Health key issue for Nats' stars on the rise

Health key issue for Nats' stars on the rise

Health key issue for Nats' stars on the rise
WASHINGTON -- With the exception of the 2006 and 2012 Drafts, the Nationals have had at least one Top-10 pick in the First-Year Player Draft in every season since they moved to Washington in 2005. Current Major Leaguers from that list include a trio of players central to the team's foundation, in Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman.

The 2012 Draft concluded Wednesday afternoon, though much of the Draft buzz the Nationals generated came on Monday. First-round selection (No. 16 overall) Lucas Giolito is a top high school pitcher who could've gone as early as No. 1 overall had he not endured right elbow problems early in the season.

With the No. 16 pick valued at $2.125 million this year, several of the Nats' later picks appeared to be geared more toward signability, though general manager Mike Rizzo and his front office often praise the scouting staff as the best in baseball in assessing the team's Draft selections.

Fifth-round pick Spencer Kieboom, a catcher from Clemson, wasn't even listed among Baseball America's top 500 prospects, yet assistant general manager Roy Clark called him "the best defensive catcher in the country."

2012 Draft Central

Whatever fiscal sacrifices the Nats might have made in this year's Draft are made more affordable thanks to their fruitful Draft classes of the past few years. Anthony Rendon, the Nats' top prospect now that Harper seems to be a fixture in the Majors, was drafted in the first round of last year's Draft (No. 6 overall).

Concern over a shoulder issue that plagued him during his final year at Rice University dropped Rendon, the top college hitting prospect in the Draft, to the Nats, but his luck hasn't gotten much better. Rendon suffered a badly sprained left ankle while running the bases for Class A Potomac on April 7, supplementing previous concerns over ankle injuries he suffered at Rice.

Alex Meyer, the Nats' top pitching prospect, followed Rendon to Washington in last year's first round at No. 23 overall. A 6-foot-9 righty, Meyer has plenty of room to add weight to his lanky 220-pound frame. Meyer is also working to expand his pitching repertoire, which mainly consists of a fastball that can hit 97 mph and a power slider around 88 mph. Working in Class A Hagerstown, Meyer has also added a changeup, though it remains a work in progress. In 11 starts there, Meyer has posted a 4-3 record with a 3.71 ERA, 62 strikeouts and only 23 walks.

Matt Purke, a third-rounder from last year's Draft and the Nats' No. 2 pitching prospect, is also at Hagerstown with Meyer. After a shoulder injury kept him out of action for most of his final season at Texas Christian University, Purke began the season with extended spring action in Viera, Fla., to build up arm strength. His Minor League debut came on May 30, when he allowed five runs on seven hits and five walks in five innings. For the season, Purke is 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA, nine strikeouts and eight walks in 9 2/3 innings pitched.

To date, none of the injuries have marred the hype surrounding last year's top three picks. Rendon and Purke both were signed to Major League contracts as Draftees, with the former still seen as a formidable hitting prospect and the latter regarded as a future frontline starter as long as they remain healthy.

Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.