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Regrading the Nationals' 2021 Draft Class

The 2022 MLB Draft gets underway Sunday. It will be arguably the most pivotal day in Nats history since the 2019 World Series. Year 1 into their rebuild, the Nats are slogging toward 110 losses at the Major League level and the Minor League system remains weak. The upcoming days will go a long way toward determining the length of this Nats rebuild, which is trending toward long and painful.

But this is not a 2022 Draft preview. With a year in the rearview, let’s see how Mike Rizzo and Co. appear to have done last year in the first step of building another winner in D.C.

Round 1 (No. 11 overall): SS Brady House – Winder Barrow High School, Ga.

House was expected to go higher, and he was not a name linked to Washington ahead of the Draft, so Mike Rizzo was excited to snatch him up with the 11th pick. A physical shortstop out of the Georgia prep ranks, House possesses big power and plus defensive skills, though he will likely move to third base eventually.

House burst onto the scene in the Florida Complex League last summer, slashing .322/.394/.576 with four homers. His early showing propelled him up prospect rankings in the 30-50 overall range. Unfortunately, 2022 has been a nightmare after a promising first few weeks at Low-A Fredericksburg. His power vanished, he didn’t instill confidence he could stick at shortstop defensively and he is currently spending his second stint on the IL. His lack of power is probably related to his injuries as he never looked right from May-June.

Despite these setbacks, there’s a lot to love here and House still possesses a high ceiling and projects as an impact bat and plus defender at third base if healthy. He’s still two years younger than the average player in the Carolina League. But his prospect status is nonetheless on the decline.

Grade: B

Round 2 (No. 47): OF Daylen Lile – Trinity High School, Ky.

Lile, a high-school stalwart from Kentucky, possessed some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the prep ranks among 2021 high school draftees, though he was considered a slight reach at 47. While limited defensively to a corner-outfield spot and a questionable power tool, Lile has potential to be an excellent hitter.

Unfortunately, there’s very little to go on right now as far as an evaluation because Lile was limited to DH only in a 19-game FCL stint last summer, when he posted a disappointing slash line of .219/.363/.250. Lile later required Tommy John surgery and hasn’t appeared in 2022. While Tommy John surgery isn’t as big a deal for position players, things are not off to an ideal start for the Nats’ 2021 second-round pick.

Grade: C-

Round 3 (No. 82): 1B Branden Boissiere – University of Arizona

An undersized first baseman out of the University of Arizona, Boissiere profiles as a good hitter/defender with little power for the position. In essence, a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect. But to this point, Boissiere hasn’t shown much of a floor, either. While he does have good plate discipline and draws walks, he hasn’t hit for average and has no power. There’s not a single carrying tool that projects Boissiere as a big-leaguer, as his walk rate will erode as he faces better pitching at higher levels. He’s already more than a year older than the average player in the Carolina League. Like Drew Mendoza a few years earlier, this looks like another miss at first base with a top-100 pick. Players taken this high should possess more exciting tools.

Grade: D

Round 4 (No. 112): LHP Dustin Saenz – Texas A&M University

A former Friday starter in the loaded SEC for Texas A&M, the Nats bought a little low on Saenz, who was coming off a disappointing final season in College Station.

Fortunately, Saenz has looked more like the earlier version of himself since joining the Nats’ system. At 5-11, he’s undersized for a starting pitcher but he throws his fastball in the mid-90s and has two good enough offspeed pitches to profile as a back-rotation starter in a couple years, with a fallback floor as a multi-inning reliever. He should be a big-leaguer if he stays healthy. Saenz was recently promoted to High-A Wilmington after a strong start to the season at Fredericksburg.

Grade: B+

Round 5 (No. 143): OF TJ White – Paul M. Dorman High School, S.C.

A raw, powerful slugger from Spartanburg, S.C., White is still only 18 years old and nearly three years younger than his peers in the Carolina League. Little was known about White at the time of this selection other than he was young for his grade, possessed raw power but swung and missed a lot.

White piqued the interest of many after a surprisingly strong start in the FCL last summer, slashing .283/.356/.547 with four homers, on par with top pick Brady House’s performance. White was given an aggressive assignment this spring, starting the season at Low-A Fredericksburg, where he was the youngest player in the Carolina League on Opening Day.

While White does strike out plenty, he has good instincts at the plate, takes his walks and is surging up the organization’s prospect rankings. He is way ahead of schedule, but still requires patience. It will be fun to watch his progress.

