Teams are opting for final bench players to have speed; The Nats add Nasim Nuñez to pair with Jacob Young for speed to burn!

Who knew the Washington Nationals most significant signing of the 2023 Winter Meetings was going to be a Rule-5 draft pick from the Marlins? Nasim Nuñez is his name, and he projects to be an old-school bench player who can provide elite speed and defense. Can he bunt? We know he has struggled hitting. According to Sports Info Solution’s Fielding Bible, he was ranked 5th among all minor league shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved in 2023.

Elite speed and defense was something the Nats lacked with Michael Chavis as their final bench player in the 2023 season. Chavis was DFA’d after the season. But Chavis was a good batter against LHPs slashing .273/.314/.409 and a .723 OPS. Nuñez has struggled with the bat against minor league hitting just .225 in Double-A this year with an underwhelming .627 OPS. In only 145 games this year between Double-A and the Arizona Fall League, Nuñez swiped 66 bases — and he wasn’t caught stealing once in the AFL.

General Manager Mike Rizzo promised the Nats were going “to spread a wider net than maybe people think” and they did when grabbing Nuñez from Miami with the fifth-overall pick in this afternoon’s Rule 5 Draft. The 23-year-old still has a long way to go before he officially makes the Opening Day roster — but this is a good start. He was ranked as the No. 6 prospect by Baseball America due to his 70+ tools on speed and defense.

“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, but I think with the coaching staff we have right now, and with the reps he will get other than game-time reps, I think we can really iron out some mechanical issues.”

“And I think he gives [manager Davey Martinez] an option off the bench as a defensive replacement, elite defensive skills and a baserunner. A guy that can help us win games at the Big League level.”

“We think there’s some upside with the bat. The bat is far behind the defense, but a guy we think has more bat in there and takes his walks. He’s pretty selective at the plate. It was something we really try to get as many toolsy players up the middle of the field as possible, and we thought this was a way to get an elite, toolsy player onto the roster.”

“I think he probably can contribute at a higher rate, 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 defensive positions with a lead, or to steal a big base for you, or to pinch-run for guys. In that regard, it makes it a little easier to absorb a guy that’s not going to be used often.”

— Rizzo said to the media

As our tweet reads, Nuñez was the Marlins second-round pick of the 2019 Draft out of Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Georgia. He was rated as Miami’s best defensive infielder by Baseball America as well as best speed. All of that earned him a spot at this year’s All-Star Futures Game with Brady House and James Wood. But it was Nuñez who was named the Futures Game MVP after smashing a bases loaded double. He also was named to the Arizona Fall League Rising Star’s Game last month which is the equivalent of the AFL All-Star game.

You have to wonder why the Marlins left him unprotected for the Rule-5 Draft. Well, simply they didn’t think his bat would work at the MLB level. That will be the test for the Nats to get him hitting consistently.

“The upside is he’s 23 years old and he’s an elite defender. I watched some videos on him, and he can catch the ball. I won’t be afraid to put him in to play defense. We’re going to work with him through the situational baseball game. Look, in order to steal bases, you’ve got to get on-base. 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.”

— Manager Dave Martinez said to the media

Nuñez grew up playing high school baseball in Georgia at the same time as Nats shortstop CJ Abrams and while they were both taken in the same draft — they were also compared to each other as Georgia shortstops with elite speed and athleticism. Abrams was picked by the Padres at No. 6 overall, and Nuñez just 40 picks later with a $2.2 million signing bonus from the Marlins.

The Nationals can be very patient with Nuñez if they decide to keep him. Let’s face it, the Nats bench is over-populated right now in a DH league that only allows for four benchies that will include a catcher leaving just three spots for players with positional flexibility and tools. The Nats already have Jacob Young with elite speed, and the team signed Ildemaro Vargas to a MLB deal. Carter Kieboom is out of options, and Alex Call certainly looks like the odd man out right now. But Kieboom has to be a player that might have to prove his value at second base if the Nats sign a third baseman in free agency or promote House to the Big League team. That also puts pressure on Luis Garcia who is not guaranteed to be a starter per Martinez.

“It was bittersweet. Coming up through the Marlins’ organization, I created so many bonds with my teammates, the coaches and even the medical staff, and everybody else that was there. So it was kind of a wave of emotions, of not wanting to leave — but knowing that there’s an opportunity for me out there to pursue my dreams.”

“I’m going to play defense. I’m going to have great at-bats. I’m going to get on-base. I’m going to score runs, and I’m going to drive in runs. I believe that’s the main purpose of the game — and the objective of winning. We have to get on-base and score runs, and then we have to stop the other team from scoring runs. Keep it simple.”

— Nuñez told the media

By the way, and as expected, the Nats didn’t lose any unprotected players in the Rule-5 Draft. The Nats left a few dozen players exposed including Tim Cate, Mason Denaburg, Andry Lara, and Kevin Made.

Also the Nats took three relief pitchers in the Triple-A draft portion of the Rule-5 draft with right-handers Samuel Vasquez (Guardians), Wander Arias (Royals) and Daison Acosta (Mets), plus outfielder Moises Gallardo (Athletics).

After the Rule-5 draft, Jon Heyman of the NY Post broke some news that the Nats signed former Cardinals first baseman Juan Yepez to a minor league deal. He appear to be Triple-A filler at this point.

The Nats 40-man roster is now at 39-players.

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