WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have already shown that they're not afraid to select a pitcher with a history of injury concerns in the MLB Draft. So when high school right-hander Mason Denaburg fell further down the first round Monday night than many expected, they pounced on the opportunity to select him.
• Draft Tracker: Follow every Nationals Draft pick
Washington made Denaburg the 27th selection in the Draft, again taking a gamble on a pitcher in the opening round. The Nats continued with the pitching theme in the second round, when they selected University of Connecticut lefty Tim Cate with the 65th overall selection.
:: 2018 Draft coverage ::
Pitching has long been the foundation for these Nationals, carrying them to four National League East titles in the past six seasons, but the team could use some prospect pitching depth at the top of its farm system. The Nats have had to make trades midseason and in the offseason through their contending years and have often dealt from their position of depth. With Monday's selections, they are hoping to replenish a portion of that depth.
"It was two guys we really wanted the first day," Nationals scouting director Kris Kline said during a conference call Tuesday morning. "It was a great first day for us."
The Nationals believe Denaburg could be a front-line starting pitcher. He played at Merritt Island High School near Viera, Fla., the former Spring Training home for the Nats, where he went 5-1 with a 1.27 ERA in eight starts during his senior year. MLB Pipeline ranked Denaburg as its 24th overall Draft prospect. He was also a two-way player in high school. Denaburg struck out 73 batters and walked just 10 on the mound, and he hit .410 (34-for-83) with five home runs, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 28 games in the field.
Denaburg did have his season interrupted by bicep tendinitis, but Kline reiterated that it was not something that was going to scare the Nationals off. He threw a simulated three-inning game in front of their scouts upon return from his injury and checked out nicely.
"I feel like we got a healthy guy and a potential front-line starter," Kline said.
Besides, the Nationals have shown they will not shy away from a talented player. A year ago, they selected left-hander Seth Romero in the first round, a consensus top-10 talent who fell because of behavioral concerns. A few years ago, they selected right-hander Lucas Giolito in the first round, even though he was set to have Tommy John surgery. Drafting Denaburg reiterates the Nats' commitment to pitching and replenishing the top of their system with talented arms on which to build.
In the second round, the Nationals selected Cate, a junior, who went 5-4 with a 2.91 ERA in 11 games (seven starts) for UConn. He struck out 67 batters and walked 19 while holding opposing batters to a .258 average. MLB.com ranked Cate as the 62nd overall prospect in this Draft, and Kline said he has the best left-handed curveball in the Draft.
Cate became the first member of the University of Connecticut to appear on Team USA on two occasions, when he did so in 2016 and '17. He was named First Team All-Conference in the American Athletic Conference during his sophomore season in '17, when he struck out 102 batters in 75 2/3 innings. Combined with his 101 strikeouts during his freshman season, Cate became the first player in program history to eclipse triple-digit strikeouts in consecutive seasons. He did undergo Tommy John surgery at the age of 16, but the Nats had no injury concerns for him.
"Sometimes dynamite comes in smaller packages," Kline said. "This kid has always been a starter. Been a starter through his collegiate career, he was a starter for Team USA. He's had a very solid college career, high strikeout guy. For me, he owns the best left-handed curveball in this Draft. I think we are lucky to get this kid where we did."
The Nationals are especially looking to boost their pitching depth given the absence of Romero, who was suspended during Spring Training for a violation of team rules and remains home in Houston.
Denaburg and Cate represent building blocks as the team looks to maintain its strong pitching presence.