The Nationals entered the first day of the 2015 MLB Draft with a specific goal in mind. With the game of baseball moving more and more towards defense and speed, the Nats wanted to add athleticism to their farm system.
They feel they accomplished that goal by taking outfielders Andrew Stevenson from LSU with the 58th pick and Blake Perkins from Verrado High School (AZ) 69th overall.
"The first day we really concentrated on getting more athletic and to improve our speed in the system," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "These guys are both plus-plus runners. They are guys that will have opportunities down the road to be extremely good defensive center fielders with also some offensive prowess, guys that can fly and steal bases. As the game turns to pitching, defense and athleticism, we felt that we had the opportunity to take two guys early in the draft that really exude all three of those fields."
Both Stevenson and Perkins have the option to not sign with the Nationals by the July 17 deadline if they so choose. Stevenson is a junior at LSU and Perkins is committed to play at Arizona State University in the fall. The Nationals were unable to sign their second round pick, Andrew Suarez, in 2014, but are confident this time will be different.
"We’re going to leave the negotiating for a little bit down the road, but we feel good about it," Rizzo said. "We take players that we feel want to play for the Nationals. We really do our due diligence on their makeups and background and their signability. We rarely draft a player if we don’t feel confident to sign him. We feel good about these guys. We’ve only spoken to them in regards to congratulating them on being drafted by us."
Rizzo held a conference call Tuesday morning to discuss the two draft picks along with assistant general manager Kris Kline and director of player development Mark Scialabba.
Here are some highlights of their scouting reports on both players:
Rizzo - "This guy plays 100 miles per hour with his hair on fire. That was a big part of why we were so attracted to him... He’s an extremely toolsy player. We’re adding to our already fertile stable of athletes. You know our motto here, we go pitching, defense, athleticism and certainly both of these guys fill those voids. Stevenson is a guy who is a plus-plus runner. We’ve got him up to 70 or 80 on a 20-80 scale as far as speed goes. He’s got the ability to steal bases. He’s a terrific defensive center fielder. We think he’s got the ability to be a leadoff-type of guy in the future and a guy that adds to our athleticism and speed part of the game. His unorthodox approach works for him. We’ve already got ideas once we sign the player to kind of tweak that a little bit. We look back to what he’s done in the past. We’ve got great history on this guy. He’s a Team USA guy. He plays for one of the best programs in baseball and he’s their best hitter. We really like this guy and he’s a guy that we feel is going to be an everyday guy for us."
Kline - "He does have the ability to center the baseball. He’s got good hand-eye coordination. He’s actually had more success with that and that showed up in the Cape Cod League. He’s always just had a very good feel to hit."
Kline, who compared him to MLB outfielders Austin Jackson and Brian Hunter - "We’re going to give him a chance to switch-hit. He’s been doing that since high school, but never really took it into the game... Rich Schu liked it a lot and that’s going to make him a little more versatile."
Scialabba - "I think think the biggest thing about Blake is the athleticism. Just the passion and fire that burns on the field. He’s got a lot of tools, he’s a really good athlete. The switch-hitting thing obviously helps him with his speed. Playing in center field, he’s a highlight reel."
Stevenson and the LSU Tigers are still alive in the NCAA Tournament after advancing to the College World Series on Sunday. They play their first game in Omaha against TCU at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 14.
Rizzo said there is no concern about Stevenson playing in the tournament and he wishes him well as he plays out the rest of his junior season.
"We love it. They’ve had a successful season and we love seeing our draft choices play at the highest level with pressure on them in big games. This guy is no stranger to the national spotlight. He’s been on ESPN many, many times for his exploits defensively. We’re excited to see him play. Hopefully they go a long way and he plays for a long time now. Then we’ll get him and fire him into our system," he said.