Nationals Prospect #24: Adrian Nieto

Adrian Nieto was highly sought after and the Nationals desperately wanted him in their organization. Rather than let him slip away unsigned, the Nationals got his deal done with just three days left in the signing period and it's good for them that they did.

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Acquired:  Drafted by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2008 Draft.
Bats: B Throws: R
Height: 6' 0" Weight: 200 pounds
Birth Date: November 12, 1989
2008 Team(s): Gulf Coast League Nationals
Games: GCL (8)
School: American Heritage HS (Florida)

There are few young players who can tell the stories that Adrian Nieto has to offer. His family defected from Cuba when he was just four years old and spent 13 hours on a rickety old boat that was drifting aimlessly in the middle of the ocean when they were found by the Coast Guard. Nieto went from that tumultuous start to hitting two home runs to help his high school team win the Florida state championship. And from there, Nieto turned that into becoming a fifth round pick of the Nationals last June to start his pro career.

Nieto's baseball career started shortly after he arrived in the United States, but back in those days, he wasn't a catcher. He played shortstop and also spent some time on the mound before heading behind the plate when he was 13 or 14. Nieto told that he was a good shortstop, but as he started to develop he was a little too slow to play the position as well as he had in the past.

Batting and Power: Nieto was initially a right-handed hitter, but picked up switch-hitting and as he's developed, it's almost impossible to tell which side was his original side. He took to switch-hitting thanks, in part, to Ken Griffey Jr. A friend of Nieto's - who happened to hit left-handed - had the Ken Griffey Swing-A-Way batting trainer and it became too much of an issue to switch the machine for Nieto to hit right-handed. He simply decided to keep the machine the way it was and learn to hit left-handed. All of that was at the age of nine. In his first game hitting left-handed, Nieto went 3-for-3 with three home runs and never looked back. One key to Nieto's offensive success is being smart enough to figure out what pitchers are trying to do to him. He's got average to slightly above average power to all fields and from both sides of the plate.

Baserunning and Speed: His speed started to decline as he developed and had to give up playing shortstop. Nieto doesn't have great speed and won't steal many bases, but his natural instincts for the game carry over to baserunning and he doesn't run into many jams.

Defense: Nieto admits that he was a little unprepared for catching in the Gulf Coast League. His first few games behind the plate, he was stabbing at pitches and underestimated the movement that the pitchers would get on their breaking balls. Sinkers were especially tough for Nieto, but he quickly started to develop the skills that he needed defensively. By the end of the season, Nieto actually had pitchers coming up to him to find out if he was going to be catching them that day. When pitchers want to throw to a particular catcher, you have to know that his defensive skills are above average. The only area of his defense that will need more work is his footwork. The plus is that Nieto knows his shortcomings and has a good enough work ethic that he'll conquer the problem before long.

Projection: Don't be fooled by Nieto's numbers in 2008. First, he had just 23 at bats and second, there is a lot of adjusting for a high school player to do when he turns pro. This is a young kid with a lot of tools and he has a brilliant future ahead of him. He's likely going to wind up being a defensive catcher in the realm of Ivan Rodriguez and have plenty of offense to go with the comparisons.

ETA: Even with his tough start to pro ball, Nieto believes that he can reach the majors in three or four years. He's going to be the type of player that starts off as a bit of a project until all of a sudden he starts putting up big numbers and likely starts skipping a level here and there. Look for Nieto to be pushing for a major league spot around 2013.

Comparison: The comparisons to a young Ivan Rodriguez are worth making. Rodriguez has always been a player who concentrates on his defensive skills and has all of the natural offensive skills that he needs to be successful. Nieto's offensive skills may not be quite where Rodriguez was in his prime, but he'll be putting up good enough numbers that he'll be considered a serious offensive threat.

Career Stats

2008 GCL 0 3 .217 8 23 1 5 3 0 0 - 2 7 .308 .348

*Publisher's note: Baseball America recently ranked Adrian Nieto as the eighth best prospect in the Nationals organization, while D.C. Baseball News has him at 24. You may ask "why the difference?" DCBN judges players partly on potential, but takes a bit of a skeptical look at players in their first pro season. We prefer to see more of them in the pro level before we anoint them with a high ranking. The pro ranks are quite an adjustment for a young player, especially one coming to the pros from high school and we give preference to players who have a couple of pro seasons under their belt when putting together our rankings. Our ranking is not indicative of the potential that we see in Nieto or other young players in their first season of pro ball.

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