Nationals add outfielder Casey, lefty Lee to 40-man roster

The Nationals chose to protect two prospects from being selected in next month’s scheduled Rule 5 draft, adding both outfielder Donovan Casey and left-hander Evan Lee to their 40-man roster in advance of today’s league-wide deadline.

Casey and Lee were among the likeliest of the more than three dozen minor leaguers eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft to be protected by the Nationals, who did have room to add one more player to their 40-man roster but opted to leave that spot open for now.

The 25-year-old Casey was one of the four prospects the Nats’ received from the Dodgers in this summer’s blockbuster deal for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray are already in the big leagues, and right-hander Gerardo Carrillo already was on the 40-man roster, so Casey now joins the rest of the group in that category.

Casey-Hitting-White-AFL-Sidebar.jpgRated by Baseball America as the “Best Athlete” in the Nationals farm system at season’s end, Casey excelled in his short time at Double-A Harrisburg following the July trade (.965 OPS in 12 games), but struggled after getting promoted to Triple-A Rochester (.536 OPS in 38 games). The Nats sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he is batting .255/.368/.447 in 13 games heading into today’s season finale.

A gifted defensive outfielder who can play all three positions, Casey could conceivably challenge for a spot on the Nationals’ opening day roster with a strong showing this spring. At minimum, he seems likely to make his major league debut sometime in 2022.

Lee, a 15th-round pick in 2018 from Arkansas, posted a 4.32 ERA at Single-A Wilmington this season, but struck out a whopping 104 batters in only 77 innings. Currently rated the 21st-best prospect in the Nationals system by MLBPipeline.com, the 24-year-old also has spent the last month in the AFL and has 10 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits and six walks.

Less experienced than Casey, Lee figures to need more time in the minors before challenging for a spot on the Nationals’ big league staff. He’s likely to open the 2022 season at Double-A, though as a member of the 40-man roster, now he’ll be a part of big league camp next spring.

The Nats must now hope none of the players they left unprotected will be scooped up by other clubs in the Rule 5 draft (scheduled for Dec. 5, but potentially delayed or canceled if there’s a labor work stoppage). Among the notable names they chose not to protect are left-hander Tim Cate, catcher Israel Pineda and infielder Jordy Barley. All would seem to be a stretch to stick in the major leagues for the entire 2022 season, the requirement for any player taken in the draft.

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