Anyone who has ever watched Brady House play baseball knows he has the ability to completely take over a game — either with his bat, arm, legs, or any combination of the three. Close followers of the sport and those closest to him constantly praise his “baseball IQ” and his feel for the game. And even the most casual observers can watch him and tell that, with a calm and collected demeanor, he always holds his emotions in check — never too high, never too low — but nonetheless is a fierce competitor with the drive to be the best.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when the recent Winder-Barrow High School graduate and four-year standout shortstop/right-handed pitcher for the Bulldoggs sat at his home Sunday night, July 11 — watching the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball draft on MLB Network with his family, teammates, coaches and closest friends — he wasn’t nervous, impatient or frustrated as he waited on Commissioner Rob Manfred to call his name, as had been expected.
Drafts in professional sports, particularly in baseball, can be unpredictable. But though House, who had long been regarded as a potential top-10 pick, didn’t go in the top 10 Sunday, he wasn’t rattled and didn’t have to wait too long afterward. A couple of minutes before Manfred strode to the podium in Denver to announce the Washington Nationals’ first-round pick at No. 11 overall, House got the heads-up from the Nationals’ brass that he was their guy. And when Manfred called out his name, the humble House — who has never required the spotlight to be on him in order to excel — cracked a big smile, threw on a Washington cap, hopped up from his couch and shared a hug with his parents in front of the whole world.
“We had no clue what was going on, but we weren’t stressed about it because we knew that, whatever happened, that’s where I was meant to be,” House said Monday, reliving the draft night experience. He turned down an invitation to the draft festivities in Denver to soak in the moment with those who have been by him throughout his journey to being a pro baseball player.
“It was just great having my family and friends there to support me. It meant everything,” said House, who became the third Winder-Barrow alum to be taken in the first round in the span of nine years (Travis Demeritte was picked 30th by the Texas Rangers in 2013 and Max Pentecost was selected 11th by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014). “It was just a laid-back, fun night. I’m very happy the Nationals drafted me and I’m just looking forward to getting to work.”
House, who was the sixth high school player taken off the board and the first from Georgia this year, had been rated No. 8 on MLB.com’s most recent top-250 draft prospect list; so the expectation had been there all along that he would be a first-round pick. But until recently, he had been undecided about his future and whether he would turn pro out of high school or follow through on his signing with the University of Tennessee and play college baseball for at least three seasons. For the most part, that matter has been settled in House’s mind as he intends to sign with the Nationals in the coming days or weeks. The 11th pick this year came with an assigned slot value of a little over $4.5 million.
“It’s looking like I’m going to end up going to Washington,” said House, who had been committed to the Volunteers since he was a freshman. “I still have to go up there after the draft is over and talk to everyone, but I’m happy with the pick, and I had some great talks with them (Sunday night).”
A LONG TIME COMING
Sunday was just the latest step in what has always seemed to be House’s destiny — that he’ll be on a big-league diamond one day. He has been regarded as one of the top players in his age group since he competed with the 12U Team USA squad in Taiwan and then again with the 15U team in Panama.
He arrived at Winder-Barrow as a freshman with high expectations right away to help out a traditionally-strong program. And he lived up to his billing throughout his high school tenure, including his senior year this spring. House hit .549 with a .677 on-base percentage, 1.644 OPS, eight homers, 14 doubles and 20 RBIs out of the leadoff spot in 31 games. He walked 28 times, struck out only nine times, stole 20 bases in 21 attempts and hit .524 with runners in scoring position. House also has been a dominant pitcher for the Bulldoggs with a fast ball in the mid-90s, and, as the team’s closer this spring, he pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while racking up 19 strikeouts.
Measured at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds (or 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, depending on the scouting service one checks), House has long been coveted as a power-hitting shortstop with the ability to hit the ball out to all fields and a plus arm — a big body who could eventually be converted to third base in the minor leagues but who still possesses the speed, athleticism and range to play at short professionally.
Scouts with various organizations have kept tabs on him since he was 14 or 15, but the interest reached a fever pitch this past season with very few, if any, of his games played without at least a handful of observers sitting or standing in the area behind home plate wherever he was playing and wearing shirts with big-league logos and video cameras and/or note pads in hand.
“It really picked up the last couple months since my senior year ended,” House said. “Pretty much every day, a team was in touch.”
House said Washington had been one of several organizations in regular contact with him through his advisor, and the Nationals’ front office seemed pleasantly surprised Sunday night when he was still available at No. 11.
“We were super excited that he was there when we picked,” said Kris Kline, the club’s assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations, in an interview with MLB.com. The Nationals’ social media pages touted House as, according to some evaluations, potentially having the most offensive upside of any player in the draft. In fact, he has drawn comparisons to Colorado Rockies power-hitting shortstop Trevor Story, while other scouts have compared him to Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.
“(House) moves very gracefully for a guy his size, and he’s got really good flexibility to his lower half,” Kline told MLB.com. “He catches everything. It’s smooth, it’s fluid. And then he’s got that — on a 20 to 80 scale with 50 being average — he’s got that 70 arm where he makes up for it if he needs it.”
House, in constant pursuit of bettering his all-around game, said his goal is to be able to prove that he can improve his movement and stick as a shortstop. But with 28-year-old all-star shortstop Trea Turner likely a part of Washington’s long-term plans, House is excited about the possibility of one day sharing the left side of the infield with him, even if from the hot corner at third.
“It’s crazy to think about,” House said. “I’ve watched Trae for a long time, and if that ever happens, it would be great. I think one of my strengths is I’m flexible and can play different positions. It’s just awesome to hear myself compared to some of those guys when you look at their accomplishments. I’m just ready to get to work.”
“Flexibility,” to go along with humility and maturity not always found in teenagers, has indeed been a positive attribute for House, as witnessed by both scouts and his coaches.
When he saw feedback from some evaluators that his swing was too long, House himself noticed some things that he didn’t like last summer. He said he worked every day to make adjustments, and he saw the fruits of that labor pay off during his senior season, even when most opponents gave him very little hitter-friendly pitches to offer at.
“It’s great to see somebody who works so hard get the reward for that work,” Winder-Barrow coach Brian Smith said. “He’s just been so committed and laser-focused ever since I’ve known him. He’s been such a great representative for our baseball program, but also our community.”
The moment isn’t lost on House, the small-town kid who is on the trajectory to one day play in packed-out stadiums on the national past time’s biggest stage, with and against the greatest players in the world.
First, there’s the long game (likely at least a couple of years) of development, continuously honing his craft, so that one day he can make his anticipated big-league debut. House knew long ago that if he was going to make it to “The Show,” he’d have to more or less dedicate his life to baseball, and he has been diligent about his workouts, staying in shape and improving his nutrition — all while pursuing every tweak in his swing, his stride and his side-to-side movement at short to get him where he wants to be. He knows there won’t be too many off days from here on out, but he’s ready to embrace the next challenge.
“I’m just looking forward to waking up every day and going and playing baseball somewhere,” House said. “I get to do what I love every day now. And you can’t beat that.”