Rozner: Nats' Rizzo not surprised White Sox's Giolito a star
It was just the kind of pick Mike Rizzo would make.
It was the kind of player the Washington GM often selected while he was scouting director in Arizona and a formula he followed once grabbing the reins in D.C.
For much of his senior year in high school, Lucas Giolito was considered the likely No. 1 pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, but an elbow injury led to concerns about what might be next for him.
Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Giolito had committed to UCLA and there were serious doubts about his signability, something Rizzo had always taken advantage of when other teams were scared away from draft-eligible players.
Find a player who should be taken higher and then gamble on whether Rizzo can get the player to sign a contract, willing to overslot and pay more than the recommended amount.
Sure enough, the Nationals selected Giolito when the California power pitcher fell to No. 16, and then 30 seconds before the deadline Rizzo signed Giolito for $2.9 million, nearly a million more than the suggested slot bonus.
Was there a guarantee of success? Of course not.
There was the elbow Rizzo knew needed Tommy John surgery and that meant it would be at least another year before they could get Giolito throwing regularly on a professional mound.
Did they overpay? Only if you believe him to be the 16th-best player, which the Nationals did not accept as true. They still saw him as that possible No. 1 overall.
At 17, Giolito was more polished at that age than Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole, both No. 1 overall picks, and a frequent pre-draft comp was Roy Halladay, given Giolito's extraordinary repertoire.
Still, it was a big bonus for a pitcher with an injury, and two weeks after Giolito signed he scheduled a date with the scalpel.
"We took a lot of heat for taking him 16th because we all knew Tommy John was pretty certain," said Rizzo, who's in town with the Nats for a pair on the South Side. "We were so happy he fell to us. Great kid with great potential, huge upside.
"With Tommy John, you just don't know the time frame. Some guys are back in a year and some take two years, but then you don't know how long until they find their stride again.
"But I always had high hopes for Lucas. I always believed in him."
As for the downside risk, Rizzo has never worried about that side of the equation, believing that he and his team of scouts know what they're doing.
And his track record of drafting stars in Washington speaks for itself.
"There's a lot of times we could have gone the safe route, but when you see a guy's upside is too good to pass up, you roll the dice because you need impact players," Rizzo said. "We rolled the dice on Lucas."
In December 2016 with the White Sox tearing down, they dealt Adam Eaton and his team-friendly contract to Washington for Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, the kind of move a contending team with a surplus of prospects is unafraid to make, something the Cubs have done the last few years in trading for the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels.
Eaton's devastating knee/ankle injuries have prevented him from being the 6-WAR player he was in Chicago, and make the trade look different today than it might have, and only now that Giolito is on a tear.
But Rizzo remains squarely in Giolito's camp.
"When you win for seven years in a row and you win four division titles and you're trying to win it all, you make trades for today and you have to give up good players," Rizzo said. "But I couldn't be happier for Lucas.
"He's pitching the way our scouts thought he would, so I'm not at all surprised, but all the credit goes to him for grinding it out and persevering.
"I hope he makes the all-star team and I wish him nothing but the best."
Right now, the White Sox are getting precisely that.