Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Nats Rule-5 Draft History; updated for 2015


Jesus Flores remains our most successful Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

Jesus Flores remains our most successful (only successful) Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

The Nats for years were heavy participants in the Rule-5 draft, thanks to some pretty awful teams and some shrewd scouting.  I first did this history post in November 2011, updating in in January of 2014 and here I update it for the last couple of draft results and drafted player disposition updated for the latest season.

Borrowing a chunk of the text for the previous years from the previous post, here’s a list of the Rule 5 drafts since 2005, with our players taken/received noted and with some thoughts on how the player turned out for either side.  Even though there wasn’t much 2015 Rule 5 action for the team, I’ve added a bunch of updates for all the recently involved players, updating their career dispositions.

Note: this post used to be to pass judgement on our Rule-5 picks, so when you see “Verdict: Failure” that’s what it means.  Its been so long since we tried to draft someone that I forgot what it was like.

2015 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2016 season)

What just occurred on 12/10/15.  The Nationals did not take anyone in the major league phase, nor did they have anyone taken.

In the minor league phase, the Nationals selected 3B Zack Cox from the Miami organization.  He’s entering his age 27 season, is a former 1st round pick and has bounced around AA and AAA the last four seasons.  I’m calling him “Anthony Rendon” insurance for 2016.

These minor league acquisitions are essentially $12,000 purchases and the Nats now own these contract; I’m not entirely clear on the rules that drive them, nor how the players are determined to be eligible.

2014 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2015 season)

For the first time since their arrival in DC, the Washington Nationals neither took a player in Rule-5 nor had one taken.

2013 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2014 season)

The team did not select anyone in the major league phase.  We did lose one player in the MLB phase:

  • Adrian Nieto was the 2nd overall pick in the major league phase, by the Chicago White Sox.  As commenters at the time noted, it seemed like an odd pick for the White Sox, who had a couple of younger developing catchers in their system.  Meanwhile Nieto had never played above A-ball but did hit .285/.373/.449 prior to the 2014 season.  Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher … even if he’s an old 24 in A-Ball.  I didn’t even mention him in my own pre-Rule5 analysis piece at the time, but amazingly he stuck on the White Sox roster for the entire 2014 season, hitting .236/.296/.340.  The White Sox sent him to AA for 2015, he elected FA (presumably after being DFA’d) and signed as a MLFA with Miami for 2016.  Given the struggles of Jose Lobaton this past year, I’m slightly surprised he didn’t consider coming back to his original franchise.  Or, perhaps more to the point, knowing what I know about his dealings with the Nats front office over the years … perhaps I’m not (his agent Joshua Kusnick is a frequent guest on the NatsGM podcast, hosted by Ryan Sullivan).

In the minor league phase, the Nats took a couple of players for organizational depth: Theo Bowe, a AA outfielder from Cincinnati and Martires Arias, a low-A right-hander from the New York Mets.  Neither player really panned out: Bowe was left in XST the entire year and Arias was released before the season started.

2012 Rule 5 Draft

Again, the team did not select anyone but got poached for four players in the major and minor phase.

  • LHP Danny Rosenbaum was drafted by Colorado to take part in their unique rotation experiment (where guys work up to a certain pitch count each night).  Rosenbaum didn’t make the Rockie’s pitching staff out of spring training (somewhat an indictment of Rosenbaum’s skills; Colorado’s rotation was one of the worst in the majors in 2013) and he was returned to Nats.  Rosenbaum toiled in AAA for the Nats for the 2013 full season.  He was the AAA opening day starter in 2014 but blew his UCL and had TJ Surgery.  In Jan 2015 the team flipped him to Boston for Dan Butler, and he got roughed up in Boston’s system (0-8, 5.81 ERA).  As far as I can tell he’s still in the Boston organization, perhaps for one more year to see if he pans out.
  • Utility player Jeff Kobernus was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, traded to Tigers and then eventually returned to Nats.  Kobernus turned out to be quite the speedster, stealing nearly a base every other game in the minors and earned a call-up to the big team in 2013.  He struggled with injury, spending a chunk of 2014 on the 60 day D/L and had just a handful of MLB atbats.  The team released him mid spring training 2015, he picked up with the San Francisco organization and played near his home town in San Jose in 2015, struggling in High-A ball.
  • In the minor league phase, Nats draft bust Jack McGeary was taken by the Red Sox.  He threw 21 ineffective innings in short-A and low-A for Boston in 2013.  He’s from Boston, so it was a nice gesture, but it just doesn’t look like he’s ever going to recover from his arm issues.  Hey, at least he got his Stanford education and his bonus money.  He signed as a MLFA with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for 2014, struggled again in A-ball, and did not sign for 2015.
  • The Dodgers poached Hector Nelo from the Nats AA team and stuck him on their own AA team … where he promptly made the all-star game again and had another excellent season.  I’ll be honest; I do not know the minor league rule-5 protection rules, but I wonder why an all-star player was exposed, no matter what his age.  Nelo struggled in 2014, was released and looks like he’s out of affiliated ball.  So perhaps the team was a year early but still right in exposing him to Rule 5.

