Nationals lose Adrian Nieto in Rule 5 draft

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On the final day of the winter meetings, the Nationals passed on making a selection in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft because of a full major league roster but lost a catching prospect that had made great strides in his development. With the second pick of the major league Rule 5 draft, the Chicago White Sox selected catcher Adrian Nieto. The 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher with a strong arm hit .285 with a .821 OPS at Class A Potomac last season and played well in the Arizona Fall League.

After protecting three players from the draft — Michael Taylor, Aaron Barrett and Sammy Solis — and the recent additions of Jerry Blevins and Doug Fister, the Nationals 40-man roster is full so they passed on making any major league selections. (Nate McLouth’s physical was scheduled for this week so his deal isn’t official yet. To make room for him on the roster, the Nationals will have to clear one spot.) A full roster, however, is an indication of the Nationals’ improved depth and talent pool because, in years past, they were were more active in the Rule 5 draft.

“To us, it speaks to the depth in the system,”  assistant general manager Doug Harris said. “We were obviously at 40 with some of the moves that we have made and those are tough decisions when you get to the next guy, couple of guys. We do value [Nieto’s] skill set.”

Nieto, who was born in Cuba but grew up in Florida, was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Nationals. He struggled his first three seasons and hit no higher than .228 in a season. In 2011, the Nationals demoted Nieto and he performed well. He hit .278 that year across Class A Auburn, Hagerstown and Potomac. Last season, he played well for Potomac, showed power by hitting 11 home runs and earned a spot on the Arizona Fall League team. He was slated to start next season in Class AA Harrisburg and spend time in big league spring training.

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

There’s a chance, however, Nieto could return to the Nationals. He is 24 and hasn’t reached above Class A. And, the White Sox would have to keep him on their active roster all season in order to keep him. If not, Nieto would return to the Nationals and they would refund $25,000 to the White Sox. Last season, the Nationals lost Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus in the Rule 5 draft, only to have both returned near the end of spring training. Former National Jesus Flores is believed to be one of the few catcher, perhaps the only, in Rule 5 draft history to remain with the selecting team.

In the minor league portion of the draft, the Nationals selected outfielder Theodis Bowe from the Cincinnati minor leagues and right-hander Martires Arias from the New York Mets system. Bowe, 23, is a 5-foot-9 speedy outfielder who hit .206 and stole 13 bases last season at Class AA Pensacola in the Reds system. He stole 70 bases in 2012 and was caught 29 times. “Obviously we lost a 70 stolen base guy [Wednesday in Billy Burns] and had an opportunity to obtain a similar tool was appealing,” Harris said.

Arias, 23, is a Dominican native and right-handed starter who posted a 5.81 ERA over 12 games at the Mets rookie ball affiliate. The year before he had a 2.76 ERA over 16 1/3 innings as a reliever. “We think there’s some upside there we can tap into,” Harris said. The Nationals will pay $12,000 for each minor league selection.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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Adam Kilgore · December 11, 2013