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In '13 Draft, Nationals grab power arms, sluggers

Including flame-throwing top pick Johansen, Washington selects 22 pitchers

The Nationals have regularly stocked their farm system with flame-throwing pitchers and middle-of-the-order sluggers, and they stuck with that philosophy in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Washington lost its first-round pick after signing Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $18 million contract in the offseason, so the team didn't make its first selection until the end of the second round Thursday. But when that selection came, the Nats got their guy -- right-hander Jake Johansen -- and announced his signing less than 24 hours later, on Friday evening.

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Johansen, the 68th overall selection, is a towering 22-year-old from Dallas Baptist University. His fastball has been clocked at 99 mph, indicative of the power-first philosophy that the Nationals employed throughout the Draft.

"A lot of guys touching 95 mph or better, with secondary stuff," director of scouting Kris Kline said Friday. "Big, physical guys, which is what we like, it's kind of our M.O. We got some left-handed bats, some power guys with good swings and so far, so good."

Washington put a premium on pitching in this year's Draft, selecting five pitchers in the first 10 rounds and 22 arms total. After selecting Johansen, they used two of their first picks Friday on Canadian right-hander Nicholas Pivetta (fourth round) and Austin Voth, a rising senior at the University of Washington (fifth round).

The Nationals also grabbed two slugging corner infielders early on Day 2. Drew Ward, a 6-foot-4 third baseman from Leedey (Okla.) High School, was drafted by Washington in the third round (no. 105 overall). The team's seventh-round pick, University of Delaware's James Yezzo, led the Colonial Athletic Conference with a .410 batting average and .714 slugging percentage.

Kline said that he was happy with how the Draft unfolded. He expects the Nationals to have no trouble signing their first nine selections.

"We took three what we consider big-time power bats, and of course [Ward] is one of them, and three power arms," assistant general manager Roy Clark said Friday. "So we stayed with the organizational philosophy of, like you said, big guys with power. Power arms and power bats."

The Nationals drafted an even mixture of high school, junior college and four-year college players. Nine of their draftees are high schoolers and eight spent last season at a junior or community college. The club drafted two players each from the University of Florida, Rice University and Tulane University.

At 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Johansen has the size and velocity to develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter. But he also had a 6.03 ERA in three seasons at Dallas Baptist and needs to work on his secondary pitches.

"I'm very comfortable throwing all my pitches," Johansen said. "And I know they might not be the best pitches in my overall repertoire right now, but I know that they're very projectable and I have a lot to develop, there's no doubt about it."

Ward, originally a member of the Class of 2014 before making the decision last fall to graduate a year early, was another important pick for the Nationals. He grew up in the small town of Leedey, Okla., which has fewer than 500 residents, and dominated the smallest division of high school baseball in the state, batting above .700 as a freshman. Kline said he was confident that Ward would continue to play well against increasingly difficult levels of competition.

Yezzo, whom both Clark and Kline praised as an advanced hitter with a powerful, left-handed swing, might end up being the steal of the Nationals' draft. He was the CAA Player of the Year and had what Delaware head coach Jim Sherman called "one of the greatest single seasons in the last 20 years of Delaware baseball."

Kline mentioned Yezzo as one of a handful of draftees who could skip rookie ball and advance more quickly through the Nationals' system.

"This is a very, very good-looking hitter," Kline said of Yezzo. "Very efficient, polished approach. Very strong, physical, but under control. … He has a swing that's built to hit for average and power."

The Nationals drafted one local prospect in the ninth round: Jake Joyce, a right-hander from Virginia Tech. Joyce is from Collinsville, Va., and his parents became friends with Clark when the assistant general manager lived in Martinsville, Va. The Nationals were happy to pick Joyce and said that they "have been tracking him for quite a while."

In the later rounds, the Nationals drafted Florida shortstop Cody Dent, son of former All-Star and two-time World Series champion Bucky Dent, and right-handeer Lukas Schiraldi, son of former big league hurler Calvin Schiraldi. Dent was picked in the 22nd round with the 676th selection, while Schiraldi was chosen in the 35th round with pick No. 1,066.

Other notable picks include 20th-rounder Brenton Allen, brother of former NFL running back Tony Fisher; JUCO right-hander Andrew Cooper (12th round), nephew of Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville; and Central Arizona College shortstop David Masters (14th round), whose second cousin is actor Jon Hamm.

Now, the Nationals will turn their attention toward signing these players -- particularly those selected in the first 10 rounds -- and plugging them into what Clark called "the best player development system in baseball."

"We feel very confident that we're going to get all these guys, and hopefully fairly quickly," Clark said of Washington's first nine selections. "Our scouts do a tremendous job getting to know these kids and usually we have a really good idea what it's going to take to get selected."

Tom Schad is an associate reporter for

Washington Nationals