LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Nationals concluded a relatively quiet Winter Meetings by losing a former high draft pick in the Rule 5 draft.
Catcher Adrian Nieto was the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft. After fits and starts to his pro career, Nieto had finally begun to show the promise that made him such a coveted pick.
But he still wasn’t ready to be added to the Nats’ 40-man roster. Not many 24-year-old catchers who’ve never passed Single-A ball would be. Does that speak to Washington’s depth as an organization or Nieto’s struggles? Probably both. But Nieto has improved to the point that the Chicago White Sox took him with the second overall pick in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.
The process keeps players from getting buried in the minors in one organization. Nieto signed at age 18 and after five years needed to be on the 40-man roster. Washington chose not to protect him and figured someone would take a chance on Nieto.
“We had gathered some information over the last several days that there was some interest in [Nieto] out there,” said Doug Harris, the Nats’ assistant general manager/vice president of player personnel. “You never know in this draft. But we had heard the rumors.”
Nieto signed at age 18 out of American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla. He was considered one of the best catching prospects in the nation that year, but his progression through the organization was slow. It also included what Harris termed a “restart” in 2011 when Nieto began the year at short-season A Auburn at age 21. He spent all of 2012 at low-A Hagerstown and all of 2013 at high-A Potomac where his bat came around with an .821 OPS. Nieto batted .285 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI. His on-base percentage was .373.
It was enough for Chicago to select Nieto, but will he even stay there? The White Sox paid $50,000 and must keep him on the 25-man active roster all season or offer him back to the Nats for half price ($25,000). It’s possible he could be right back with Washington next summer.
In the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft, the Nats chose outfielder Theo Bowe, 23, from the Cincinnati Reds. Bowe, 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, is a speedster with 58 stolen bases at high-A in 2012. That speed helps offset the loss of Billy Burns, the team’s minor league player of the year in 2013, who was traded to Oakland on Wednesday for left-handed relief pitcher Jerry Blevins.
The Nats also took right-handed pitcher Martires Arias from the New York Mets in the Double-A portion of the draft. Arias is 6-7 and pitched in rookie ball last year at Kingsport, where he was 1-7 with a 5.81 ERA at age 23. Harris said the organization likes his velocity and sees upside in a pitcher that size.