Ahead of the Rule 5 Draft eligibility deadline on Tuesday, we look at which Washington Nationals prospects could be added to the 40-man roster.
With the Rule 5 Draft rapidly approaching in December, teams around Major League Baseball need to make their final roster decisions on Tuesday to protect prospects from being drafted in the event. In this piece, we look at the prospects the Washington Nationals may protect.
The concept behind the Rule 5 Draft is to prevent organizations from hoarding players in the minor leagues, and giving them a chance to make it on major league rosters. Any player selected in the major league phase of the draft must remain on the team’s active 25-man roster all season, or risk being returned to the team he was drafted from.
To be eligible for the draft, a player who was signed at 18 or under must have been in the system longer than five years, or over four years in the system if they were signed when they were older than 18.
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The Nationals currently have five spaces open on their full roster heading towards the deadline to protect their prospects. That means they have the flexibility to protect as many as they wish, but with turnover expected on the team too, they may choose to leave spots open for future free agent additions. So let’s take a look at which players could fill those open spots.
There’s one real no-brainer in terms of prospects for the Washington Nationals that need adding to the 40-man roster before Tuesday, and that’s reliever James Bourque.
The funny thing is, if we were having this conversation 12 months ago, there would be no way you would think Bourque would be nailed on to be protected. After the 2017 season, the right-hander had just wrapped up yet another underwhelming season as a starter with the Hagerstown Suns, possessing a 5.07 ERA striking out just 90 in 113.2 innings.
The organization then made the decision to transition him to a full-time reliever, and it worked absolute wonders. He pitched to the tune of a 1.70 ERA and saw his strikeout rate leap up to 12.9 K/9 between High-A and Double-A. Those kinds of stats will be enough to keep him around as potential bullpen depth as soon as 2019, so expect his addition to the 40-man roster in the coming days.
Likely to be protected
When looking at the rest of the Washington Nationals’ Top 30 Prospects, according to MLB.com, there are a few others eligible for the draft but aren’t a slam dunk like Bourque.
The first is Telmito Agustin, who has largely had an up-and-down career in the Nats organization to this point. Initially, he dazzled in the Gulf Coast League, hitting over .300 there in two separate seasons, but then struggled to make the jump to full-season ball.
That was, until 2018, when he was able to impress with the Potomac Nationals in High-A and now could be kept around. He sported a positive slash line of .302/.368/.454 with the P-Nats and was able to play solid defense, primarily in left field. While he’s still quite far off the big leagues, he’s flashed enough raw talent to be worth protecting.
The other candidate who could be protected is Drew Ward. While he’s not quite flashed the same high ceiling as the other two players we’ve mentioned so far, Ward has been solid at every level he’s been at, even making his way up to Triple-A for a time in 2018.
Ward has a power left-handed swing and has produced double-digit home runs in four of his last five minor league seasons. While there’s still a little more seasoning for him to do, perhaps playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with the Fresno Grizzlies could get him ready for the big leagues for 2019 or 2020.
Unlikely to be protected
In terms of other players unlikely to be protected, we’ll stick to MLB.com’s top 30 prospects, but there are several lurking in the system who will be eligible. The first could be somewhat of a surprise in Luis Reyes, who has just finished up a spell in the Arizona Fall League.
The right-handed Dominican has recorded ERAs of 4.66, 4.33, 4.75 and 4.82 in his last four years in the organization despite seemingly having the raw stuff that should’ve seen him thrive. He spent most of 2018 in Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators but ended down in Short-Season A-Ball with the Auburn Doubledays. It’s entirely possible the team sent him to Arizona to put him in the shop window and may look to trade him to a team that can place him on their 40-man roster.
Tomas Alastre is in a very similar situation to Reyes, but is arguably less developed and far enough away that he’s not worth protecting. According to Byron Kerr of MASN Sports, the organization is a big fan of Alastre’s academic ability, however, in his first full season outside of the GCL, he struggled with the Hagerstown Suns with a 4-8 record to go with a 5.32 ERA. The front office likes him still, but probably not enough to protect him from being drafted.
Finally, we come to Jose Marmolejos who is one of the more seasoned players in the Nats system. 2018 was his eighth season with the Nats and has even been in this situation before. He was added to the 40-man roster back in November 2016 to protect him from being drafted before being removed midway through the 2018 season.
Someone could potentially take a chance on Marmelejos who has recorded an OPS north of .800 in five of his last seven seasons, but the chances are remote after a down 2018 and given the lack of a high ceiling. Therefore, the Nats can likely risk leaving him unprotected for the draft.
The Washington Nationals have some interesting decisions to make with the Rule 5 Draft looming. Expect these to be finalized in the next couple of days as the deadline to add these prospects to the roster draws nearer.