“We’ve got a list of players that we’re going over, and if they’re players that fit what we’re trying to do right now,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in San Diego, CA for the 2022-23 MLB Winter Meetings of the Washington Nationals’ plan for the top pick in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft, “… we’ve crafted the roster [so] we take can a player on.”
Going into the Draft, the Nats’ 40-man roster was at 38 following some recent additions and subtractions.
Struggling their way to a 55-107 record this past season “earned” the Nationals the No. 1 pick from among the players left unprotected by their respective teams this winter.
“Players signed at age 18 or younger [needed] to be added to their club’s 40-Man roster within five seasons or they [became] eligible for the Rule 5 Draft,” as noted on MLB.com.
“Players who signed at age 19 or older [needed] to be protected within four seasons,” but if they weren’t added to their club’s 40-man roster they were eligible for selection this winter, with the Nationals selecting first overall this year after finishing with the worst record in ‘22.
Thad Ward's slider is a big league out pitch. Can manipulate it to a harder cutter in the upper 80s as well which he can use to tie up lefties.— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) December 7, 2022
Sinker is good ground ball machine as well. https://t.co/V9N9v9kobX pic.twitter.com/q4Detiwmsl
The teams which do select players, “… must pay $100,000 to the club from which said player was selected.”:
“Rule 5 Draft picks are assigned directly to the drafting club’s 26-man roster and must be placed on outright waivers in order to be removed from the 26-man roster in the subsequent season,” at which point, “… he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000 and can be outrighted to the Minors only if his original club does not wish to reacquire him. A Rule 5 Draft pick can be placed on the Major League injured list, but he must be active for a minimum of 90 days to avoid being subject to the aforementioned roster restrictions in the next campaign.”
“So we’re going to go through the list and see if there’s someone that we really like, and if we like somebody we’ll take him,” Rizzo said earlier this week.
“Right now we’re talking about all kinds of different options,” skipper Davey Martinez said in his own media availability from the Winter Meetings, “… whether it’s a pitcher, whether it’s a position player.”
“When the time comes, we’ll try to pick the guy we feel that could actually really help us because … we are young.
“For me, I’d rather have a pitcher because you could use him. If it’s a young player, it will be tough, if he’s 19 to 20, to just put him in and try to get him constant at-bats.
“But we’re weighing all our options to see what’s going to be best.”
Rizzo was asked about the deliberations in the organization over what to do with the top pick, and what type of player the club was looking for from among the available options, whether it’s the best player, or one who’s likely to stick if they did pick them?
“I think it’s a combination of who’s the best player that gives you the chance to impact your team the greatest,” Rizzo explained.
“I think that’s the way we look at just about everything and that’s the way we’re going to attack this thing too.”
With the top pick of the Rule 5 Draft, the Nationals selected right-hander Thad Ward, a 25-year-old, 2018 5th Round pick by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Central Florida who underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2021 but returned to the mound last season and made 13 starts total in 2022, with a 2.28 ERA in 51 1⁄3 innings overall between Florida’s Complex League, A-ball, High-A, and Double-A in the Sox’ system. Ward then went out to the Arizona Fall League where he, “... posted a 2.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts in four games (three starts) during the Arizona Fall League season,” as the club noted in a press release on their Rule 5 selection:
“[Ward] went 8-5 with a 2.14 ERA in 25 starts between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem in his first full professional season. Ward did not pitch during the 2020 season and underwent Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on June 3, 2021.
“Ward entered the 2022 season rated as the No. 15 prospect in the Red Sox’ organization according to MLB Pipeline and the No. 19 prospect according to Baseball America. He was among Boston’s top 10 prospects in 2021 (No. 10) and 2020 (No. 7) and was cited by Baseball America as having the organization’s ‘best control’ in 2021 and ‘best slider’ in 2020.”
“We kind of blended the upside of the pitcher with kind of the certainty of making it easier to carry the player throughout the season,” Rizzo explained when asked about the thinking behind the selection of Ward. “We liked this player. We think he’s got more left in the tank. He’s a year farther removed from Tommy John surgery.
Thad Ward tossed a quality start tonight to help @salemredsox move ahead 2-0 in their Carolina League semifinals series.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 6, 2019
Here's the #RedSox's No. 8 prospect striking out #Royals prospect Nick Pratto on three pitches to pick up his 6th K of the night: https://t.co/MJmopK6HQt pic.twitter.com/NIFOcDjL9E
“He’s got a four-pitch mix, he’s around the plate, he’s got some pitchability and some stuff, and we think, like I said, he’s got a little bit more in the tank when he gets farther away from the surgery.”
Rizzo said the club thinks Ward will have an opportunity to stick on the 40-Man roster.
“He has the ingredients to pitch in the big leagues,” the GM said. “He has four pitches that he can command. He’s a competitive guy. He’s a starting pitching candidate that we can stretch out and pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, and we feel comfortable with the fact that he’ll allow Davey [Martinez] to utilize him throughout the season and have a chance to keep him.”
The plan in the short-term, Rizzo said, is to stretch him out to pitch multiple innings, most likely out of the bullpen to start.
“I don’t know what that will morph into. He’s been a starter in his career, but we kind of see him right now as a multi-inning relief pitcher,” he told reporters.
“We see him as a starting pitching candidate. That’s what he’s always been, that’s kind of how we like him. We’re not going to rule out anything. He’s going to come into Spring Training with the mindset that he’s going to pitch multiple innings, and we’ll kind of let it take itself from there.”