LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Thursday morning’s Rule 5 draft is the last order of business at the Winter Meetings, and while the Nationals probably won’t add anyone to their 40-man roster, it’s possible they could lose one or more prospects.
Teams with openings on their 40-man rosters are allowed to select players who were first signed at 18 and not added to a club’s 40-man roster within five seasons or players signed at 19 who have not been added to the 40-man roster after four seasons. Players drafted have to stay on the 25-man roster of the club selecting them for the entire 2018 season or be returned to their original team for half of the $100,000 draft price.
The Nationals currently have three openings on their 40-man roster, but they have not made a Rule 5 selection since 2010, when they selected two right-handers - Elvin Ramirez from the Mets and Brian Broderick from the Cardinals. Only Broderick made the opening day 25-man roster. Broderick put up a 6.57 ERA in 11 games, was returned to the Cardinals and was out of baseball by 2016. Washington last lost a player in the Rule 5 draft when the White Sox plucked catcher Adrian Nieto from the Nationals in 2013.
If they choose to participate, the Nats select 25th in the Rule 5 based on their record from last season. Three teams - the Padres, A’s and Dodgers - have full 40-man rosters and cannot participate.
Before the Nov. 20 deadline to set rosters in advance of the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals added three players to their 40-man: righty reliever Wander Suero, who put up a 1.07 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse last season and was named the minor league Pitcher of the Year; third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, who has yet to advance beyond the high Single-A Carolina League, but hit .350 in the Arizona Fall League this year and has the best infield arm in the organization, according to Baseball America; and righty starter Jefry Rodriguez, a hard thrower who was suspended for 80 games in 2017 after testing positive for a banned substance.
Like any club with a deep farm system, the Nats had to make some hard choices when it came to protecting players from the Rule 5 draft. Among those left exposed were shortstop Osvaldo Abreu, catcher Taylor Gushue and right-hander Jimmy Cordero, all of whom are named on Baseball America’s list of players who might be potential Rule 5 selections.
Abreu, 23, took a step back offensively at Double-A Harrisburg in 2017, slashing .246/.299/.336, but possesses a good glove and could profile as a utility infielder or a starter for a rebuilding team willing to invest some time in him.
Gushue, acquired in a September 2016 trade with the Pirates for infielder Chris Bostick, hit 18 homers and drove in 67 runs at Potomac last season and played in the AFL, where he hit only .143 for Mesa. With Pedro Severino and Raudy Read ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, the Nationals felt comfortable exposing the 23-year-old.
Cordero, 26, came from the Phillies in a November 2016 trade for cash or a player to be named. A hard thrower viewed as a potential future closer, he went 2-6 with a 6.84 ERA in 41 games at Double-A Harrisburg. Cordero rebounded in the AFL, going 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 18 games for Mesa.
There is a minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft where teams select unprotected players for $24,000 apiece. Those picked are not subjected to any roster restrictions and become property of the team picking them.