Grade: A

Round 6 (No. 173): LHP Michael Kirian – University of Louisville

Kirian was a money-saving pick. Every team has 1-2 of these within their first 10 picks in which a team picks a player ahead of where he should go on merit because he has agreed to sign for less than the slot value of the pick. That said, there’s nothing about Kirian that projects as a big leaguer. There’s no plus pitch, his performance has been poor and now he’s hurt. He’s likely just an organizational depth reliever.

Grade: D

Round 7 (No. 203): OF Jacob Young – University of Florida

Young is a speed specialist who moved to the outfield after primarily playing second base at Florida. Young is slightly built and possesses absolutely no power, which hurts his stock as defensively he’s more a corner outfielder. He draws a decent number of walks and wreaks havoc on the bases, but it’s unlikely he will hit enough to put it to use. He would offer more value if he offered more positional versatility, but for a seventh-rounder, at least he does have a carrying tool that makes him interesting.

Grade: B-

Round 8 (No. 233): 1B Will Frizzell – Texas A&M University

Frizzell emerged as one of the best power hitters in the SEC, slashing .343/.451/.686 with 19 homers his final season alongside fourth-rounder Dustin Saenz for the Aggies. Unfortunately, Frizzell will already be 24 when the 2023 season begins and he is of this writing yet to play above the FCL. And he has no position and projects as a DH only. He has crushed FCL pitching in two brief stints so far, but he is more than three years older than the average player there, so the Nats need to get him at-bats somewhere else soon. The universal DH gives a guy like this more value than previously, so he’s worth following.

Grade: B

Round 9 (No. 263): RHP Cole Quintanilla – University of Texas

Quintanilla was one of the better college relievers in the country for the Longhorns and is strictly a reliever going forward. He can get the fastball to the upper 90s, but has posted good, not great K/9 rates. After a mediocre five-game stint with the FredNats last summer, Quintanilla’s 2022 was delayed due to injury and he is just now getting back into games.

Grade: C

Round 10 (No. 293): 2B Darren Baker – University of California

Baker is an obvious fan favorite as he’s been famous ever since J.T. Snow saved his bacon during the 2002 World Series, when Darren served as a bat boy for his father and former Nats manager Dusty Baker. Although he was named to the 2022 MLB All-Star Futures Game, Baker is merely a fringe prospect. He’s a decent hitter with no power and he’s limited to second base defensively, so his path forward is very narrow. That said, he’s an overachiever and I wouldn’t put it past him to make it to the majors someday. I hope he does. This is a perfectly fine 10th-round pick.

Grade: B+

I won’t grade every pick from Rounds 11-20, as the way the Draft works, teams have a set amount of money they can spend for all their picks within the first 10 rounds. Anyone who signs for more than $125,000 after the 10th round, the overage is counted toward their Draft pool. Few players in the later rounds amount to much, but there are a couple guys who have caught my eye early.

Round 12: LHP Andrew Alvarez – Cal Poly

Although Alvarez’s traditional stats are uninspiring, he has posted excellent strikeout numbers, especially when used as a reliever. At 6-3, 215 pounds, Alvarez possessed a high-spin fastball that can overpower hitters. If he can command a second pitch, there’s a potential big-league lefty reliever here.

Grade: B+

Round 17: RHP Brendan Collins – UNC-Greensboro

A local product from Olney, Md., and Sherwood High School, Collins boasts a similar resume to Alvarez in that his stats don’t wow you … except for the strikeouts. Collins started the season in the FredNats’ rotation but has now been moved to the bullpen, where his high-90s fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball can be overpowering. He has the requisite two-pitch mix to be a good reliever, it’s just about commanding it.

Grade: A-

Round 19: RHP Riggs Threadgill – McLennan Community College, Texas

His name is Riggs Threadgill. (He also has pretty good numbers at Fredericksburg with a mid-90s heater.)

Grade: A+++++++

Any Draft class is going to be determined by how the top 2-3 picks perform, so analysis should be weighted toward those selections. It’s mostly a crapshoot after that, though some teams (Dodgers, Rays, Cardinals) are better than others at finding and developing big leaguers later in the Draft.

Unfortunately, the Nationals are very bad in this regard and generally rely on their first-rounders to carry the freight. And that makes assessing this Draft class difficult. Their first-rounder, Brady House, looked like a steal last year, but is now looking at largely a lost season that has provided more questions than answers. Their second-round pick, Daylen Lile, hasn’t played in the field yet and is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Their third-rounder, Branden Boissiere, looks like a total miss. Dustin Saenz and TJ White, their fourth- and fifth-rounders, are propping it up somewhat right now.

I still believe House is a potential star and I still project Daylen Lile as a plus hitter. But overall, it doesn’t feel like a ton of progress has been made in the past year as far as this class getting the farm system back on track.

Overall 2021 Draft Grade: C

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