Washington Nationals select Elijah Green in MLB draft


With the fifth pick in the MLB draft, the Washington Nationals selected outfielder Elijah Green on Sunday night, landing a top-rate high school position player for the second year in a row. Then with the 45th pick in the second round, they added Jake Bennett, a left-handed pitcher from the University of Oklahoma.

Green, an 18-year-old from IMG Academy in Florida, stands out with his size — 6-foot-4, 225 pounds — and plus speed. Two National League scouts, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to do so publicly about opposing teams, projected Green to stay in center field because of his range and strong arm. A right-handed hitter, Green has displayed power to all fields and raised mild concerns about his production against off-speed pitches. But more than anything, he is still a teenager, meaning the pick is both a show of confidence in his promise and a big task for the Nationals’ player development staff.

This was the Nationals’ highest pick since they chose Bryce Harper first in 2010. Under General Manager Mike Rizzo, who assumed that role in 2009, Green is the club’s fifth top-10 selection, joining Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Anthony Rendon . And much like those before him, Green will be a critical piece of a Nationals rebuild. He’s the son of Eric Green, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end, and was committed to the University of Miami.

“Just the past of them having future prospects like Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, all of them — I feel like it just shows that they know what they’re doing with their players,” said Green, who compared himself to Mike Trout because “we can kind of do it all the same way.”

“I just feel like I can be one of those players who can make it to the [majors] so on.”

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The slot value for the fifth pick is $6.49 million. For the 45th pick, it is $1.73 million. If the Nationals sign Green or Bennett to a higher bonus than their slot values, they would have less money to spread across their other 18 selections. The opposite goes for if Green’s or Bennett’s eventual bonus is lower. Washington’s entire bonus pool is $11,007,900.

Bennett, 21 and standing tall at 6-6, was the Nationals’ 39th-round pick in 2019, when he chose to enroll at Oklahoma. His fastball, complemented by a slider and a change-up, sits in the low to mid-90s. The Nationals will hope for at least some velocity gains at the start of his professional career. They have liked Oklahoma pitchers in recent drafts, grabbing Cade Cavalli (first round in 2020, now their top prospect) and Jake Irvin (fourth round in 2018, now impressing after Tommy John surgery).

Like Cavalli, Bennett attended Bixby High near Tulsa, where they were teammates before playing together in college. As a redshirt sophomore in 2022, Bennett struck out 133 batters and walked 22 in 117 innings. His strong command is mentioned in most scouting reports.

“For the most part I’m pretty fastball-dominant. I got good command of that. I can throw it to either side of the plate,” Bennett said Sunday night. “As far as off-speed goes, change-up has definitely been kind of my feel pitch. I feel like I can kind of throw that in any count. And then when things are going good, I’m mixing in the slider as an out pitch to lefties, and curveball more flip it, show it so hitters respect it.”

Hours before Bennett and Green became the newest members of the organization, the Nationals finished the first half at 31-63, MLB’s worst record. So the state of the franchise — and the growing potential that Soto is traded this month or in the near future — added weight to what already felt like a consequential pick. But with Rizzo often promising a quick reboot, many recent mock drafts connected Washington to Kevin Parada, a 20-year-old catcher out of Georgia Tech, with the fifth pick.

The logic was that Parada—or a proven college hitter like him—best served the desire to quickly build a contender around Soto. The organization also has a gaping void of hitters in an improving but still-thin system. Green figured to be more of a project than any high-ranked hitter who has faced Division I pitchers for two or three years.

Yet Parada was never atop the team’s draft board. He ultimately went 11th to the New York Mets. Before picking fifth, the Nationals watched the Baltimore Orioles select shortstop Jackson Holliday, the Arizona Diamondbacks take outfielder Druw Jones, the Texas Rangers take pitcher Kumar Rocker and the Pittsburgh Pirates take infielder Termarr Johnson. Once the Rangers chose Rocker, a shock to the industry, Washington zeroed in on Johnson and Green, according to multiple people with knowledge of their thought process.

Then the Pirates basically made the selection for them. Green was Washington’s guy.

When it comes to position players, the Nationals love to build through the middle with catchers, shortstops and center fielders. In the past year, the club took shortstop Brady House with the 11th pick last summer, added outfielder Daylen Lile in the second round and acquired catcher Keibert Ruiz, a top prospect, in the Trea Turner/Max Scherzer trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Luis García, 22, is in the majors and trying to stick at shortstop, the position the club signed him to play out of the Dominican Republic in 2016. And at the most recent international signing deadlines, the Nationals brought in shortstop Armando Cruz and outfielder Cristhian Vaquero on massive bonuses.

Green is just the latest hitter they are putting a lot of stock in. Needless to say, his development will be key.

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