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Nationals select four players in the minor league Rule 5 draft

The Nationals are in the early stages of a rebuild. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

With little going on this month, the Washington Nationals had a busy Wednesday afternoon, selecting four players in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Second baseman Andrew Young and three right-handed relievers — Curtis Taylor, Matt Brill and Dakody Clemmer — are the newest members of the organization. The Nationals did not lose anyone from their system.

The MLB lockout, the reason for this lull, has pushed the major league version of the Rule 5 draft until after a collective bargaining agreement is in place. On Wednesday, then, the qualifications to be available were tricky. Players could not be on their club’s 40-man roster or the 38-man roster for the Class AAA affiliate. And they had to be former high school draft picks or international free agents who signed in 2017 or earlier; or college players drafted in 2018 or earlier. So since the Nationals had plenty of space on their Class AAA roster — a requirement to make selections — they used the chance to add. For each pick, they paid $24,500 to the player’s original team.

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The Nationals took Young, 27, with the draft’s third pick. The infielder went from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-player package for Paul Goldschmidt in 2018. He has 138 plate appearance in the majors. In that limited sample, he has been an above-average hitter. He faced the Nationals in April and hit a grand slam off Patrick Corbin. Otherwise, in 48 games with Class AAA Reno in 2021, Young finished with an impressive batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line of .304/.388/.598.

In the second round, the Nationals chose Taylor, a 26-year-old righty from the Toronto Blue Jays. He has been a full-time reliever since 2017, logging a 4.19 ERA in 19⅓ innings for Class AAA Buffalo this year. Brill, Washington’s third-round selection, is a 27-year-old righty from the Diamondbacks. He made 27 relief appearances and had a 6.33 ERA for Class AA Amarillo in 2021. And Clemmer, a 25-year-old righty from the Cleveland Guardians, landed with the Nationals in the fourth round. He had a 3.40 ERA in 50⅓ innings for Class AA Akron.

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The Nationals declined to make a pick in the fifth and final round. They were one of only four teams to take a player in the fourth. Such an active minor league Rule 5 draft is a reflection of where they are as a franchise, right at the early stages of a rebuild. Under General Manager Mike Rizzo, they have mostly sat out of the major league version of the Rule 5 draft, which forces a team to carry any selected players on its major league roster or risk losing them. Minor league selections have been more common but still sparse.

But the reality is that, for a team rail thin on proven contributors, there is little downside to giving Young, Taylor, Brill and Clemmer a shot. Young played a bit of third base and the corner outfield spots with Reno. Taylor, Brill and Clemmer satisfy the Nationals’ oft-used adage that you can never have enough arms. And with Taylor and Clemmer specifically, they come from organizations with a strong track record of developing pitchers. Procedurally, they will be assigned to Class AAA Rochester. Come spring, though, the Nationals can send them to any level of their minor league system.

Since selling off at the trade deadline in July, the Nationals have claimed three players off waivers: right-handed reliever Patrick Murphy, first baseman Mike Ford and left-handed reliever Francisco Pérez. That has been a roster-building strategy born of hitting the reset button for the first time in a decade. Add poaching from the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft to the list.