With the draft signing deadline today, let's take a look back at a pitcher who signed at the deadline last year after falling to the #16 spot and being taken by the Nationals despite starting the year as the favorite to go #1 overall. Lucas Giolito is back and pitching in live games, so let's see how his value may have changed since then.
Giolito attended Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, CA, and coming into his senior season was anticipated to be a top draft pick, with the possibility of being the first high school right hander taken at #1 overall. However, after pulling himself out of a game on March 6th, Giolito was sidelined with a slightly torn UCL in his throwing elbow, and was expected to miss the rest of the season. He did end up missing the high school season, and started throwing about a month before the draft.
Come draft day, the question became who would take the risk on Lucas Giolito. This was a pitcher who had already had a significant elbow injury, was expected to demand a very high bonus to forego his commitment to UCLA, and was stuck in the first draft involving the new spending rules. The Nationals took the risk, taking him with the 16th overall pick in the draft. It was the fourth straight season that the Nationals had taken what might have been the top overall talent in the draft (Strasburg, Harper, Rendon prior).
The negotiations went down to the wire, but the Nationals were able to get their man with a bonus of $2.925 million, which was $800,000 above than the slot recommendation. He debuted for the Nationals' GCL affiliate on August 14th, throwing 2 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 earned run, and notching a strikeout. Unfortunately, he also suffered a tear of his UCL this time, and had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter. Fast forward to this month, and Giolito has recovered to the point where he was able to return to live game action. So far, he has made two starts in the GCL, and has 4 strikeouts and 2 walks in 2+ innings.
The scouting reports coming out of high school spoke of a pitcher who could hit 100 MPH with his fastball, while sitting in the mid 90's. In addition, Giolito features a plus-plus curveball and an above-average changeup as well. Given three above average pitches, and his build (6'6", 230 lbs.), Giolito is viewed as a potential true #1 starting pitcher in the future if everything clicks. The question marks at this point surround whether he is still the same pitcher now given the injury, but the Nationals have a history of being able to successfully rehab pitchers from this surgery (Strasburg, Zimmermann). He is considered to have excellent makeup as well, which could help him quite a bit on the road back to pitching.
While I am still concerned and want to see him show himself to be healthy (rather than just taking it as assumed), I don't believe that Giolito's ceiling has changed at all. He lost a year of development, but he was young for his draft class to begin with, and will still turn just 19 on Sunday. Your window to potentially acquire Giolito on the cheap is probably closing with every inning he throws, and it would not surprise me if he were a top 25 prospect come the offseason. I would look for him to hit full season ball to start the 2014 season, and go from there.