VIERA, Fla. -- One thing Nationals right-hander Lucas Giolito has is patience, and he will need it if he wants to get back on the mound by July. Giolito is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and already has made progress.
Giolito, 18, has played catch and thrown as far as 90 feet on flat ground as part of his throwing program. Looking at Giolito's face, one can tell that he is pleased with the progress he has made thus far.
"It's one step closer to being able to pitch again," Giolito, ranked by MLB.com as Washington's No. 3 prospect, said at the Nats' Minor League complex. "That's the ultimate goal. I want to be able to pitch again and work my way up through the system and really get it going."
The Nationals are expecting Giolito to be one of their best pitchers in a few years. Before he was selected by Washington as the 16th overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Giolito's fastball was clocked as high as 100 mph, and he had a power curveball.
Giolito, who is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, went 9-1 with 78 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in 70 1/3 innings as a junior at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. He also threw three shutouts and tossed four complete games. Giolito was named a Perfect Game All-American in 2011 for his efforts as a junior. The Nats have compared him to Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay.
However, early in 2012, Giolito sprained the ulnar collateral nerve in his right elbow.
"It was a minor sprain, I would say," he said. "I rehabbed really hard. I wanted to come back and not have the surgery."
But the Nationals were not deterred from selecting Giolito. It helped that the team had a couple of pitchers -- Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann -- who had Tommy John surgery and found success in the big leagues.
"In the Draft, it's about risk and reward," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We felt the upside of Giolito trumped the risk of him getting injured. We thought and expected that he was going to have Tommy John surgery going into this. The doctors looked at the whole package medically and thought that he would be a great rehab candidate.
"We felt that it was an elbow and a Tommy John. Our track record with those type of [injuries] is good. We felt the makeup of this kid made him a good candidate to rehab well and to come back even stronger than he was before. If he gets to where he was pre-injury or better, we have ourselves a really good rotation type of starter."
Giolito could have been a higher pick in the Draft if not for his elbow injury. But he is grateful that the Nats were willing to take a chance on him.
"It says the organization is really moving in a really great direction. It's a really advanced direction that they are able to see the surgery as not so much of big deal anymore," Giolito said. "It's not like it's a career breaker or anything like that. So many pitchers in the big leagues have had the surgery before, so the Nationals have a really good view on it. They do the rehab process extremely well, so I couldn't be happier."
After he signed with Washington, Giolito battled and started one game for the Gulf Coast Nationals before undergoing surgery. After having the procedure, Giolito sought the advice of former Major League left-hander Randy Wolf, who's had two Tommy John surgeries during his career.
"During the rehab process, being able to talk to him and trying to pick his brain about how he went about the surgery and the recovery -- all that twice -- it's very useful," Giolito said.
Giolito has loved baseball ever since he was a little kid. His parents, Rick and Lindsay, played a big part in his love for the game. Lucas would sit between them while his father rooted for the Mets and his mother cheered for the Twins.
"I was a baby sitting there in front of baseball games," he said. "I started T-ball at 5, 6 years old, and I just kept growing and growing. I did a lot of [school] reports in grade school -- Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, all the legends."
As Giolito got older and showed an interest in pitching, he admired Tigers ace Justin Verlander because of his consistency on the mound. Giolito would later admire Strasburg for his hard work while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
"I started looking at Justin Verlander for the way he attacks hitters. He is a Cy Young Award winner, MVP," Giolito said. "He can throw 92 in the first inning and 101 in the last inning. His work regimen is definitely something I would like to emulate in the future.
"More recently, Stephen Strasburg, the way he has been pitching recently. Definitely the same kind of thing I want to do."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.