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MLB Mock Draft Roundup: Signs point to Nationals drafting Georgia pitcher Cole Wilcox

MLB Mock Draft Roundup: Signs point to Nationals drafting Georgia pitcher Cole Wilcox

In just under two weeks, the Nationals will be tasked with turning the 22nd overall pick into a key piece of their future. With only five rounds in this year’s draft as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, every pick matters—especially those in the first round.

At the expense of contending for playoff spots each of the past eight seasons, the Nationals’ farm system has run thin on blue-chip prospects. The Athletic’s Keith Law most recently ranked their prospect depth 29th out of 30 teams, the lowest they’ve ever been on the longtime prospect analyst’s rankings.

The pressure is on GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals’ front office to hit on as many picks as possible, and all signs are pointing toward them targeting right-hander Cole Wilcox out of the University of Georgia—if he’s still around by the time their name is called at No. 22.

Now the MLB first-year player draft order is determined by regular-season standings and does not factor in postseason results. That works in the favor of Washington, which went 93-69 and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team before going on an improbable World Series run. However, the player it appears to have in mind still very well could be snatched up before it has the chance to pick him.

Wilcox is a 20-year-old rising junior who boasts a fastball that touches triples digits to go with a plus slider and changeup. Considered a possible first-rounder in the 2018 draft out of high school, the right-hander decided to honor his commitment to Georgia after he was still on the board by the start of the second round.

However, one team did end up taking Wilcox anyway. The Nationals drafted him in the 37th round after reports indicated that they preferred him to their actual pick of Florida high schooler Mason Denaburg. Draft analysts took notice, making Wilcox a popular pick for Washington in mocks for the 2020 draft over the past few weeks.

Law, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel and Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline all pegged Wilcox going to the Nationals in their first mock drafts of the spring. Although Mayo has since moved Wilcox up two slots to the Milwaukee Brewers, this is not the first time that the Nationals’ pick has been a near-consensus among analysts.

Rizzo has always maintained that he picks the best player available, regardless of position or age. And as his track record has shown, that sometimes also means dismissing any health or off-the-field issues that may give other teams pause.

In 2018, Denaburg fell to the Nationals at 27th after biceps tendonitis knocked his draft stock down from early first-rounder—exactly where ESPN, MLB Pipeline and Bleacher Report all mocked him.

A similar situation played out in 2017, when ESPN, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America each correctly predicted Washington would draft ex-University of Houston pitcher Seth Romero. The projected top-10 talent was dismissed from the Cougars for multiple instances of “conduct detrimental to the team.”

“It’s always the best player available,” Nationals’ Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Kris Kline told MASN’s Dan Kolko in 2019. “In a perfect world you want to take — you know, I mean, for me college pitching is always a priority, because that’s what wins championships in the big leagues, front-line pitching, if that’s available. Those are the guys that you covet."

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In the cases of 2019 (Jackson Rutledge), 2012 (Lucas Giolito) and 2011 (Anthony Rendon), higher-ranked prospects fell to them unexpectedly. Erick Fedde (2014) was also correctly mocked to the Nationals by ESPN and Bleacher Report after it was announced he would undergo Tommy John surgery in the days following the draft.

Wilcox doesn’t have any lingering injuries or character concerns, but Baseball America notes that “some clubs are concerned with his arm slot and the shape of his slider."

Slated to be Georgia’s Saturday starter this season, his first chance at regular starts was cut short when the pandemic forced NCAA officials to cancel the spring season. Given he’s only made 23 appearances (10 starts) in college, scouts haven’t had ample opportunities to watch him pitch since high school.

Yet Wilcox will be far from the only player with limited film. The coronavirus outbreak has prevented scouts from getting any sort of in-person look at most high school seniors entering the draft. As a result, teams may be more inclined to make safer choices with college players who have more data available rather than select high schoolers who they haven’t seen.

There’s no guarantee he falls all the way to the Nationals at No. 22. But if Rizzo’s history is any indication, Wilcox will certainly be the favorite to go to Washington if he’s still on the board.

