The Washington Nationals are the worst team in baseball. They’re likely going to have the first pick in the Rule 5 draft this offseason. They’re also going to have a bunch of tough decisions on who to protect and who not to protect ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft. I mostly want to touch on the big names and guys who might get added to the 40-man roster before the end of the year. That means I’m going to leave out guys like J.T. Arruda, who will be Rule 5 eligible, but will obviously not be protected. So here are the guys the Nats are going to have to make decisions on:
Jake Alu, 3B
Season Stats (AA/AAA): .277/.352/.457, 13 HR, 54 RBI
Alu plays a little bit of everywhere, but settles in primarily at 3B, which I think bodes extremely well for him. The Nats are likely counting on Carter Kieboom at 3B next year, so adding Alu to the 40-man roster and at worst giving him the utility spot isn’t the worst idea. Alu makes good contact, commands the zone and has average power. For a team like the Nats that have very little positional depth, adding to the 40-man roster seems like a no-brainer.
Matt Cronin, LHP
Season Stats (AA/AAA): 36 G, 38 ⅔ IP, 2.79 ERA, 44 K, 18 BB, 1.112 WHIP
Cronin really dominated in AA before moving up and running into some issues in AAA. The same thing happened last year though when he jumped from A to AA. The biggest issue with Cronin is his walks. He’s walked 11 batters in 22 ⅓ innings in AAA. But, since no team in the league drafts relievers inside of the 5th round more than the Nats, they almost have no choice but to take a chance on Cronin. If you’re taking a reliever inside of the 5th round, they should be a sure thing. Cronin has shown spurts of being great. He’s also looked lost at some points. But hey, the Nats are 40-82, so they can take some chances here. I’d expect both Cronin and Alu to be in DC for the final month of the season. If the team is more dedicated to keeping Jake McGee and Maikel Franco on the active roster, then we’ve got bigger issues.
Jeremy De La Rosa, OF
Season Stats (A/A+): .286/.363/.447, 11 HR, 67 RBI, 38 SB
This is where it starts to get tough, primarily because these guys are in A ball. It’s hard to add someone in A ball to your 40-man roster and keep them there for an extended period of time knowing that they’re likely 2 years away from contributing at the Major League level. But, if you view one of these guys as one of your better prospects, you almost have to do it. On top of that, you’ll notice I jumped from AAA all the way down to A ball. There are Rule 5 eligible players in AA, but Jackson Cluff shouldn’t be sniffing a 40-man roster spot right now. As for De La Rosa, he dominated in Fredericksburg and has taken a bit of time to adjust in Wilmington. He’s still only 20 years old, but the Nats are very high on him. Do you add him to the 40-man roster and protect him? Or do you leave him unprotected and assume that a team won’t be able to keep him on their Major League roster for an entire season? It’s a tough call, but I do know this is someone that the Nats don’t want to lose.
Rodney Theophile, RHP
Season Stats: (A/A+): 21 G, 20 GS, 91 ⅓ IP, 3.05 ERA, 94 K, 37 BB, 1.215 WHIP
Theophile is a lot like De La Rosa in that he dominated in Fredericksburg and has come back down to earth in Wilmington. Theophile is a 22 year old right hander that came on strong earlier in the year after a below average showing last season. At this point, I would be surprised if the Nats protected Theophile and if they happen to lose him, I don’t think they’d lose a ton of sleep over it.
Seth Shuman, LHP
Season Stats (A+): 14 GS, 61 ⅓ IP, 3.23 ERA, 55 K, 14 BB, 1.158 WHIP
Shuman was acquired from Oakland last season as a part of the trade that sent Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes to Oakland. He’s already 24, so that’s working against him, but he’s put up solid numbers so far this season. He’s currently on the IL, otherwise he likely would’ve worked his way to a promotion to Harrisburg by now. It’s unlikely he’s protected, but I could also hypothetically see a team taking a chance on him.
Jackson Rutledge, RHP
Season Stats (A): 17 GS, 79 ⅓ IP, 4.99 ERA, 81 K, 23 BB, 1.412 WHIP
Here’s where things get really interesting. Rutledge was the Nats first round pick back in 2019. He hasn’t progressed past A ball due to injuries, the lost 2020 season, and poor performance. He’s been throwing the ball a lot better of late though, and a promotion to High A Wilmington should be in the works. Of all of the guys listed so far, Rutledge has the highest chance of being added to the 40-man roster. The Nats aren’t going to want to lose him and another team (Oakland) would probably be able to throw him in the bullpen and keep him on their roster for an entire season in order to gain control of him. Rutledge is still very raw, but it’s worth adding him to the 40-man roster, even if he has to sit there for a couple more years before contributing.
Mason Denaburg, RHP
Season Stats (A): 11 GS, 35 ⅓ IP, 3.82 ERA, 35 K, 19 BB, 1.387 WHIP
Here’s another former first round pick on the list. Denaburg was drafted out of high school at 18 years old, so he’s still only 22 (a year younger than Rutledge). Denaburg’s career has been derailed by injuries so far and the Nats have been extremely careful with him so far this year, hence only 35 IP in 11 starts. Denaburg has looked really good in some of his starts though. Ultimately, I don’t think the Nats protect him primarily due to his injury history and already having to potentially add Rutledge, Cronin, De La Rosa and Alu to the roster. It’s possible a team takes a chance on Denaburg and tries to stuff him in the bullpen (or hopes he gets hurt so they can stash him on the IL), but I think he’s probably another one that stays in the organization despite being left unprotected.
That’s seven players that the Nats really are going to have to think about adding to the 40-man roster. Five of those seven are years away from being Major League contributors. It’s an easier problem for a team as bad as the Nats to deal with, but it’s still not ideal. It should be interesting to see how the front office, whether it’s a new regime or current regime, handle this heading into the offseason.