Nationals Park. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Nationals added third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez and right-handed reliever Jefry Rodriguez to their 40-man roster Monday afternoon, meaning both players will be safe from selection in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Teams have until Monday at 8 p.m. ET to place prized-but-long-tenured minor leaguers on that 40-man roster, lest they be subject to selection by another team for a $50,000 fee and nothing more. In placing Gutierrez and Rodriguez on the 40-man roster, the Nationals are indicating optimism for both players’ major league futures — but also leaving a few familiar names unprotected, and subject to selection by someone else.

The Rule 5 draft is meant to prevent teams from hoarding elite minor league talent. Players who were signed at age 18 or younger and have played five seasons of professional baseball (international players or those who signed out of high school) and players who were signed at age 19 or older and have played four seasons (older college draftees, generally) are eligible for selection if they are not on a team’s 40-man roster.

On the final day of the Winter Meetings, representatives from all teams gather for the Rule 5 draft, in which they may select players off any team’s minor league rosters and pay only a fee. If a team selects a player, it must then put that player on its 40-man roster, a caveat that prevents hoarding and precludes some teams from taking players at all. The Nationals, for example, have not selected a player in the Rule 5 draft since 2011.

But the Nationals could lose players in this year’s draft. Drew Ward, Spencer Kieboom, and Bryan Harper are among those players currently unprotected, but eligible for selection. Right-hander Joan Baez, who was signed at 19 and has shown promise in four seasons with the Nationals, is also vulnerable. Catcher Taylor Gushue will also be left unprotected after he hit 18 homers across Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg this season. The Nationals acquired him from the Pirates in exchange for former 40-man member Chris Bostick, and sent Gushue to the Arizona Fall League after his first season in the organization. But with Pedro Severino, Raudy Read, and even Kieboom ahead of him on their depth chart, the Nationals will not protect the 23-year-old Florida product.

Gutierrez was also at the Arizona Fall League this season, and led the Mesa Solar Sox with a .350 average in 13 games. Gutierrez, 23, is considered a high-average type with enough power to stick, and hit .288 in 58 games for Class A Potomac this season.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, lost 80 games of his season to suspension after testing positive for “a metabolite of Clomiphene.” At the time of that suspension, the 24-year-old had just carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and was pitching to a 3-2 record and 3.51 ERA. Opposing hitters were batting .228 against him, struggling against a high-90s fastball and promising secondary stuff that makes him one of the less-talked-about, more-promising pitching prospects on the Nationals’ somewhat depleted organizational pitching depth chart. He is now safe from selection by someone else, and seems likely to earn a shot at Class AA Harrisburg early next season — the level from which the Nationals tend to pluck unexpected pitching help when in sudden midseason need.

The Nationals added another righty, 26-year-old Wander Suero, to their 40-man roster earlier this month to protect him from Rule 5 selection, too. Suero finished the season at Class AAA Syracuse, wrapping up a season surprising as much for the fact that he did not get a late-season call-up as for the 1.70 ERA and 10 saves he compiled for the Chiefs. Suero will likely be in major league spring training again this spring. Gutierrez and Rodriguez have never attended big league camp.

That trio joins right-hander Austin Voth and outfielder Jose Marmolejos as the only players on the Nationals’ 40-man roster who have never played in the major leagues. Prospects Severino, Read, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Rafael Bautista, and Erick Fedde have all been on the 40-man and made their major league debuts this season. Older relievers such as Austin Adams and Trevor Gott also have limited major league experience. The Nationals now have 37 players on their roster, meaning they still have spots remaining for offseason acquisitions and do not necessarily have to clear space to make a move. Of those 37 players, 15 still have their rookie status intact, or lost it during the 2017 season.

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