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Washington Nationals news & notes: Rule 5 pick Nasim Nuñez; a defense-first bench option for 2024 Nats...

Notes and quotes on the Nationals’ 2023 Rule 5 pick...

With the fifth overall pick in this year’s Rule 5 Draft, Washington’s Nationals selected a 23-year-old shortstop, Nasim Nuñez, a 2019 2nd Round pick by Miami ranked sixth overall in the Marlins’ by Baseball America this winter.

Nuñez played at Double-A Pensacola this year, posting a .225/.341/.286 line with 11 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 87 walks, and 107 Ks, and stealing 52 bases (in 59 attempts), to finish the season, “... ranked tied for third in all of Double-A,” in stolen bases, and, “fourth in walks,” as the club noted in a press release on the selection.

Nuñez also, “... ranked among Southern League hitters in runs (T1st, 84), walks (3rd, 87) and hits (10th, 110),” on the year, and was, “... also cited by Baseball America as having the ‘best strike-zone discipline,’ [as] being the ‘fastest baserunner,’ the ‘best defensive infielder’, and [as] having the ‘best infield arm,’ among Marlins’ minor league players.”

Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo described Nuñez as, “... a young player with some elite tools,” when he spoke with reporters at the Winter Meetings from Nashville, TN, noting the club had, “... good scouting reports on Nuñez.”

“We’ve seen him a lot, we did a lot of work on the make-up and the attitude and that type of thing ... but terrific defensively, plays elite-level shortstop, arm, range, hands, can play anywhere in the middle of the field, and big-time base-stealer. We think that there’s some upside with the bat, the bat is far behind the defense, but a guy that we think has more bat in there, takes his walks, he’s pretty selective at the plate, and it was something that we’re really trying to get as many tools-y players up the middle of the field as possible and we thought this was the way to get some kind of an elite type of tools-y player onto the roster.”

The rub, of course, is that teams selecting players in the Rule 5 Draft, “... must pay $100,000 to the club from which said player was selected,” as explained on MLB.com, “... and, “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.”

“Should the player clear waivers, 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.”

Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office went through this with right-hander Thaddeus Ward last season, after selecting him No. 1 overall in the Rule 5 Draft from the Boston Red Sox’ system.

Ward accrued enough time on the major league roster (with an IL and minor league rehab stint helping make it possible), so he remains in the organization, and now he has options, and he can return to developing at his own pace.

“I thought it went well,” Rizzo said of the experience with Ward this season. “You come out of it with a player that you like, that has options, and that goes from a major league player on the 40-man roster that you have to keep there, to a guy that goes back kind of into the prospect pool and you can develop them more.

“Because obviously he had pitched in A-ball, and not much experience beyond that, so he’ll return back to that.”

And Nuñez? How is this year’s Rule 5 pick different from Ward?

“I think he probably can contribute at a higher rate,” Rizzo explained, “because of the skill set that he has. If he comes as advertised defensively, he’ll be a guy that Davey can plug in there at all infield positions with the lead, to protect the lead, and that type of thing, or to steal a big base for you, or to pinch-run for guys and that type of thing.

“In that regard, it makes it a little easier to absorb a guy that’s not going to be used often.

“You look at the back of our bench last year, I think [Michael] Chavis had about 60-ish at-bats* through the whole season.

“I think that this guy [Nuñez], [manager] Davey [Martinez] will utilize him as he sees fit. But I think he has some value as a defensive replacement and ... base-stealing and baserunning.”

[ed. note - “* = Chavis got 96 plate appearances, 91 at-bats, on the year this past season.”]

Making it work with Nuñez will be a challenge for the Nationals’ brass.

It’s going to be a challenge, because obviously he’s not going to get a lot of at-bats at the big-league level,” Rizzo said. “But I think with the coaching staff we have now, and with the reps he will get other than game-time reps, I think there will be time to — we can really iron out some mechanical issues, he can really hit the weight room, and improve his strength and flexibility. And I think he gives [Martinez] an option off the bench: a defensive replacement, elite defensive skills, and a baserunner, base-stealer, and a guy that can help us win games at the big-league level.”

“You get a young guy that understands how to steal bases, can help us in a pinch,” Martinez told reporters in Nashville.

“You get a young kid that can steal some bases like that and change the game with his defense, that’s always a plus.”

“The upside is he’s 23 years old and he’s an elite defender,” the manager added.

“I watched some videos on him, and he can catch the ball. So I won’t be afraid to put him in to play defense. We’re going to work with him how to do the situational baseball game.”

An elite defender, a stolen base threat, and he manages to get on base as he’s developing at the plate. There’s something there the Nationals think they can work with this season.

“Look, in order to steal bases, you’ve got to get on base,” Martinez said.

“Somehow, he’s learned how to take his walks and move the baseball, beating out some infield hits and things of that nature. He can be a little pest for us.

“So I’m looking forward to getting him and talking to him and kind of getting a jumpstart and getting him ready for Spring Training and see where we’re at.”

The glove, the patience at the plate, and the ability to get on base, Rizzo said, gives Nuñez a good base on which to build.

“Often with these young players, especially these young tools-y players, strength is the last thing to come in their game. I think with some added strength and with the plate discipline that he has — and you couple that with his defensive standards, and I think that you’ve got yourself a chance to have a really good player.”

“Scouts have him in that elite level,” as a defender,” Rizzo said.

“He’s got great feet, great range, great arm, great athleticism, that type of thing, good speed, and his first quick step, what all the good middle infielders have.”

“He’s a great kid who’s willing to learn, willing to make adjustments,” Martinez said. “We think somewhere down the road he will learn how to hit a little bit more. We’re definitely going to work with him. I’m going to talk to [Hitting Coach] Darnell [Coles] in the next couple days, and get a plan for him, but like I said we love the athlete and what he can do, so we’re excited about it.