If the NFL, which drafts college juniors and seniors, has yet to turn the art of drafting into a science despite the protestations of Mel Kiper, then Major League Baseball, which drafts players as raw as high school seniors, can’t be expected to have perfected the craft of selecting the correct amateur talent.
What’s more, unlike NFL newcomers, even the Stephen Strasburgs of baseball are sent to the minor leagues for some experience against professionals before they reach the big stage.
Still, the Washington Nationals — after doing the obvious and choosing polished beyond his years right-hander Strasburg and slugger Bryce Harper with the first overall picks the past two years — made a more curious choice with their top selection on Monday night.
Not that Rice’s Anthony Rendon – despite his injury history — doesn’t have all the bonafides to make him a big league star someday. It’s just that the sixth overall pick plays third base, the position occupied by 26-year-old face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman.
There’s talk of switching Rendon to second base, but that’s where 24-year-old Danny Espinosa has been showing this season that he should be a fixture for years to come next to 25-year-old shortstop Ian Desmond.
First base, where 31-year-old free agent acquisition Adam LaRoche’s Washington debut was ruined by injury this spring, is possible, but the 6-foot Rendon is short for that spot.
If catcher Harper can move to the outfield as the Nats are having him do because of their needs there and their strength behind the plate with 23-year-old Wilson Ramos and 26-year-old Flores, Rendon could presumably head out there, too. If such lumbering types as Frank Howard, John Kruk and Lance Berkman can play the outfield, it should be a snap for an athletic kid, right?
Assuming that’s what happens despite general manager Mike Rizzo saying that third is Rendon’s best position, Nats fans can think ahead to 2013 and dream about a lineup that could include: Ramos; Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa and 2011 revelation Michael Morse in the infield; with Rendon, speedy Brian Goodwin — taken 34th overall on Monday — and Jayson Werth in the outfield.
That would complement a rotation that would boast Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, 2010 fourth-rounder A.J. Cole (who has been impressive at Class A Hagerstown) and maybe Alex Meyer, a 6-9 power pitcher whom Washington chose 26th overall on Monday, and gutty lefty Tom Gorzelanny. And of course, 2009 second-rounder Drew Storen would be the closer.
Dreams are what drafts are all about after all, so dream on Nats fans about your first contender since Harry Truman was a rookie President 66 summers ago.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.