In July, the Nationals will have the #5 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. The Nats haven’t had this high of a draft pick in over a decade. In 2011, the Washington Nationals had the #6 overall pick after drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper #1 overall in 2009 and 2010 respectively. And in 2011, they were in the perfect position, as at the time, there were six prospects who had separated themselves at the top of the draft (in hindsight some of those six were busts while the likes of Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez, and George Springer went between picks #8 and #11). The Nats, being the sixth pick, had the easy job of just taking whichever of the six prospects were available.
For much of the season, Anthony Rendon was considered the #1 pick and by far the best hitter in the draft, but the emergence of UCLA’s Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer along with some minor concerns regarding Rendon’s injury history had the Pirates questioning what to do with their #1 pick. With the Orioles and Royals basically locked in on Dylan Bundy and Bubba Starling, it appeared that the most likely player to fall the Nationals would be the aforementioned Trevor Bauer or University of Virginia ace Danny Hultzen, who was considered to be the top lefty pitcher in the class.
As we know, the Pirates went with Gerrit Cole at #1 which left the Mariners with the chance to take the best hitter in the draft in Anthony Rendon. Instead, they surprisingly went pitcher and took Danny Hultzen #2. With the Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Royals not expecting Rendon to be there, and being locked in on other players, Rendon slid down to #6. For Mike Rizzo and the Nationals, this was the 3rd consecutive year that their first pick would be a no brainer. It could be argued that Anthony Rendon joins Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as can’t miss prospects in three consecutive drafts.
Now we all know that Anthony Rendon made his debut in 2013 and became a fixture in 2014, ultimately becoming the fixture at 3B in 2015 (despite an injury plagued year) when Ryan Zimmerman made the official move over to first base following the departure of Adam LaRoche in free agency. When Rendon’s contract expired following the 2019 World Series the Washington Nationals had just 3 primary third basemen since arriving in DC in 2005: Vinny Castilla (2005), Ryan Zimmerman (2006-2014), and Anthony Rendon (2015-2019). Sure guys like Yunel Escobar and Stephen Drew filled in admirably during both long and short injury stints, but those three previous names were the primary third basemen. Since then the Nats have rolled with Asdrubal Cabrea, Carter Kieboom, and Maikel Franco as their primary third basemen and the position remains one of the weakest on the roster.
As for the other Top 5 picks, we’ve seen Gerrit Cole be one the MLB’s best, but is yet to win that coveted Cy Young Award. He was a good pitcher in Pittsburgh, but he broke out and became a great pitcher following a trade to Houston. Following their 2019 World Series loss to the Nationals, Cole signed a mega-deal with the New York Yankees and had a Cy Young Caliber year in 2021, only to lose to Robbie Ross.
Danny Hultzen, the guy the Mariners chose over the expected Anthony Rendon, was hampered by injuries time and time again and ultimately is massive bust. He finally made his MLB debut for the Chicago Cubs as a reliever in September of 2019, appearing in 6 games and never allowing an earned run. He has since retired and taken a job in the Cubs’ front office.
Gerrit Cole’s UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer does have the coveted Cy Young Award, but has always had a history of issues with authority. He was quickly traded from Arizona to Cleveland, where he broke out on the mound. But again, thanks to some character issues and a deep pitching staff, he became expendable and was shipped off to Cincinnati. He is currently serving a 2-year suspension after numerous sexual assault allegations came to light in 2021, just after signing a mega-deal with the Dodgers.
Dylan Bundy was the Orioles pick at #4 and their dream of a future ace. While he’s become a pretty decent pitcher towards the back end of a rotation, he never really flourished the way Baltimore expected. While pitching for the O’s, Angels, and now Twins over his 8-year career, he has a 4.72 ERA and a win/loss record of 50-61.
Stud high school athlete Bubba Starling was the hometown prospect for the Kansas City Royals, who I imagine saw him as their Joe Mauer– a football quarterback and baseball star in their own backyard that they could build a franchise around. He was the #1 baseball recruit and the #6 QB prospect in the nation for 2011 and had committed to play both at Nebraska. Scott Boras got him the largest ever signing bonus for a high school player and that was enough for him to choose the Royals over Nebraska. Starling never really found his groove and toiled in the minors for 8 years. Like Hultzen he finally made his MLB debut for the Royals in 2019, and also like Hultzen retired in 2021 having only played in the Show during the 2019 season. He hit .215 in 56 career games.
Other members of the 2011 draft class first round include Francisco Lindor (8), Javy Baez (9), George Springer (11), Brandon Nimmo (12), and CJ Cron (17). Trevor Story went 46th as a compensatory pick. It also included pitchers such as the late Jose Fernandez (14), Archie Bradley (7), and Blake Snell (52).
In terms of Nationals connections, the Nats had a rare 2-pick first round in 2011. We already discussed Anthony Rendon, but our hometown team also drafted pitcher Alex Meyer out of Kentucky with pick #23. That’s signicant because GM Mike Rizzo was able to use him as trade piece to acquire Denard Span from Minnesota. While Meyer was a bust, Span is easily the second best leadoff guy the Nats have had in their 17 year stay in DC. The other Nationals connection in the 2011 MLB Draft was that our very own Joe Ross was drafted at pick #25 by the San Diego Padres. For the low price of Steven Souza Jr., he’d arrive in DC with Trea Turner prior to the 2015 season. The Nats also picked Brian Goodwin at #34.
So despite drafting a bust in Alex Meyer at #23 and a mere role player at #34 in Brian Goodwin (his best numbers came after he left DC), you still have to grade this draft as at least a B. The Nats got the best hitter (at the time) at #6 and were able to trade that bust in Meyer a few years later for a bonafide centerfielder and lead-off hitter. Rizzo hasn’t had the best draft record, but 2011 was one of his decent ones.