WASHINGTON -- The Nationals took a gamble on an injured pitcher in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, selecting UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde, who had Tommy John surgery, with the No. 18 pick. One baseball source believes Fedde had the best stuff before he went down with his injury.
Before the surgery, which was performed Tuesday by Dr. Neal S. Elattrache, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Fedde had a great final season for UNLV, going 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA in 11 starts. He also had 82 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings. Fedde is a graduate of Las Vegas High School, where he played alongside Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
"Congrats to fellow teammate of mine in high school ErickFedde on being drafted by the @Nationals! We got a great one DC!" Harper said on his Twitter account. "Yes @ErickFedde and I were teammates in high school! Give him a follow DC! So happy and proud of him! #LVpride."
General manager Mike Rizzo believes Fedde would have been a top 10 pick if not for the elbow injury. The Nationals have scouted Fedde since his freshman year at UNLV and while he was playing for Team USA. The team has compared Fedde to former big league pitcher Jack McDowell. He is projected to be a front-line starter.
"He is a plus-stuff guy. We have scouted him intensely the last three years," Rizzo said. "He has two plus-plus pitches and his third pitch -- a changeup -- is going to come. We think tht he is going to be an above average pitcher. He is a big, physical guy. We had him toward the top of our Draft board and we felt that the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the Draft pick."
It marks the third consecutive year the Nationals have selected a pitcher with their first pick. The team selected Lucas Giolito and Jake Johansen in 2012 and '13, respectively. Washington selected University of Miami left-hander Andrew Suarez with the 57th pick in the second round Thursday.
The Draft continues Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET. It wouldn't come as a surprise if the Nats use those rounds to select pitchers as the team can spend $5,275,700 this year
The Nationals are known to take a risk on injured players. Giolito and third baseman Anthony Rendon are two players who were hurt before they were drafted. Rendon had shoulder and ankle problems before he was taken in 2010 and Giolito tore a ligament in his elbow before he was taken two years later.
Today, Rendon is among the team leaders in runs scored, hits and RBIs, and has a chance to participate in his first All-Star Game. Giolito has recovered from Tommy John surgery and is on an innings limit while pitching for Class A Hagerstown. He recorded a 2.29 ERA in eight starts.
How do the Nats balance the risk/reward when it comes to injured players?
"We don't take hollow chances. We do a lot of research. We do a lot of background checks. We work hand-in-hand with our medical team," Rizzo said. "We have very good success in rehabbing those types of players. Each situation is individual and different."
Rizzo is not sure how easy it would be to sign Fedde, who is represented by agent Scott Boras. Rizzo and Boras have been able to get deals done fairly quickly. Boras represents Harper, Rendon and Stephen Strasburg.
"We are going to begin the process and see if we could get him signed and get him to rehab. [We want him] to take the next step toward seeing him pitch out here at Nationals Park," Rizzo said.
Once he is signed, the Nationals will let him work out at the club's complex in Viera, Fla.
"We'll put him on Viera rehab mode," Rizzo said. "He will get to know all the restaurants in Viera, Fla., and have our rehab coordinators get after it and allow him to hopefully be pitching at this time next year somewhere."
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.