Maybe it is actually a good thing that for once the Nationals left their scouting department bored stiff on Thursday night. With the best record in baseball last season and a prominent free-agent signing over the winter in closer Rafael Soriano, Washington didn’t have a selection in Major League Baseball’s 2013 draft until No. 68.
That also left a lot of staring at television screens for almost five hours as the team’s executives and scouting staff sat in the media room in the basement of Nationals Park and waited to see who would be available when its turn at long last came. The choice? Dallas Baptist right-handed pitcher Jake Johansen, a 6-foot-6, 235-pounder with a wicked fastball and major control issues.
As Roy Clark, Washington’s senior vice president of player personnel, noted on Thursday: If Johansen had better command of the strike zone and better numbers he would have been a top 10 pick. So the Nats will take what they can get. And after a workout at Nationals Park this week in front of general manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty the team believes it has a solid second-round choice on its hands.
Nats scouting director Kris Kline saw Johansen, 22, pitch twice in person this season. He disagreed with opinions from ESPN, Baseball America and MLB.com that Johansen is likely a future reliever. The front office doesn’t want to peg him there just yet. Kline reluctantly dropped a Josh Beckett comparison on Johansen, who was able to maintain his velocity late into games, has a hard slider and can hit 99 on the radar gun with his fastball.
Johansen is from Allen, Texas, a suburb 25 miles northeast of Dallas. He was a 2009 high-school graduate and a redshirt sophomore this season. Johansen started 15 games this spring with 75 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings pitched. But he also walked 26 batters with seven wild pitches and seven hit batters as opponents posted a .301 average against him.
As a freshman Johansen primarily pitched out of the bullpen (20 appearances, four starts) with 40 strikeouts and 32 walks. Kline likes the improvement that he’s seen out of Johansen since his high school days and also from last season to this one.
“This guy is I feel, at 22 years old, just scratching the surface and a late bloomer,” Kline said.
Johansen was described as a “long-levered guy,” by Kline, who said he could be too methodical and deliberate in his approach. The team thinks increasing Johansen’s tempo on the mound will help.
Kline disagreed with some assessments by national outlets that Johansen is a one-pitch pitcher. The fastball is obviously elite. Kline believes the slider is an out-pitch right now. It is thrown as a cutter at 88 to 90 miles-per-hour and blends into a slider. Johansen also has a power – or “downer” – curveball that sits at 75-to-78 MPH. Both pitches are inconsistent, however. Both Kline and Clark believe Johansen wants to sign with Washington and get a quick jump on his pro career.
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