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Pitching remains Nats' top priority in 2013 Draft

Despite no first-rounder, club confident in getting 'good player' at No. 68

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in their history, the Nationals don't have a first-round pick in Thursday's First-Year Player Draft. They lost the 33rd pick to the Yankees after they signed free-agent closer Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $18 million contract.

The Nationals won't make their first selection until the second round (68th overall) of the Draft, but scouting director Kris Kline is confident the team will get the best player available.

"We are going to get a good player where we pick," Kline said. "I would probably narrow it down to eight or nine names where I felt comfortable where a certain player would be there. But once you started getting later in process, it makes those high-school players a little more unsignable the deeper you get. That being said, you have to do something creative."

Kline and general manager Mike Rizzo are known to pick productive players deep in the Draft. In 2007, the Nationals were able to select Jordan Zimmermann in the second round, and he is currently the team's best pitcher.

When Kline and Rizzo were with the D-Backs in 2000, they selected right-hander Brandon Webb in the eighth round, and he went on to win the Cy Young Award six years later. For Kline and Rizzo, it's helped that they had great scouts around the country finding players like Webb and Zimmermann.

"It's starts with our scouts, our crosscheckers and our area scouts. They get us to the right ballparks," Kline said. "As Mike said, we always go on the eye test and you look around and do a body check. You try to look at the athleticism, you look at everybody. We have been doing it for so long, by the time you leave, you have a pretty good idea on who the big leaguers are."

The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.'s coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Here's a glance at what the Nationals have in store as the Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
The Nationals are looking to add depth to the farm system. As Rizzo has often said, he is taking the best player available. But it's no secret the Nationals are looking for pitching prospects. Most of their current prospects, such as right-hander Stephen Strasburg, are in the big leagues.

The scoop
"We have the lowest budget in the Draft this year," Kline said. "We have to watch our dollars and cents and keep track of it as we go. We certainly have to know if the kids are signable prior to taking them. Otherwise, you lose the money. I'm not opposed to taking a high-school kid. If a high-school kid is sitting there and he is the best player available and he will sign, we will take a high-school player."

First-round buzz
The team's first pick is not until the second round -- the 68th pick in the Draft. During the Rizzo era, the Nationals usually had an idea who they were taking with their first pick. They will not know who is available until much later in the process.

"There are a couple of high-school pitchers, there is possibly a high-school catcher," Kline said. "There are probably two or three or four college pitchers that may slide to us because they have struggled a little bit or getting tired later in the year.

Money matters
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.

Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.

Shopping list
Based on his conversations with Doug Harris, the director of player development, and other people in Washington's Minor League system, Kline said the plan is to add pitching to the farm system.

"You can never have enough of it," Kline said. "That's a priority for us, although, that being said, you are going to take the best player available -- always. But pitching would be a priority for us in this Draft.

In recent years, the Nationals have traded pitching prospects to acquire Major League talent such as left-hander Gio Gonzalez and outfielder Denard Span.

Trend watch
Dating back to the 2007, when Rizzo was the scouting director, the Nationals' early picks in the Draft were close to big league ready. Players like Ross Detwiler (2007) to Bryce Harper (2010) are already in the big leagues, while it's a matter of time before Anthony Rendon (2011) hits the big time once again. Instead of playing third base, he will play second. Right-hander Lucas Giolito is the only first-round pick who is not close to being big league ready. He is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and is at extended spring camp.

Recent Draft History
2012: Lucas Giolito, RHP, Class A Advanced Jupiter
2011: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Triple A Syracuse
2010: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
2009: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
2008: Aaron J Crow, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Rising fast
Last season, Steven Souza, 24, had best season of his professional career. He played for Class A Hagerstown and Potomac and hit a combined .297 with 23 home runs, 85 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and a .366 on-base percentage. Souza credited a new mental approach for the improved numbers. Early this year, Souza sustained a shoulder injury, but he came back hot for Double-A Harrisburg.

Cinderella story
After a slow start in the Minor Leagues, it looks like right-hander Paul Demny is coming into his own this year. He was part of a no-hitter last month and has struck out 64 batters in 61 innings. His fastball is clocked as high as 95 mph. He is playing for Harrisburg.

In The Show
Harper, the club's first pick in the 2010 Draft, is clearly the team's best player, leading it in almost every offensive category. However, this past Friday, Harper was placed the disabled list because of bursitis in his left knee. There is no timetable on when he will return to action.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashinNats.
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