Mike Rizzo has been a part of five amateur drafts with the Nationals -- two as assistant general manager, three as GM -- and each time he sat down in the club's war room on draft day, he had a pretty good idea whose name ultimately would be called.
Such is life when you're always among the first 10 selections in baseball's annual draft.
Tonight, when Rizzo and his team of scouts and front-office executives gather in that same war room at Nationals Park, there will be only one consensus among this group of hardened baseball men: They'll have no idea what player they're going to wind up taking with the No. 16 pick.
"It's a lot less clear the type of player we're going to get," Rizzo said. "Picking in the middle of the pack, you put together a list, and the next guy on the top of the list is the guy you're going to take. It's hard to plan."
The Nationals will happily deal with this dilemma, because it means the franchise is finally making progress at the big-league level. After going 80-81 last season, they finished in the top half of the sport for the first time since relocating from Montreal. Thus, their first draft pick has never before come so late in the first round.
So don't expect any Stephen Strasburgs or Bryce Harpers to be available around 8:30 p.m. tonight when the Nationals are finally on the clock. They might not even find any Ryan Zimmermans, Drew Storens or Ross Detwilers.
HISTORY OF NATS 1ST ROUND PICKS
2005: Ryan Zimmerman (4)
2006: Chris Marrero (15), Colton Willems (22)
2007: Ross Detwiler (6), Josh Smoker (31), Michael Burgess (49)
2008: Aaron Crow (9)
2009: Stephen Strasburg (1), Drew Storen (10)
2010: Bryce Harper (1)
2011: Anthony Rendon (6), Alex Meyer (23), Brian Goodwin (34)
-Did not sign
What the Nationals will find is at least one player rated by their scouts as one of the 16 best in the country this summer. And no matter what available player is left at the top of their board when the time comes, they'll draft him. No exceptions.
"We're going to take it as we always have," Rizzo said. "We're going to put the board together ability-based, and we'll do our due diligence on the health, makeup and signability of all the players. We're going to pull the trigger and take the best player available."
The process for creating that draft board may not have changed at all, but the process of signing those players has changed dramatically in the last year. After watching draft signing bonuses skyrocket over the last decade -- with the Nationals among the biggest culprits -- owners and players instituted significant changes in the new collective bargaining agreement that was signed over the winter.
Teams are no longer free to spend as much as they want on draft picks, not without incurring some stiff penalties. MLB has set a cap on what all 30 clubs may spend on the first 10 rounds. The Nationals' limit: 4.4 million, significantly less than they paid to any of their last three first-round picks (Anthony Rendon got 6 million last year, Harper got 6.25 million in 2010, Strasburg for 7.5 million in 2009).
If a team exceeds its cap, it faces penalties including taxes up to 100 percent and the loss of future draft picks.
Teams also are no longer allowed to offer major-league contracts to draft picks, as the Nationals did with all three of those aforementioned picks (plus left-hander Matt Purke).
As a result of all these changes, the Nationals no longer have the ability to entice high school prospects to forgo their college commitments and instead accept above-slot signing bonuses to turn pro.
"That all goes under the heading of doing your due diligence, of knowing who you can get and who you can sign," Rizzo said. "The constrictions that we have, the amount of money we can spend, will certainly change the way we run business from the past. But, again, it comes down to getting the right player in each of the right spots."