2011 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not take anyone for the first time in years, but had two players themselves taken.  Neither player drafted was a surprise; I posted at the time that I thought both these players should have been protected.

  • Brad Meyers (RH starting pitcher) was drafted by the New York Yankees, but he suffered an injury in spring training and was DL’d all year.  He was returned to the Nats and subsequently missed all of 2013 too.  I listed him as a “release candidate” in my 2014 rotation projections, not knowing if he was healthy or if he could win a AAA rotation spot that year; he ended up making 6 starts in AA and was released.  He’s now out of baseball.
  • Erik Komatsu was drafted by St. Louis (in retaliation for our taking Broderick the previous year?), made their 2012 opening day roster, played for a while before being waived, got picked up by Minnesota, and by Memorial Day was returned to Washington in a whirlwind set of transactions.  He got hurt in 2013 and played just a few games for the Nats AA and AAA teams, then was released on 5/9/14.  He signed immediately with the Angels, bounced to Milwaukee, was a MLFA after the season and did not play in organized ball in 2015.

2010 Rule 5 Draft

  • Elvin Ramirez, RH reliever, drafted from the New York Mets: he was injured in spring training and spent the entirety of the season on the DL.  Interestingly, the team returned him to New York in October, long before they needed to, and with New York in 2012 he made his way to the majors for some appearances.  The Mets eventually sold him to the Angels, then he bounced around in MLFA to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and in 2015 was playing in the Mexican league.  Verdict: impatience leading to failure.
  • Brian Broderick, RH Starting Pitcher, Drafted from St. Louis and stuck into the 2011′s bullpen as the long-man/mop-up guy.  He was awful, he was costing the team wins, and was eventually returned to St. Louis before May was out.   However, St. Louis waived him towards the end of 2012 and we picked him back up.  I projected him to be one of our AAA starters in 2013 but he struggled and ended the season in AA and was cut loose.  He pitched in Indy ball in 2014, well enough to get a MLFA contract in 2015, spending the whole year in the Royal’s AAA team.  He’s still hanging in there.  Verdict: failure for the Nats, jury still out for the player.

The team lost one player in the 2010 draft:

  • The Phillies drafted Michael Martinez away from the Nats, and he stuck on their roster as a backup middle infielder.  His batting lines were awful though, and the Nats clearly had depth at middle infield at the time, so losing this player was not that big of a deal.  Martinez has continued to hit sub .200 but has bounced from Philly to Pittsburgh to Cleveland, splitting time between AAA and the major league rosters providing MIF cover.


2009 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jamie Hoffman; OF, Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Los Angeles Dodgers and immediately traded for Brian Bruney in a pre-arranged deal.  NY returned him to the Dodgers later that spring.   Bruney, meanwhile, immediately went to arbitration and lost with the team in the spring of 2010, was awful out of the gate, and the team outright released him before the end of May.   Verdict: failure, all the way around this transaction.

The team lost one player in this draft:

  • Zech Zinicola was drafted away from us by Toronto, who eventually returned him to the Nats without any Toronto appearances.  His selection was probably due to Dana Brown‘s hiring in Toronto, going from Washington’s Scouting Director to being a special assistant to the GM in Toronto.  Zinicola remained in our farm system until 2013, when he was released.


2008 Rule 5 Draft

  • Terrell Young: Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Cincinnati.  He got hurt, never played for us, and was eventually returned to the Reds.   His injury was severe enough that he was out of baseball after being drafted; he has no professional games after 2008.  Verdict: failure.
  • Ricardo Nanita, selected in the minor league phase, played most of 2009, then went to the Mexican league, then got picked up by Toronto in minor league free agency and has been there ever since, playing all of 2013 in Buffalo.   Verdict: failure.

The team lost two players in the minor league phase:


2007 Rule 5 Draft

  • Matt Whitney: 1B/3B, Drafted and then eventually returned back to Cleveland, who eventually made the former 1st rounder a ML free agent and we signed him after the 2008 season.   We cut him after the 2009 season and he retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.
  • Garrett Guzman: LF/RF: after Rule-5 selecting him, the team eventually traded a PTBNL for him to Minnesota, then we cut him outright and nobody picked him up.  He played two years of Independent ball and was out of baseball after 2010.  Guzman is more infamously known as the player who was caught having sex with an underage girl while playing for our AA team in Harrisburg in 2008, likely the reason why nobody picked him up after his DFA.  Verdict: embarrassing failure.

