Another round of World Baseball qualifying begins Thursday, and two more members of the Nationals organization are participating. Catcher Jhonatan Solano, who played 12 games for the Nationals this season, is playing for his native Colombia, which plays its opening game against Nicaragua on Thursday night in Panama. Nilson Robledo, who has spent 10 seasons as the Nationals bullpen catcher, is expected to be on the coaching staff for his native Panama. (UPDATE: Edwin Jimenez, a Nationals minor league strength coach and former Iowa Wesleyan College player, is on the Philippines’ roster as an outfielder.)
In the first rounds of qualifying held in September, two Nationals minor leaguers played for their native countries. Jimmy Van Ostrand, who was born in British Columbia and played outfield for Class AA Harrisburg this season, played for Canada, which qualified for the World Baseball Classic with wins over Great Britain and Germany. He went 7-for-14 with 10 RBI in those games while starting at first base. Adrian Nieto, a Class A Hagerstown catcher, was born in Cuba and grew up in southern Florida; he played for Spain, eligible as a heritage player because his great grandfather and father are Spanish citizens. He went 5-for-16 with one RBI while starting at catcher.
Van Ostrand, 28, a former Astros farmhand, signed with the Nationals in May, and Nieto, 23, was drafted by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2008 draft out of high school.
The Nationals have a generally open policy on allowing players to play for their native country’s national teams. But the player’s availability depends on, for example, if they are recovering from injury or are a pitcher who has already hit their limit on innings that season. In Nieto’s case, the Nationals felt it would be beneficial for him.
“It’s good for [Nieto] to experience having some independence and there’s a certain maturity that has to come with that, and players are solely responsible for managing their routine and their work every day,” said Doug Harris, the Nationals director of player development. “We had dialogue with the staff from Spain and they were pleased with the way he worked and conducted himself.”
For Solano, 27, playing for Colombia will also help make up for time lost to injury. He landed on the disabled list in July with an oblique strain, rehabbed in Harrisburg and after the minor league season ended went to the instructional league to stay sharp just in case he was needed by the Nationals in an emergency. “This is good for him, seeing some pitching and make up some at-bats,” Harris said.
Now that Canada and Spain have qualified, the Nationals minor leaguers are allowed to continue to play with their national teams in the World Baseball Classic, which occurs every four years, even though the first round starts in March.