If you remember that Wil Nieves vintage commercial about the popular Nationals catcher, you know the infamous line “Who? Wil Nieves”. The name Rafa Nieves evokes the — Who? — and probably means nothing to you, but it does to Mike Rizzo and his staff. Rafa Nieves is the 34-year-old player’s agent who represents several Washington Nationals top minor leaguers and a three on the current Nationals roster.
Nieves represents much of the Nats’ future like Scott Boras does with the present and near-future — reppin’ more recognizable names like: Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, and Jayson Werth. If you follow the Nationals prospects, you know Rafa’s players. Where do you start? It has to begin with Victor Robles who is the #1 prospect for the Nationals. Nieves also reps Pedro Severino, Rafael Bautista, Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna.
“It’s great working with [Mike] Rizzo,” Rafa Nieves said. “His scouting background makes him a great evaluator of young guys.”
The 17-year-old Antuna was signed last year for a $3.9 million bonus and is ranked in the Nationals top-20. Luis Garcia is also in the top-20 and he was signed for $1.3 million last summer. Both Antuna and Garcia are from the Dominican Republic. Both players are listed as shortstops and you can view them on the 2016 international rankings for all players.
Rafael Nieves came to the United States from his home in Venezuela at the age of 16 to play baseball after being signed by the Detroit Tigers. Nieves never made it far in professional baseball but the life of hard knocks is sometimes the best schooling. What he learned, he passes on to his clients to guide them towards the path of success. There are many forks in the road for these young men who Nieves starts a relationship with when they are mere teenagers. Victor Robles was the youngest call-up in the Major Leagues this year at 20-years-111-days-old.
Nieves has made the successful transition to the business side of baseball at an age where he is younger than many players in the game and he became an agent at 27-years-old. Age is just a number.
“I worked in hospitality after I was finished as a minor league player,” Rafa Nieves said. “And then realized I could merge my two backgrounds of baseball and customer service.”
He is also smart enough to not spoil his young players at this juncture with caviar, pâté, and aged prime rib, rather burgers and a salad to celebrate with Robles at Applebees.
Oh, the temptation is there as Nieves has the AMEX card and the appetite, but he doesn’t want his youngest players to fall into that trap of excess. Many of his players come from extreme poverty and assist their loved ones back in their native countries with most of their net pay. Resisting that curiosity of splurging on that $300 meal is better spent on a month’s worth of groceries for Robles’ family in the Dominican Republic. Until that first arbitration deal is done, stay grounded and humble.
“Applebees is great!”, Nieves said. “Ha! It’s the only place you find open in any small town late night after minor league games.”
The young Nats are in good hands with Rafa Nieves. Right now he has three players on the Nats roster and it is very possible that both Pedro Severino and Victor Robles make the post-season roster.