The Nats lost one player of note in the minor league phase in this draft:

  • Brett Campbell was drafted by Milwaukee in the AAA phase of the rule-5 draft.  Milwaukee released him in spring training of the subsequent 2008 season and Campbell never played another inning of pro baseball.  This seems especially odd to me: he was drafted in 2004 and rose all the way through the Nats system to debut in the majors by Sept of 2006.  He pitched in just two games in 2006, and returned to the minors in 2007.  Was he hurt?  He was only 26 when he apparently hung them up.  Oddity.


2006 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jesus Flores, C, drafted from the New York Mets, stuck with the team all year despite having only played high-A ball in the minors.  Despite his eventual injury issues that plagued him for the better part of 3 seasons, Flores remains the best example of a “found gold” prospect that can be had in the Rule 5 draft.   After the Nats DFA’d him last off-season, he bounced around both LA and Tampa’s AAA teams in 2013 but did not appear in the majors. Verdict: success.
  • Levale Speigner RHP (a closer) was drafted from Minnesota and, as with Booker above, eventually was traded for by the Nats so they could keep him and stash him in the minors.  After some awful outings for the big team, he passed through waivers mid 2008 and was released from AAA in 2008, bounced around a couple other organizations, and retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.

The Nats lost one player in this draft:

  • Alejandro Machada was drafted by Minnesota just a month after the Nats had re-signed him to a minor league contract.  So Machada didn’t have to stay on their active roster.  And indeed he didn’t; he was injured all of 2007 and stayed with Minnesota’s AAA team until 2009, never again broaching the majors.


2005 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not draft anyone, but had a player taken who went on a whirlwind tour of MLB organizations before getting returned mid 2006.

  • Chris Booker was rule-5 drafted by Detroit, who immediately sold him to Philadelphia, who then waived him in May of 2006 with the intent of returning him … except that Kansas City picked him up, hung onto him for a couple months and eventually returned him to Washington.  The Nats eventually called him up but he was relatively ineffective and he washed out of the game (seemingly due to injuries) after 2008.


2004 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2005 season)

  • Tony Blanco: 1B; drafted from Cincinnati.  He batted .177 as a 1st baseman backup while eating a roster spot all season, then we cut him from AAA after 2007.  He kicked around Colorado’s system for a year and has been playing in Japan ever since.  Verdict: failure.
  • Tyrell Godwin: CF, drafted from Toronto.  Prior to the 2005 season, the team traded another minor leaguer to keep his rights, so this really played out less like a Rule-5 pickup in that Godwin didn’t have to stick on the 25-man roster all year.  He played a grand total of 3 games for the Nats, kicked around AAA for a while an hung them up in 2007.  Verdict: failure.


Summary: we’ve drafted 11 guys in the MLB phase Rule 5 draft since 2005, and I’d classify 10 of the 11 draftees as eventual failures.  Not a great track record.  Plus its safe to say that most every player drafted FROM us has been a failure for the drafting team.  Clearly the Rule 5 draft isn’t a great way to reliably find players.  Why do we do so much analysis on it?  I dunno, because its fun?  Because its December and we’re desperate for Baseball news?  Fair enough 🙂

20 Responses to 'Nats Rule-5 Draft History; updated for 2015'

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  1. Cox looks like Skole without the HRs, or Cutter with more doubles. He’s a competent upper-level insurance policy for the system, I guess. He also looks like another example of how hard it is to project power coming out of college.

    Speaking of 3Bs and power, Heyman has the Nats as one of several teams interested in Todd Frazier. No, please no.


    14 Dec 15 at 12:02 pm

  2. Todd Frazier makes zero sense to the Nats. Plays 1B and 3B only and hits right-handed. That’s three things the team already has in spades. Only thing I can think is this; maybe the nats are putting themselves in the middle of someone elses’ trade 🙂

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 15 at 1:24 pm

  3. Separate tangent; i’ve seen 3 or 4 articles reacting to Barrett’s statement that “overuse” led to his arm injury.

    All I can say is: “Duh.” what did everyone think was going to happen when you worked him out of the pen like a rented mule??

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 15 at 1:26 pm

  4. Not just using him, but getting hot several times a game before being used, as well as getting hot and then not used. Bullpen usage is likely Williams biggest flaw.

    Boy, these rule 5 guys bring back memories of the dark days. Surprised myself with how many I remembered. I try not to dehumanize these guys, but this really was the low point in organizational talent.