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Why being lame ducks only helps Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez in contract talks

Why being lame ducks only helps Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez in contract talks

The Nationals’ biggest free agent of the past decade isn’t Bryce Harper nor Anthony Rendon. It’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, who is in the midst of preparing for the 2020 season without any certainty about his future beyond it.

Even after the Nationals won their first World Series title in franchise history last October, principal owner Mark Lerner and his father Ted have yet to ink an extension for their longtime GM.

The same goes for manager Davey Martinez, who is only signed through this season with a team option for 2021. Martinez is credited with keeping the clubhouse on track despite a 19-31 start to the season before pulling all the right strings, particularly with his pitching staff, throughout the playoffs.

Both Rizzo and Martinez have reached the pinnacle of their respective positions, leading their club to a championship. Yet they find themselves in the unenviable positions of not knowing whether they’ll remain employed in D.C. after this year. However, there is one advantage to the position they’re in.

RELATED: WITH BASEBALL RETURNING, NATIONALS' GM AND MANAGER CONTRACTS REMAIN A PRESSING ISSUE

Former New York Mets GM and current MLB Network Radio analyst Steve Phillips joined NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast Tuesday and touched on Rizzo and Martinez’s situation. Phillips understands their position after he went into the final year of his contract with the Mets in 2000 without a deal before helping his team to its first NL pennant in 14 years.

“It’s not the worst spot to be in to wait,” Phillips said. “If you go to the playoffs again this year, all it does is add to your value. And if you don’t, you’re still the World Series champion from the year before and can play on that.”

This is a situation Rizzo and the Nationals have been in before. Rizzo entered the 2018 season without a deal before agreeing to a reported two-year, $8 million extension in April. Though the Nationals had yet to advance past the NLDS at that point, they were still one of the winningest teams of the previous five years—a feat with Rizzo’s fingerprints all over it.

After winning a World Series, Rizzo’s salary expectations will likely be much higher. The highest paid executives in the sport are Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein (about $10 million a year), Los Angeles Dodgers president Andrew Friedman ($7 million) and New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman ($5 million).

Washington has a messy history with managers as well. The club tried to hire now-Colorado Rockies skipper Bud Black in 2015 but offered only a one-year, $1.6 million deal that left Black “deeply offended.” The Nationals instead signed Dusty Baker to a two-year deal worth $4 million with incentives. Martinez will have only made $2.8 million in his three years with the Nationals by the end of 2020.

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“I think both guys will still be there [beyond 2020],” Phillips said. “I don’t think Rizzo wants to leave. I don’t think that Dave Martinez wants to leave. And I think they’ll find a way to get a deal done to keep both guys in D.C.”

The deadline is approaching for the Nationals to work out a deal with Rizzo, and even if they exercise their club option on Martinez for 2021, his turn will come next year. Washington may be saving money in the short-term by keeping Rizzo and Martinez on their current contracts, but the World Series champion GM and skipper only have leverage to gain by waiting at the negotiating table.

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Max Scherzer purchases new waterfront mansion in Jupiter for $9.8M, per report

Max Scherzer purchases new waterfront mansion in Jupiter for $9.8M, per report

Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer has purchased a waterfront mansion in Jupiter, Fla., according to real estate site The Real Deal. The 7,778-square foot property sold for $9.8 million, per the report. It was previously owned by real estate investor Justin Daniels and wife Robin Daniels.

The mansion, built in 2018, has five bedrooms, seven-and-a-half bathrooms, a four-car garage, and over 120 feet of water frontage.

Judging off pictures of the property posted to Twitter by Action Network's Darren Rovell, Scherzer has found quite the getaway.

The inside features a chef's kitchen with dual wall ovens, while the outside has a resort-style pool and 70-foot boat slip. More photos can be seen here.

RELATED ARTICLE: MAX SCHERZER AMONG MLB PLAYERS WHO HELD SECRET FLORIDA PRACTICES, PER REPORT

In 2015, Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals that runs through the 2021 season. The three-time Cy Young winner turns 36 on July 26, just days after the expected start of the season.

According to The Athletic, Scherzer was part of a group of more than 30 MLB players practicing in Palm Beach in June. It seems baseball wasn't the only business he was taking care of Florida.

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