- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

MILWAUKEE | The Washington Nationals announced Sunday they have agreed to terms with fifth-round pick Adrian Nieto, a switch-hitting catcher from American Heritage High School in Hialeah, Florida.

Nieto signed for $376,000, roughly double the slot recommendation and a larger signing bonus than any player signed in either the fourth or fifth round so far. The Nationals actually finished negotiations with the catcher a week ago, according to a source familiar with negotiations, but the team had to OK the above-slot bonus with team president Stan Kasten and the Lerner family before confirming it with Nieto yesterday. He will sign the deal at noon Monday.

Washington had been taking a hard line with Nieto until two weeks ago, when assistant general manager Mike Rizzo took the lead on negotiations, the source said. It had initially been offering the recommended slot value — $185,000 — but negotiations picked up with Rizzo.

“The Nationals were one of the teams I was looking forward to getting picked by,” Nieto said. “The negotiations at first were hard, but they were fair to me, and I thank Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Bowden for that.”

Nieto will report to the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in Viera, Fla., this week. Three of the Nationals’ top five picks remain unsigned: first-rounder Aaron Crow, third-rounder Daniel Espinosa and fourth-rounder Graham Hicks.

The Nationals are still believed to be offering slot money for Crow, who is thought to be looking for a deal upward of $4 million. With the sides so far apart, the team is prepared to take a compensatory selection in the first round next season if Crow returns to Missouri for his senior season — and even might select Crow again in next year’s draft.

The pick would technically be No. 9B, meaning it would come one slot after whichever team has the ninth pick in next year’s draft.

But with eight of the top 10 picks unsigned, each team that doesn’t sign its top pick also would receive a compensatory pick, meaning the Nationals’ second first-rounder actually could be somewhere around the 15th pick.

The Nieto signing also could mean there is less money available to sign Hicks, a left-handed pitcher from Lakeland, Fla.

Gonzalez available

Shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, who hasn’t played since suffering a contusion on one of his left gluteal muscles when sliding into third base Aug. 4, will be available as a defensive replacement or pinch hitter, manager Manny Acta said Sunday.

Gonzalez ran the bases before batting practice Saturday without any problems, but the Nationals have been slow in bringing him back, while giving more time to Cristian Guzman. Guzman also returned Aug. 6 from a left thumb injury that had limited him to two defensive replacement appearances since July 25.

Mock not limited

Right-hander Garrett Mock, who will make a spot start for the Nationals on Monday, will not be handcuffed by the fact that he has been pitching out of the bullpen for Washington and Class AAA Columbus for the last month.

Acta said Mock won’t throw more than 100 pitches against the Brewers, but the manager has no concerns about the 25-year-old tiring before that.