Nationals Pick A Good Time To Be Bad




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CHICAGO—There's nothing enjoyable about losing 100 games in back-to-back years. But at least the Nationals' timing was impeccable.

Washington dropped 102 games in 2008 and 103 more in 2009, resulting in one positive development: No. 1 overall picks in the 2009 and 2010 drafts.

The first decision was the easiest. Stephen Strasburg was the best prospect in draft history and the Nationals gave him a draft-record $15.1 million major league contract.

In 2010, Bryce Harper generated more draft buzz than even Strasburg had. Washington zeroed in early on the draft's top power-hitting prospect ever and signed him to a $9.9 million big league deal.

The Nationals couldn't have picked a better time to have two disastrous seasons. Strasburg's Tommy John surgery in 2010 notwithstanding, both he and Harper appear on the path to stardom.

Draft fortune smiled on Washington again in 2011. The Nationals picked sixth in a year that had more No. 1 overall-caliber talents than any in recent memory. Six, to be exact.

Anthony Rendon has the tools to win batting titles, hit 25 homers a year and earn Gold Gloves at third base. He also had a bum shoulder that limited him to DH duty at Rice for much of the spring, so Baseball America's top-rated draft prospect was available with the No. 6 choice and a $7.2 million major league deal.

We won't know for years, but the Nationals may have snagged the best player in three straight drafts. No team ever has pulled off that feat.

Astros, Rays Double Up

Only three clubs can boast of landing a draft's top talent three times total, let alone in consecutive years.

The Brewers took Robin Yount (1973), Paul Molitor (1977) and Gary Sheffield (1986) with top-six picks. The Tigers found Lou Whitaker (1975) in the fifth round and Curtis Granderson (2002) in the third, as well as Justin Verlander (2004) with the No. 2 overall choice. The Red Sox stole Roger Clemens (1983) and Nomar Garciaparra (1994) in the middle of the first round and Jeff Bagwell (1989) in the fourth.

The same team snagging the best player in successive drafts is even rarer, happening just twice. The Astros took a flier on Roy Oswalt in the 23rd round in 1996, and signed him as a draft-and-follow the next spring. He would have been a first-rounder had he gone in the 1997 draft, perhaps ahead of Lance Berkman, whom Houston got 16th overall because of questions about his power.

The Rays found themselves in a situation similar to Washington's in 2006-07, when they owned the third and first overall selections. Evan Longoria and David Price have been the best players in their still-young draft classes, leading Tampa Bay to a stunning World Series berth in 2008 and playoff spots in each of the last two years.

Both Houston and Tampa Bay landed an impact player in three straight drafts. In 1998, the Astros took Brad Lidge in the first round, and he teamed with Oswalt and Berkman to lead Houston to its only World Series appearance in 2005. That June, the Rays used their fourth-round pick on Jeremy Hellickson, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the last two seasons.

Kansas City Gets Straight A's

The Kansas City Athletics set the standard for getting blue-chip talent in the first three drafts, laying the groundwork for five division titles and three World Series championships. The A's went to Arizona State for sixth-rounder Sal Bando in 1965 and No. 2 overall pick Reggie Jackson in 1966, then snagged Vida Blue in 1967's second round.

About once a decade, a club has an impressive three-year run. The Tigers got Lance Parrish in 1974's first round, Whitaker in 1975 and both Alan Trammell (second round) and Jack Morris (fifth) in 1976. Detroit also failed to sign Ozzie Smith as a seventh-rounder in 1976 but still had more than enough talent to win the 1984 World Series.

The best 1980s trio belongs to the Mets: No. 1 overall pick Darryl Strawberry in 1980, 13th-rounder Lenny Dykstra in 1981 and No. 5 overall choice Dwight Gooden in 1982. In their first full big league season together, New York won the 1986 World Series.

Several teams have parlayed a string of impact draftees into recent World Series titles as well. The Cardinals selected J.D. Drew, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Dan Haren in 1998-2001, and the first three contributed (Drew via getting traded for Adam Wainwright) to a championship in 2006. The Red Sox followed up in 2007, helped in large part by a 2001-05 run that gave them Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Just last year, 2006-08 first-rounders Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey sparked the Giants to their first World Series victory in San Francisco. If Strasburg, Harper and Rendon deliver on their promise, the Nationals could make some history of their own soon enough.