    I can see virtually no chance that the Nats are actually interested in Frazier. Todd anyway. Clint might be another story.


    14 Dec 15 at 2:30 pm

  5. How about Joe Frazier? Maybe he can come in and do some pep talks. Give Bryce and Papelbon some boxing lessons for next time.

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 15 at 2:44 pm

  6. The man who straight up out dueled Johan Santana at his height is not a failure:


    14 Dec 15 at 2:52 pm

  7. Smokin’ Joe is slightly deceased, but what do want to bet that Dusty knew him?


    14 Dec 15 at 4:32 pm

  8. Nah, let’s go with Walt Frazier and add him to Carp and FP.

    Espy is ‘bounding and astounding’ into the hole to make that stop; Rendon is ‘movin’ and groovin’ down the line. That would definitely spice up the broadcast.


    14 Dec 15 at 4:45 pm

  9. A few observations:

    1) The contracts signed by Heyward and Cueto, to me, guarantee that Strasburg needs to be traded, and this winter. No way would any sane team sign players to deals with these player opt-outs. The size of the deals is such that it heightens the value that much more on controllable pitching.

    2) Sadly, this also affects the Harper negotiations. Very sadly. You get a limited amount of control of a player despite a huge financial commitment. Ouch. It leaves me pessimistic on that front.

    3) The different directions that the team is probing the marketplace unexpectedly (Heyward, Leake, four years big money for Zobrist) and perhaps others show the team is willing to spend beyond needs. That spells signing to depth to trade from depth. What an unusual strategy — unless you are trying to create a bundle (sweetening a package to include Papelbon or Storen). I also think that some of what we are hearing are calculated diversions by Rizzo to disguise his interests in the era of twitter and unmanageable leaks.

    4) The Nats are doing wisely to wait out the rush on tradeable starting and relief pitchers. When demand shifts, they will be better positioned, especially once Leake, Kazmir, and Chen are off the market. We are going to find out how high they are on Cole and Jordan — never mind that we are not. I think that if they hype him right, they can get a huge, huge haul for Strasburg.

    5) I just cannot see the Nats committing to Espinosa starting at SS. If Yunel Escobar’s 2015 was seen as an outlier, how sure are we that Espinosa does not fall back into some funk? I’ll leave the guessing on trade candidates to others on this blog, but I am sure that some one has considered Kipnis or some other trade option.

    6) I also think the Nats have not started negotiating with Harper, in part, because that would telegraph their Strasburg plan. Boras would stir up too much. Deal Strasburg and disambiguate the two. Then go for it.

    7) The Nats have their share of high value trade chips. We’ve seen Rizzo do plenty with less.

    8) Seeing what the Phillies got for Giles, one has to think the Nats are hoping to see what they can groom up in Gott. He apparently has the “aggressive” they need. What’s to say of Treinen and his stuff…? But clearly, young controllable ML demonstrated pitching is the high premium, higher still because of the Greinke and Cueto deals.

    9) Which brings me to Joe Ross. How many thought of him when the Shelby Miller deal hauled what it did?

    10) It seems to me that the Nats should decide which super-super star they want and go out and make the package happen to get him – and when all is said and done, will be able to do it without losing Giolito or Robles. Andrew Miller? Some young controllable all star caliber middle IF?


    14 Dec 15 at 5:39 pm

  10. Also, it seems pretty clear that the Nats are not inclined to play folks out of position at the majors next year. I read the Frazier talk as pretty decoy. I also read the Turner to 2B the same way, and as a fallback option.


    14 Dec 15 at 5:43 pm

  11. RE: Harper’s extension talks, I agree that pessimism is the safer emotion. But I would also add that it serves the Nats nothing to start talking now. This is as hot as he can be right now, and I think they are right to wait until next year. His leverage really can’t get much higher, right? He just put up an historic season that justified his hype and put him in line for a record breaking contract – let’s just say its $400m over 10 years or something. That’s just right now. If he has another 9 WAR season, how can that number actually get much higher? At some point I don’t think so and I’d give it another season and then decide whether they want to give him the largest contract in history, probably with multiple opt outs.

    I have said before that they ought to trade Stras because the package will far exceed the supp pick plus 2016 performance. You can’t sign him because the swing in his contract based on his performance this year is astronomical: if he puts up 6 WAR and is a real Cy Young candidate, he might be looking at $200m next year, which seems nuts but I’d bet is possible because he is young, awesome, and has no competition. If he puts up a 3-4 WAR season, that is probably still $130-$140m. Basically, so long as he doesn’t blow out his elbow, I think JZ’s deal is his floor and there just doesn’t seem to be a way to sign him now without paying for most of the upside, which even I, an ardent Stras guy, wouldn’t recommend.

