-
I liked the Nats’ Draft, but ultimately it’s hard to have a “wow” Draft without compensation picks. They only had two picks in the top 50 and not enough savings to try to float an interesting high school prospect to a later round. I thought based on the board, all these picks were good. The overall assessment of any Draft class needs to be weighted toward the higher picks. The first-round pick is crucial, the second-round pick is very important and you hope to get value in Rounds 3-5. Anything after that is mostly a bonus. With that in mind, I loved Green at No. 5. He was my top choice by a large margin and I was thrilled to get him. Bennet in Round 2 was a strong pick based on the board as most of the higher-rated players available were injured pitchers, which is a historically bad demographic for this team. I really liked Cox in the fourth round, as well. The Nats haven’t targeted enough raw, toolsy athletes in this range over the years. They targeted tools over production with a lot of later picks, as well, which is a welcome strategy change.
Now comes the hard part. A team with a really poor track record of developing talent has some raw talent that needs a lot of development. And with an ownership change looming, there’s a strong likelihood of a player development overhaul in the coming years.
Overall 2022 Draft Grade: B