On Friday, in anticipation of next month’s Rule V draft, the Nationals added catchers Derek Norris and Jhonatan Solano, first baseman Tyler Moore and outfielder Eury Perez to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from being selected by another team. In addition, the Nationals re-claimed RHP Cole Kimball off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays, who similarly claimed him from the Nationals last Wednesday and tried to quickly sneak him through waivers two days later. With these five additions, this now leaves the team with 37 slots filled on the 40-man roster, allowing the team to participate themselves in next month’s Rule V draft, along with letting the team make free agent signings without any corresponding maneuvers.
The four players the Nationals protected last week are familiar prospect names to many Nationals fans. Derek Norris was the organizations #2 prospect in 2009 and 2010 and the #38 overall prospect in baseball in 2009 and #72 overall prospect in 2010. Norris struggled with his batting average in 2011, hitting only .210, but he did produce a .367 on-base percentage and slugged 20 home runs while vastly improving his defense behind the plate. Norris also starred in the recently completed Arizona Fall League, being named to their Rising Stars All-Star game. While you would like to see the batting average improve, Norris is one of the ten to twelve best catching prospects in baseball and projects as a above average starter in the major leagues, perhaps as soon as opening day 2013. For now, he should be the starting catcher in Triple-A Syracuse next season, with a good chance to receive a September call-up.
Jhonathan Solano has long held the reputation as an above-average to outstanding defensive catcher with a rather limited bat. In many organizations, Solano would have received greater attention, but he has long been overshadowed because of the tremendous catching depth in the Nationals farm system and his underwhelming power numbers. However, in 2011 Solano moved up to Triple-A Syracuse and produced a solid .275/.325/.388 batting line in 275 at-bats along with fantastic defense to improve his standing within the organization. I must say I was a bit surprised the Nationals protected him with Wilson Ramos, Jesus Flores, and (likely) Derek Norris ahead of him on the depth chart. That being said, there is no question he could be a solid backup catcher for many major league teams as soon as 2012 and has a nice long-term future as a above average backup.
First baseman Tyler Moore, 25 in January, was drafted by the Nationals in the 16th round of the 2008 draft and has hit his way up through the minor leagues, including being the Nationals 2010 Minor League Player of the Year. As a right-handed hitting first baseman with below average defensive skills, Moore (and others like him) tend to be overlooked as prospects, but his 62 home runs the past two seasons has forced the organization to take notice. Give Moore credit for hitting his way onto the 40-man roster. I still question whether he will continue to hit in the major leagues or if he is one of the dreaded “Quad-A” players, but his power potential is such that the Nationals were right to protect him. I expect Moore to be the starting first baseman in Triple-A Syracuse next season, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to provide great power numbers.
Finally, the Nationals decided to protect 21 year old center fielder Eury Perez from next month’s Rule V draft as well. A good case could be made that Perez would not be selected next month if unprotected, as he has never played above High-A, but his defensive skills in center field and his ability to hit for a high batting average made the Nats nervous that he would be selected and stashed on another team’s bench next season. Perez needs to improve his skills at getting on-base to become a starting center fielder in the major leagues, and will look to do so as the starter in Double-A Harrisburg next year.
I was rather surprised that the Nationals placed Kimball on waivers last week, as he showed some impressive stuff last season, producing a 1.93 ERA with 11 strikeouts over 14 innings pitched. However, I understand the move by GM Mike Rizzo, as Kimball underwent shoulder surgery last July and will be lucky to return around the All-Star break in 2012, not to mention the recovery rate of pitchers with shoulder injuries to their pitching shoulder is unfortunately remote, as for every story of a Chien-Ming Wang there are more tales like Chad Cordero and Ryan Wagner, players that never return to their previous success. That said, the Nationals will be able to place him on the 60-Day DL on the first day possible next spring, thus clearing a needed roster spot prior to the season. I would not be surprised to see the Nationals try again this winter to sneak Kimball through waivers, though I hope not. Obviously the Nationals know much more about the condition of his shoulder and his chances to return than I do, but I am a big believer in Kimball’s talent and think the Nats made a mistake in letting him go – luckily the Blue Jays gave them a mulligan Friday and the Nationals capitalized. I think his skills and potential make him a worthwhile gamble to keep on the 40-man roster through the winter.
Overall, I think the Nationals did a nice job to re-acquire Cole Kimball, and I think their choices of players to protect besides Jhonatan Solano were fairly straightforward, although I suspect Perez would have gone unselected if he was made available. Now GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals will shift their focus to filling their hole in center field and finding a mid-rotation starter the rest of this winter.
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