12/12/2013 11:33 A.M. ET
Prospect Nieto added to White Sox catching mix
Catcher selected with third pick in Rule 5 Draft from Nationals
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The White Sox catching situation certainly has not yet been settled for the upcoming season, but another name was added to the mix Thursday morning.
Adrian Nieto, 24, was selected by the White Sox with the third pick in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft to close out the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. The switch-hitter never played above Carolina League competition as part of the Nationals organization, but will join Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley and Hector Gimenez as part of the current backstop battle.
"It's definitely exciting," Nieto said. "It's something I was looking forward to after not being protected on the 40-man. It's a good place to be at. They need some catching help, and I'm looking forward to hopefully being one of their big league guys.
"My agent started hearing things about it, that there were teams interested in me. I definitely had an idea that it could happen. I didn't get my hopes [up] too much. Anything can happen. I prayed for the best."
Over 110 games with Class A Potomac last season, Nieto hit .285 with 29 doubles, 11 home runs, 53 RBIs, 68 runs scored and a .373 on-base percentage. He threw out 33.3 percent (42-of-126) of attempted basestealers during his 86 starts behind the plate.
Nieto followed up that effort by hitting .271 with six RBIs and six runs scored for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League season, while also being selected to the AFL Fall Stars Game. Some around the Meetings believe that Nieto is not yet fully ready for the Majors and would be taken back by the Nationals if he doesn't stay on the White Sox 25-man roster for the full season, as required in the Rule 5 process, meaning the White Sox would lose $25,000 of their $50,000 investment.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn didn't go much past talking about Nieto's raw ability and the addition of much needed competition when assessing the move Thursday.
"Obviously, we've talked about wanting to upgrade or potentially have some competition at the catcher's position," said Hahn, who listed solid defensive skills, a plus arm, some pop, a compact stroke and good plate discipline as impressive traits attached to Nieto. "This is just another avenue to bringing someone in.
"Any time you take a guy in Rule 5, you are rushing his development a little bit, so it's a longer shot of it working out. But this kid made some real nice strides in 2013 in terms of development. We figure bring him in and give him the shot and have some competition. It doesn't mean by any means we are done in terms of our search for potential upgrades. This is another avenue to try to bring in some talent."
Left-handed pitcher Evan Crawford was taken by the White Sox from Toronto in the Triple-A Phase of the Rule 5 Draft, and catcher Omar Narvaez was selected in the same Phase from Tampa Bay. The White Sox lost outfielder Brady Shoemaker to the Marlins.
Breaking down the White Sox catching picture in terms of projected starter and backup at this point is a bit premature, as Hahn pointed out he is still looking. But the 6-foot, 200-pound fifth-round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, who has overcome a 50-game suspension in 2011 for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, is thrilled to be in consideration.
"I've been through a lot and I've turned it around," Nieto said. "This is my first real season where I was healthy for a full season, so I was able to show what I could do. This is icing on the cake, but it's just going to make me work harder. I want to make the team."