The Rule 5 draft has traditionally been something the Washington Nationals sit out of. While this year’s class of Rule 5 eligible players may not be as good as some of the past classes the Nationals could take advantage of roster flexibility and the 5th pick.
The Nationals have not taken part in the Rule 5 Draft since 2010 and they haven’t acquired any impact since 2006 when they drafted catcher Jesus Flores. Flores ended up playing over 300 games with the Nationals and helped fill a role.
This year the Nationals currently stand at 39 players on their 40 man roster. They theoretically have the space to add someone and could even get lucky and turn another teams “trash” into a Nationals treasure. If they do select someone I would be least surprised if they picked up a high upside arm for the bullpen as that seems most likely, but they could also pick up a bat if they like someone. These 5 players interest me the most.
Samad Taylor 2B/OF
Samad Taylor is currently the 17th ranked prospect with the Blue Jays and he will be 24 this upcoming season. He is the victim of a roster crunch in Toronto, a team with a lot of solid youth at many different positions. Taylor could drop into a bench role today based on his position flexibility and baserunning ability alone. He can play any infield position and spent 2021 playing outfield. Since 2018 Taylor has stolen exactly 100 bases across three minor league levels. Okay, there’s plenty of veteran utility players out there that won’t sign for much but Taylor comes with potential upside. Not only can he play anywhere and fly, his bat looked pretty solid in 2021 with the AA Fisher Cats. He hit .294/.385/.503 with 16 home runs in 87 games last year. Potential is the key here, but the Nationals may like his floor as a solid bench piece.
Luken Baker 1B
@DCSportsCast on Twitter was on top of this one from day one. Baker does not provide the flexibility that Taylor does, but he could be depth at a position that is weak in the Nationals system while also providing some pop off the bench. This hard-hitting first basemen currently sits as the 13th best prospect in the Cardinals system according to MLB Pipeline. He spent 2021 hitting 26 home runs in AA and posting an OPS of .852. The issue with Baker comes down to his lack of flexibility and the fact he would have to stay on the big league roster or be offered back to the Cardinals. If Zimmerman does come back and Riley Adams continues to get a look at first base could the Nationals actually carry three first basemen on the roster at one time? Maybe, but it would be tricky.
Christopher Gau RHP
This is the player I would be most excited to get as I believe Gau could really impact the Nationals’ historic weakness at the back end of the bullpen. Gau comes from the Rays who seem to print out successful bullpen pitchers. The numbers look great and I would not be shocked if Gau is not even available at the 5th pick. In 2021 he struck out 80 in just over 48 innings while only walking 13. Gau relies on an upper 90s fastball and a slider curve combo to get batters out and he could certainly fit into the Nationals bullpen today.
Tahnaj Thomas RHP
Okay, I will admit this is sort of a why not type of move and extremely unlikely. With that out of the way, what if I told you there was a relief pitcher out there that can hit 100 MPH with a pretty solid slider as well. Thomas is that player and the type of guy that theoretically could be the last guy in a bullpen that could develop into a very good piece. There are some caveats with him. He has only appeared in high A ball and has a severe walk issue. He would likely only be seen in blow outs but if he could keep his stuff and cut down the walks he would be the perfect addition.
Shawn Semple RHP
Last year I really wanted the Nationals to take former Yankee Garrett Whitlock, but unfortunately the Red Sox took him before we could. He just went on to have a great year in the Red Sox bullpen. I think Semple could potentially provide the same value. He is a low-risk high-reward type in the Rule 5 draft. Worst case he gets sent back to the Yankees and best case he’s a valuable piece of the Nationals bullpen into our next winning window. Semple struck out 74 in 64 innings this past year while only walking only 21. He has a 4 pitch mix that led to him having a solid 2021 in AA and could allow him to play multiple roles in a bullpen.
The Nationals certainly are not guaranteed to select someone in the Rule 5 Draft this year. There are some options that may make sense for them to take a look at, but they would have to believe that they could keep them on the 26 man roster all year.