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Nats lose catcher Nieto in Rule 5 draft

Dec 12, 2013, 10:45 AM EST

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Nationals lost Adrian Nieto in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft to the White Sox, who are hoping the 24-year-old catcher has progressed enough to spend 2014 in the major leagues.

Nieto, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft, was well-liked by Nationals officials, but his slow development (he hasn’t advanced beyond Class A in six professional seasons) coupled with his standing on the organizational depth chart behind fellow catchers Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon left him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft.

“For us, I think it speaks to the depth of the system,” vice president of player development Doug Harris said. “Those are tough decisions when you get to that next guy, or next couple of guys. We do value his skill-set. Obviously being a catcher in A-ball, we have to prioritize our guys, so we made that decision.”

Nieto’s professional career got off to a rocky start; he hit .210 over his first three minor-league seasons and then was suspended 50 games in 2011 after testing positive for a pair of performance enhancing drugs. But he rebounded after a demotion to short-season Class A Auburn and this season hit .285 with a .373 on-base percentage in 110 games at high-Class A Potomac.

Nieto then hit .271 in 13 games in the Arizona Fall League, impressing scouts with his performance against higher-level prospects and making him a candidate to be lost in the Rule 5 draft.

“He’s done a terrific job,” Harris said. “Our staff deserves a lot of credit. Adrian struggled for several years with us, and we actually took a step back with him and kind of restarted his career going back to Auburn. It jump-started him. He matured a great deal, and we’re very proud of what he accomplished.”

Per the draft’s rules, the White Sox will pay the Nationals $50,000 to acquire Nieto. He must remain on their major-league roster for the entire 2014 season or else be offered back to Washington for $25,000.

The Nationals, who entered Thursday with a full 40-man roster, were ineligible to select any players in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, but they did acquire two players in the Class AAA portion:

— Theo Bowe, a 23-year-old outfielder from the Reds organization who stole 70 bases in 2012 but struggled to a .206 batting average and .260 on-base percentage this season at Class AA. Harris said Bowe is seen as something of a replacement for Billy Burns, who was traded to the Athletics on Wednesday for left-hander Jerry Blevins.

— Martires Arias, a 23-year-old right-hander from the Mets organization who has raw skills but has yet to pitch above the rookie Appalachian League.

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 12, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    Still surprised Rizzo would pull from Rule 5. 40 man cuts needed.

  2. Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    I’m no expert, but Mark’s article says Nats weren’t eligible for the major league portion of the draft because their 40-man was full. That suggests they don’t need to cut players from the 40-man to accomodate the guys they drafted in the minor league portion. Right?

    • Mark Zuckerman - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Correct. Minor-league draftees do not go on the 40-man roster.

    • shawndc04 - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      Correct. The Minor League Rule 5 guys do not go on the forty man.

    • pjnat - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      Right.

    • Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      Looks like several people owe Mark a drink!

  3. Sonny G 10 - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Hey, shawndc04 and pjnat owe Mark Zuckerman a virtual beer! :)

  4. Sonny G 10 - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    Dang, now I owe duces a virtual beer.

    • Sonny G 10 - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:27 AM

      I just paid up 222.

      • Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:39 PM

        you’re a man of your word Sonny.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    This is the sort of front office-speak that drives me nuts. Effusive praise for Nieto but no room on the 40-man roster — supposedly. There’s enuf dead wood — or wood on life-support — on the 40-man roster to spare a spot for the only catcher in the organization who looked capable of hitting above the Espinosa Line — and that includes the two guys who allegedly are fit to serve as Ramos’s backup. I wish just once they would be honest when they jettison a guy and say why they thought he wasn’t worth the meal money in ST. I guess they were honest about Burns — they do have depth among CFs in the minors. But that certainly isn’t true of catchers.

    Given that few teams carry three catchers, I’m at a loss as to what the White Sox intend to do with Nieto. If they think he’s capable of being a no. 2, why wasn’t he good enuf to be the Nats’ no. 2? Is he Jesus Flores-good? Or not? And if Chicago think he’s a not yet a no. 2 are they going to keep him on the 25-man all season just to warm up pitchers between innings (and occasionally pinch-run for Adam Dunn)? I sense they will offer him back or trade him to someone who will offer him back. And if the Nats have the courage of their convictions they’ll politely demur — I don’t really think they’d do that but I’d like an explanation why Thursday’s dross is Friday’s gold (or silver or bronze).

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      I cant’ answer all your questions, but I will say this – I just don’t see that much offensive potential at the MLB level in a guy who’s taken this long to figure out how to hit A pitching passably well.

      As for why the Nats front office is saying nice things about him – you answered your own question when you pointed out that the White Sox may well offer him back – no sense in trashing the guy when you may see him again in a few months.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:08 PM

        All things are relative. Nieto’s major league ceiling is speculative. We need not speculate about Solano or Leon — who don’t even appear able to hit at AAA or AA.

