The Washington Nationals headlined their Day 2 haul in the MLB draft by selecting Drew Mendoza, a Florida State third baseman, with the 16th pick of the third round (94th overall) Tuesday afternoon. They also selected four more pitchers among their eight Day 2 picks after taking right-handed starter Jackson Rutledge 17th overall Monday night.
The Nationals did not have a second-round pick Monday or their compensation pick after the fourth round Tuesday for former outfielder Bryce Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. When Washington signed Patrick Corbin this offseason, after the left-handed pitcher rejected a qualifying offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Nationals had to forfeit their second- and fifth-highest picks in the draft.
MLB.com rated Mendoza the 55th-best prospect in the draft, and Baseball America tabbed him 75th. Scouting reports project the left-handed hitter (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) as a slugger at the next level. The 21-year-old has bounced between first and third base since his days at Lake Minneola (Fla.) High — though he has played exclusively third base this season at Florida State — and experts project he will slot in at first base or maybe even a corner outfield position as a professional.
Mendoza has improved at the plate each year at Florida State. His average climbed from .270 as a freshman in 2017 to .320 this season, and he has homered 16 times this year after hitting 17 over his first two seasons. He leads the Seminoles in slugging percentage (.631) and is tied for 52nd in the nation in that category.
“Big body, big left-handed hitter,” Kris Kline, the Nationals’ assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations, said of Mendoza. “Drew, in high school, was a potential first-round pick, left-handed hitter, big power. He was a lot thinner back then. We thought he could stay at short. He’s playing first base now. … Either way you have a big power bat, and [he] moves around really good for a big guy.”
Mendoza left high school in 2016 ranked as the 36th-best prospect available, according to MLB Pipeline, but he had a hard commitment to Florida State and was not drafted until the 36th round by the Detroit Tigers. Now, the bonus money slot value for Mendoza’s pick is $618,200.
Mendoza became the second Seminole drafted by the Nationals in as many seasons after the organization selected pitcher Andrew Karp in the sixth round last year.
In the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds Tuesday, the Nationals drafted college relievers. They are Arkansas left-hander Matt Cronin, Florida right-hander Tyler Dyson and LSU right-hander Todd Peterson with the 123rd, 153rd and 213th picks, respectively.
Scouting reports marked Cronin, who set the Razorbacks program record with 14 saves last year, as perhaps the draft’s best reliever. He is noted for his outstanding spin rates and a 92- to 96-mph fastball. Kline singled him out as a possible quick mover through the Nationals’ minor league system.
Dyson, on the other hand, found his way into the bullpen after losing his spot in the Gators’ rotation this year. His fastball touches 97 mph, but the MLB.com scouting report noted his struggles with his slider and an inability to develop a third pitch have combined with the fastball’s “lack of life” to put Dyson in sticky spots. The fastball gets hit hard when he leaves it too far into the strike zone, the report noted.
For his part, the 6-5, 220-pound Peterson also throws gas. His fastball has been known to hit 97 and is complemented by a hammer curveball, when he can command it. Peterson, whose Tigers will face Mendoza’s Seminoles in an NCAA Super Regional series beginning Saturday, has posted a 3.83 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings this season.
In the sixth round, with the draft’s 183rd pick, the Nationals selected Jackson Cluff, a shortstop from Brigham Young. Cluff played third base as a freshman in 2016 and hit .279 with 10 RBI and two doubles. Then the member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took a two-year mission in Georgia.
The Boise native returned last June, moved to shortstop and picked up where he left off this season, hitting .327 with four home runs and 56 RBI. He was the first BYU player named national player of the week twice.
The Nationals rounded out the second day of the draft by selecting UCLA outfielder Jeremy Ydens (eighth round), Texas State right-hander Hunter McMahon (ninth round) and Lubbock Christian College catcher Andrew Pratt (10th round).
The draft concludes Wednesday with rounds 11 through 40.
Jesse Dougherty contributed to this report.