The Nationals protected four of their top minor leaguers from the Rule 5 draft Friday afternoon when they added catcher Derek Norris, first baseman Tyler Moore, catcher Jhonatan Solano and outfielder Eury Perez to the team’s 40-man roster. They also added Cole Kimball back to the 40-man, after re-claiming him from the Toronto Blue Jays (who’d claimed him Wednesday).
The additions give the Nationals 37 players on their 40-man roster leaving them a bit of room to play with as they navigate the trade and free agent market this offseason.
Here’s a bit about each of the players they protected:
Derek Norris: Norris is highly regarded within the organization and made significant strides at the Arizona Fall League offensively. Of all their Rule 5 eligibles, Norris was as close to a slam dunk to be protected as it gets. He hit 20 homers this past season with Double-A Harrisburg, posting a .367 on-base percentage and was recently ranked the No. 9 best prospect in the organization by Baseball America.
Tyler Moore: The slugging first baseman who spent this year at Double-A Harrisburg has drawn raves of team front office personnel and major leaguers alike. When former National Jerry Hairston Jr. was on rehab with Harrisburg he was extremely impressed by Moore’s power. He hit .271 with 35 doubles, a league-leading 31 home runs and 90 RBI in 137 games with Harrisburg. Moore now has 202 RBI and 62 HR in his last two minor league seasons.
Jhonatan Solano: Pitchers love throwing to Solano — who is the fourth catcher on the Nationals 40-man roster behind Norris, Jesus Flores and Wilson Ramos — and he hit .275 with 14 doubles, five homers and 33 RBI in 78 games at Triple-A in 2011.
Eury Perez: One of the Nationals top outfield prospects, Perez hit .283 with nine doubles, two triples and one home run last year at Single-A Potomac. Perez is known for his speed and prowess on the basepaths. He stole 45 bases with Potomac in 2001, second in the Carolina League behind teammate Jeff Kobernus — who was an All-Star and stole 53. Baseball America rated Perez as the fastest prospect in the Nationals system in their most recent rankings.
*Note: Perez was left out of my initial post on Rule 5 eligible players because of an oversight. He was eligible and needed to be protected this year as he has spent five years in the minor leagues.
The Nationals protected these players because they felt they were most at risk to be taken by another team in the Rule 5 draft.
Some of the most notable names left unprotected are:
Left-handed pitcher Josh Smoker, a one-time first-round pick of the Nationals (2007) who’d been converted recently reliever.
Right-hander Brad Meyers, a member of the Triple-A Syracuse rotation last season who was thought to be on the short list of potential call-ups had an injury not derailed him mid-season.
Erik Komatsu, the outfielder acquired from Milwaukee in the trade for Jerry Hairston Jr. this past summer, who has hit .302 with a .389 on-base percentage and a .434 slugging percentage. The highest level he’s played at is Double-A but he’s performed well at that level.
And finally, catcher Sandy Leon, who could be the best pure receiver and defensive catcher in the Nationals minor league system. There’s a little less risk with Leon, though, because he’s never played above high Single-A so there’s less of a chance another team will find him major league ready.
It will be interesting to see if any of these players are selected in the Rule 5 draft but it’s almost always a crapshoot, to be honest. Teams have to keep a Rule 5 draftee on their active 25-man roster for the entire season in order to keep them in the organization so you have to really feel a player is major league ready.