        I’d accept an explanation that didn’t trash Nieto (at least directly). For example, “We didn’t think he had as high a ceiling as Erik Davis [Jhonatan Solano] [Corey Brown}.” That would at least allow folks to measure what they really thought of him.

        Plus, once you’ve said “I have no spot for him in my organization,” why the charade of good feelings? (I recognize that Kobernus is an exception, although I think he really surprised last year.) All they need to say is, “We oopsed.”

      • NatsLady - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:26 PM

        I wouldn’t say Leon can’t hit. Leon’s hitting was steadily improving and he hit pretty well in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 his offense dropped off the face of the earth. That makes me suspect either (a) he was fighting some injury or (b) he and the coaches were focusing on defense.

        http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?sid=l135&t=p_pbp&pid=506702

        OTOH, yes, I would pretty much say Solano can’t hit.

        http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=solano001jho

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:38 PM

        They didn’t put him on the 40 man roster, so they’ve effectively given you your answer. I don’t understand the need or the expectation that it be spelled out explicitly.

        PS – they’re not saying they have “no spot for him in the organization.” They’re saying they currently have no spot for him on the 40 man roster.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Add to my list of questions: Why’d they flash him in the AFL if they didn’t intend to keep him? Or, how did he fail in the AFL that they decided they didn’t need him after all?

    • NatsLady - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:53 PM

      I watched the AFL and concluded Nieto is not (yet) a good defensive catcher.Those skills take daily coaching, reps, and, especially, consistent playing time, which he is unlikely to get on the bench of a major-league roster.

  7. scnatsfan - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, the moral of the 40 man

  8. Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Quick questions: If the White Sox offfer Nieto back and we accept him back, we don’t have find a place on the 40-man, right? Or do we to put him through waivers to keep him? And is he protected for next year if we take him, or do we again have to decide whether to leave him open to be taken in the Rule 5 draft?

    And what players are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 major league draft as opposed to the Rule 5 minor league draft?

    I know I could look these things up, but I assume someone knows this stuff cold and will be glad to lay it out.

    • DaveB - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:51 PM

      Correct … if offered back he does not need to go on the 40 man (but is not protected in future years unless the Nats put him on the 40 man at some point).

      From what I can tell, there are “secret” lists of the additional players that are protected in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 draft. Obviously they are distributed to the other teams, but I have not ever seen them published.

      • Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:00 PM

        Thanks Dave.

  9. Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Hadn’t noticed this before, but the times for most home games are now available on Nationals.com.

    http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/schedule/index.jsp?c_id=was#y=2014&calendar=DEFAULT&m=4

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      Thanks for the reminder. I’m making a list of nearby (more or less) West Coast games that I can try to attend this season (e.g., Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco).

    • sjm308 - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:34 PM

      thanks dueces – helped a little but my plan has a bunch of Saturday games and they are all still TBD
      anyway, it did help because there are also a few 4:05 starts which as an old guy, I really like.

      Go Nats!!

      • Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:39 PM

        Yeah, they haven’t locked in the weekend games yet. That’s a little odd since we know the Sunday games will be at 1;35. My guess would be day games on Saturday in April and September, but we’ll see. Good to know what getaway weekdays are going to be day games.

  10. raleighnat - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    I hope we get Nieto back. Losing him kind of sucks. Not devastating but still seems like a guy that was figuring it out in a position we have little (no?) quality depth.

    As an aside, Rizzo has done great this offseason. IMO, would be a big mistake though not to have a quality backup catcher given its the one bench position, that even without injury, will generate significant at bats. I think it would be a shame to actually plan on 250 at bats from Solano given how few holes we now have.

    • DaveB - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      Odds are pretty good that he comes back (just like Kobernus & Rosenbaum last year). It’s pretty hard to carry a Single A catcher all year on the 25 man roster, as catchers typically have to play semi-regularly. Its not a bad move by the Sox, however, as they are re-building and it gives them some flexibility in case they can’t sign a better backup catcher. Also, both of their current C have options, so they can move up & down as needed,

      • NatsLady - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        About 1/3 of Rule 5 guys stick, mostly relief pitchers. Haven’t seen anyone on Twitter who mentioned Nieto as one who will. Catchers have a lot to do defensively which is why their offense often lags. No one was paying attention to Nieto until he hit well in the AFL. Not only is the AFL a small sample size (13 games, 48 ABs), it is a situation where a catcher is pretty much free from typical minor-league tasks, such as throwing bullpens and learning the pitching staff. I watched a lot of the AFL, and it didn’t seem to me Nieto was particularly good at calling games (though who knows if the games were called from the bench) or blocking pitches. Unless one of the White Sox catchers is injured, I would expect him back.

        Sandy Leon is slashing .296/.400/.407 in a much larger sample size (26 games, 81 ABs) down in the Venezuelan League. He doesn’t have power (only 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR). If I recall, he was always a better hitter than Solano, just not as advance defensively.