    But the time to trade is coming though: with Cueto off the board, everyone else is clearly a cut below and LAD, NYY and maybe BOS or CHC will offer big, I think. I suspect the Nats won’t do it however. The safer play is to keep him and play it out, while making it look like they made a big offer to keep him, just big enough to lose out.

    Hey – here’s a crazy scenario. What if Desi drops to something like 3/$39m. Does he re-sign? Would Rizzo?


    14 Dec 15 at 6:52 pm

  12. Look at Speigner’s line in that game. 6ip, 2 hits, 1 run … to lower his season ERA to …. 7.79! 🙂

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 15 at 8:03 pm

  13. Oh, $200M would be a bargain for Stras next year, when he’s the ONLY top-tier starter on the market. Unless he becomes a basket case in his contract year, he’ll be looking at something like at least $250M plus an opt-out or two, maybe even up to $300M since he will be so young. Of course that would be pocket change for Harper!

    The whole opt-out craze actually gives me a few more reasons for hope for extending Harper. One is that if the Nats get 3-4 years beyond his controlled years, they’ll be getting his absolute prime, without necessarily being committed to paying for his decline. He might not end up being a Nat for life, but it would be much easier to see him walk away at 30 than at 26. Another thing is that having the ability to reset the market value later in the contract would seem like more inducement for him to sign now.

    Last but not least, the winter of 2018-19 will be a crazy market, perhaps the biggest FA market ever. One would think that it actually wouldn’t be that great to be on the market that year when there are so many other options for teams. Why overbid on Harper when you can have McCutchen as a fallback?

    The Nats have about a year window with Harper right now. I do imagine that they’ll put a contract somewhere between $400 to $500M on the table during that time, with at least one opt-out, probably two. If that isn’t enough, then nothing would be.


    15 Dec 15 at 5:23 am

  14. I think that’s high for Stras. There have only been three contracts > $200m for pitchers, and they were all significantly more accomplished than Stras, even with a top year in 2016. Plus he has the TJ in his profile. So I think $200m is his max deal.

    So, with SFG and CHC signing their second QO guy, that prevents the Nats from moving their comp picks up the queue. Need to get some teams with 1st rounders to lose signing some of these guys, like LAD and HOU.

    Stras for Alex Wood, Jose DeLeon, Yadier Alvarez and Kike Hernandez. Who says no?


    15 Dec 15 at 9:47 am

  15. No way does this team go anywhere near that kind of money for a player who cannot stay on the field and who is already post-TJ.

    They should have traded Zimm, they should have traded Desi, and the organization needs to learn from the example of the teams that were willing to pull the trigger on the David Price deals. Tampa got what it could, Detroit got what it could.

    The opt outs are going to really change the nature of contracts forever. It needs to be reflected in the compensation structure as well (draft picks) because this will only ensure greater player movement and a lack of continuity unless the player is a family man or has a Darren Day situation.

    The whole dynamic of player movement is going to have to change as well. In my opinion, it places a higher premium on major league ready depth at the AA-AAA level because the only players who forego their options will be players on a downswing.


    15 Dec 15 at 11:04 am

  16. That’s way too much for one year of Strasburg; i’d guess LA says no.

    Cueto == no QO since he was traded this year.

    Todd Boss

    15 Dec 15 at 12:58 pm

  17. Yeah, maybe so. Maybe pull out De Leon. Good catch on Cueto.

    I don’t recall an offseason with more wild Nats rumors. Latest is Brandon Phillips. Hope it is just smoke, not a fan of him.


    15 Dec 15 at 9:50 pm

  18. Is Dusty starting the rumors on all these Reds? Chapman, Leake, Frazier, Phillips . . . Geez, you’d think Bowden was back in charge!


    16 Dec 15 at 5:13 am

  19. Brandon Phillips rumor doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense to me. If they wanted a veteran 2B who could hit an “empty” .290, didn’t they already have one for half the price in Escobar??

    If Phillips batted left handed, maybe. But why replace like for like in this fashion? Unless they can get Phillips for like some marginal prospect with the Reds kicked in a ton of cash. I’d be more interested in taking a flier on Jay Bruce frankly.

    Todd Boss

    16 Dec 15 at 8:41 am

  20. The only way it could make sense to me is if somehow they use it to dump Pap as well, since I don’t think he can block the Reds. Pap and Voth for Phillips, something like that. Maybe a lesser prospect. The Reds get a mediocre prospect and salary relief in Y2.


    16 Dec 15 at 12:48 pm

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