The Washington Nationals select Elijah Green in the MLB draft

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With their fifth pick in the MLB draft Sunday night, the Washington Nationals selected outfielder Elijah Green, landing a high-profile high school 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 Florida’s IMG Academy, stands out for his height — 6ft 4, 225 pounds — and plus speed. Two National League scouts, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to do so publicly about opposing teams, predicted Green would remain in midfield due to his reach and strong arm. As a right-hander, Green has shown power in all fields and has expressed slight concerns about his performance against off-speed pitches. But most importantly, he’s still a teenager, which means the pick is both a sign of faith in his promise and a tall order for the Nationals’ player development staff.

This was the Nationals’ highest pick since they first picked Bryce Harper in 2010. Under general manager Mike Rizzo, who assumed that role in 2009, Green is the club’s fifth top 10 selection, along with Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Anthony Rendon. And much like those before him, Green will be a crucial part of the rebuilding of the Nationals. He is the son of Eric Green, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end, and was hired to the University of Miami.

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

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

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

Bennett, 21 and growing at 6-6, was the Nationals’ 39th-round pick in 2019 when he decided to sign on in Oklahoma. His fastball, complemented by a slider and a change-up, sits in the low to mid 90s. The Nationals will be hoping for at least some speed gains early in his pro career. They liked Oklahoma Pitchers in recent drafts, snapping up Cade Cavalli (first round in 2020, now their top prospect) and Jake Irvin (fourth round in 2018, now impressive after Tommy John’s 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 batted 133 batters and walked 22 in 117 innings. His strong command is mentioned in most scouting reports.

“Most of the time I’m pretty fastball dominant. I’ve got that under control. I can throw it on either side of the plate,” Bennett said Sunday night. “As far as off-speed goes, the switch was definitely kind of my emotional state. I feel like I can kind of throw this in any direction. And then, when things are going well, I mix in the slider as a left-handed out pitch, and Curveball is more likely to flip it, show it, so hitters respect it.

Hours ahead of Bennett and Green became the newest additions to the organization, and the Nationals finished the first half 31-63, MLB’s worst record. The state of the franchise — and the growing potential Soto is trading this month or in the near future — reinforced what already felt like a consistent pick. But with Rizzo often promising a quick restart, many new mock drafts tied Washington with fifth-choice Kevin Parada, a 20-year-old Georgia Tech catcher.

The logic was that Parada – or a proven college hitter like him – best served the desire to quickly build a contender on Soto. The organization also has a gaping gap in racquets in an improving but still thin system. Green was more of a project than any senior hitter to batter against Division I pitchers for two or three years.

But Parada never headed the team’s draft committee. He eventually went 11th to the New York Mets. Before fifth place, the Nationals watched as the Baltimore Orioles picked shortstop Jackson Holliday, the Arizona Diamondbacks picked outfielder Druw Jones, the Texas Rangers picked pitcher Kumar Rocker, and the Pittsburgh Pirates picked infielder Termarr Johnson. After Rangers chose Rocker, an industry shock, Washington focused on Johnson and Green, according to several people with knowledge of their thought process.

Then the pirates basically made the selection for them. Green was Washington’s type.

When it comes to positional play, the Nationals like to build through the middle with catchers, shortstops, and midfielders. Last 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 a Trea Turner/Max Scherzer trade for Los Angeles Dodgers. Luis García, 22, is with the majors and is trying to stay at shortstop, the position the club signed him to play from the Dominican Republic in 2016 for Cristhian Vaquero via massive bonuses.

Green is just the latest hitter, which they put a lot of emphasis on. Needless to say, his development will be key.

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