  11. Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    NL, I vaguely remembered the same thing about Leon vs. Solano. But Leon had a big regression in the minors last year with an OPS of .552 in 95 games at Harrisburg. I can’t imagine he’s a serious candidate to be our No. 2 Catcher and get 200-300 ABs. Solano’s defense is not horrible for a No. 2 catcher, but we really need someone who can hit better. It would be shame to follow our pretty darn strong 1-7 with an automatic out in the No. 8 spot.

    • NatsLady - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      yes, I noted that above.And, he is now hitting again in Venezuela. As I said, there could be an explanation (besides lack of talent) for his drop off in 2013. Would be interested to know if anyone here had eyeballs on him in 2013.

  12. Hiram Hover - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    NL and 222

    Good points. Their willingness to let Nieto go is probably another sign that they do intend to go out and get a real backup catcher, which will meaning sending both Leon and Solano back down, further blocking whatever path there was for Nieto to advance.

  13. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 12, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    Sorry, but I can’t get too worked up over the loss of a catcher who hasn’t played above high-A ball (except for a baker’s dozen Arizona Fall League appearances). Especially since the Nats may well get him back at some point. I would like to see the team acquire another MLB-proven back-up, but I don’t expect it to be anyone of great significance. On days when Wilson Ramos isn’t playing, you just accept that the 8-hole isn’t going to be producing very much — as do virtually all NL teams — and then be happy when the back-up gets a hit, sometimes even an XBH or HR. If the back-up catcher’s ABs become more important than that, chances are the team has much more significant problems throughout the line-up.

  14. Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Hadn’t thought of it that way HH, and I hope you’re right. In response to an earlier question about why the Nats would “flash him” in the AFL if they weren’t going to protect him, maybe they wanted to see a little more of him before leaving him unprotected. The days of hiding a player in the minors and teams not noticing that they can be snatched in the Rule 5 draft are long gone. Scouting is too thorough now for that to happen. Heck, even 50 years ago, the Dodgers got burned by leaving Roberto Clemente unprotected. Imagine that. So I doubt Rizzo had any thought that Nieto might sneak through if he didn’t send him to Arizona.

  15. Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Has everyone been continuing to follow Amanda Comak, now that she’s “gone inside? This piece about the Werth signing doesn’t really break new ground but it’s a nice look back at a pivotal moment for the Nats. And Rizzo says he’d do it all over again. Indeed, that contract doesn’t look all that bad, given why guys are getting this season:

    http://curlyw.mlblogs.com/2013/12/09/as-winter-meetings-begin-an-inside-look-back-at-the-jayson-werth-signing/

  16. Faraz Shaikh - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    so wait how can they add more folks to 40 man roster with no room left? who are the candidates for getting bumped out?

    • David Proctor - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:15 PM

      Minor league deal. Don’t have to bump anyone for that.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:17 PM

        but backup catcher or bench players won’t take minor league deals. besides they will have to make room once those players make 25 man roster, right?

    • David Proctor - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:19 PM

      Correct. There are some other DFA candidates. Mattheus, Kobernus, etc.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:30 PM

        hmm, interesting. I wish we could turn these AAAA players into some far away minor talent or usable major talent. too bad, not all GMs think like DD.

  17. David Proctor - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Washington Nationals ‏@Nationals 1m
    The Nationals today signed outfielder Nate McLouth to a two-year contract and designated outfielder Corey Brown for assignment.

    Bye bye Corey Brown

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:18 PM

      You’re quick. No shocker there. Maybe Nats sign Corey back on a MiLB deal.

      • natsjackinfl - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:25 PM

        One of our former posters who is now over on the MASN sites head is going to explode as another one of his “can’t miss” guys is jettisoned from the 40 man.

      • sjm308 - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:35 PM

        Natsjack – I might just go there to read his 26 takes on how horrible this is and how Rizzo has failed once again. He will also try and insert Espinosa’s name into each of those 26 posts.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:57 PM

        Or maybe they trade him — as they did with Mr. Abad — for minor league filler?

      • Section 222 - Dec 12, 2013 at 4:37 PM

        Check out the MASN comments on the Blevins trade. A certain former commenter has some classics — obsolete after less than 24 hours:

        http://www.masnsports.com/nationals_pastime/2013/12/nationals-acquire-jerry-blevins-from-athletics.html

        Re: backup catcher: “They need a left-handed guy or platoon bat that could generate some offense in addition to being a defensive backup. Best bets now appear to be Adrian Nieto after his breakout year and Craig Manuel originally from Rockville, Maryland. Both might supplant the .177 hitter in AA Sandy Leon and Solano in the near future. Manuel at age 23 is still TBD compared to Nieto.”

        Re: how the bench is shaping up: “I should think the bench is already improved by starting Zimmerman on learning to be a first baseman. With Corey Brown, Tyler Moore, Steve Souza jr., Matty Skole (in AA), Danny Espinosa/Zach Walters, and Michael Taylor they look pretty well situated in AAA.”

        Ah, memories.

  18. David Proctor - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Maybe the A’s want Corey Brown back.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 12, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      For Mr. Burns?

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