The White Sox were active in the Rule V Draft today, picking up a catcher in the major league phase, a pitcher and another catcher in the AAA phase. They also lost a player in the AAA phase. Let’s take a look at each of the prospects involved.
Adrian Nieto, Major League phase
The White Sox selected catcher Adrian Nieto (from Washington Nationals) with the 2nd overall pick. This was not a complete surprise, as there were some Twitter reports indicating this was a possibility. While there is no doubt the team needs help at catcher, the pick is somewhat of a head-scratcher. Nieto has never played above Advanced A ball, and per the rules of the draft, the Sox need to keep him on the 25-man active MLB roster all season, or they have to offer him back to the Nationals. Can he stick with the team all year?
To clarify the rules: this selection costs the White Sox $50,000, which is peanuts. Being selected in the Major League phase of the draft, the Sox must now either keep Nieto on the 25-man active roster for the entire 2014 regular season, or offer him back to the Nationals for $25,000. In essence, this is a $25,000 roll of the dice, since it is likely the Nationals would happily take him back. So there wasn’t much to lose.
The switch-hitting Nieto was drafted in the 5th round in 2008, and was the Nationals’ #8 prospect in 2008 and #25 in 2009 according to Baseball America. He is considered solid defensively, with a strong arm and quick release. With the bat, he has an aggressive approach, and shows plus power potential particularly from the left side. He spent 2013 at Advanced A Potomac, compiling a .285/.373/.449 line, with an 18.1% K/PA rate and 11.7% BB/PA. The strike out rate has been going down each of the last three seasons, which is encouraging, and the ability to draw some walks gives some hope of him making good use of that power by coupling it with some plate discipline. He did get the chance to play up against tougher competition this fall, playing in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a .271/.345/.333 line in 13 games, with similar K and BB rates to his A+ numbers, and was named an AFL All Star.
A few other notes… He has a very interesting back story, having survived a harrowing journey escaping Cuba at age 4. His high school development was interrupted by elbow and knee injuries, adding further development needs for the player drafted young at a complicated position. And he missed time in 2011 when he was suspended 50 games for violating PED policy (Oxandrolone). So, despite being 23 in High A last season (he turned 24 in November), he’s probably pretty raw overall.
Looking at the full picture, Nieto would probably fit somewhere in the 20-25 range of the White Sox top prospects, give or take. But he’ll likely never play in the Sox minor league system.
Evan Crawford, AAA Phase
Rules: In the AAA phase of the Rule V Draft, eligible players (age/year requirements, not on 40 man roster, not on AAA reserve list) are selected for $12,000, and do not need to be kept on the selecting team’s 25 or 40 man rosters.
The Sox picked up 27 year old lefty reliever Evan Crawford from Toronto with the 3rd overall pick in the AAA phase. Oddly, while Nieto has never been above A+ and was taken in the major league phase, Crawford has actually pitched in the majors, posting pretty uninspiring numbers in 2012 at age 25 in limited innings (8 IP, 10 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 K). This 8th round pick from the 2008 draft pick has only 27.2 innings of AAA exposure and hasn’t done too well (6.83 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 12.4 H/9, 3.9 BB/9, 6.5 K/9). His AA numbers are better but still unspectacular (4.16 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 4.1 BB/9, 9.7 K/9), though the strike out rate is a plus. He does induce ground balls well, which is a major plus for the Sox and their band box, as he posted a 1.43 GO/AO in 2013.
Crawford is probably seen as a LOOGY type in the making, and his numbers this season show he was much tougher on lefties (.244 AvgA, 1.86 GO/AO, 14 K in 12.2 IP-equiv) than righties (.343 AvgA, 1.15 GO/AO, 19 K in 25.1 IP-equiv). He’s got a decent sinking fastball and a curve that flashes plus but is inconsistent. He likely starts 2014 in AAA Charlotte, though he may get a long look in Spring Training and has an outside shot of breaking camp with the team.
Omar Narvaez, AAA Phase
With their 2nd round pick in the AAA phase, the Sox picked up another catcher, Omar Narvaez from Arizona. This catcher played two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League, where he put up a .314/.404/.383 line with more walks than strikeouts, showing a strong hit tool (though all VSL numbers need to be taken with a small mound of salt). He struggled in his first state-side Rookie League appearance at age 19 (.221/.304/.250 in 159 PA, but identical BB and K numbers), but improved dramatically on repeating the level at age 20 (.305/.380/.384). Last season in A- he hit .267/.311/.333.
Narvaez has shown near-zero power, but at times a very good hit tool, though he hasn’t yet played in a full season league. Defensively, he’s reported to have very good skills, and has been throwing out runners at high clips in his minor league time.
Brady Shoemaker, taken in AAA phase
The Sox lost one player in the Rule V draft, outfielder Brady Shoemaker, taken in the AAA phase by Florida. A 19th round pick in 2009, Shoemaker has put up some pretty nice numbers on his way up the system: 1.011 OPS in his draft year in Bristol (Rk), .855 with Kannapolis in 2010, .858 across A and A+ in 2011, and .902 across A+ and AA in 2012. But he’s been playing consistently old-for-level (25 in 2012), and he missed all of 2013 recovering from shoulder surgery, so he’d turn 27 during this upcoming season with just 56 games at AA. He’s not among the Top 25 prospects in the system.
It is a mild surprise the Sox didn’t protect him on the AAA reserve list, but he’s behind a number of prospects at this point and may get a longer look in Florida's system.