We Haven't Seen The Best Of Adrian Nieto

Casual fans who take a quick look at stats and read a little blurb on a player might dismiss Adrian Nieto, which would be a big mistake. The 19 year old catcher has a lot of strong tools and figures to turn heads the more he gets to play.

Adrian Nieto had the Washington Nationals sweating a little this past summer. The fifth round pick out of American Heritage High School in Florida waited until just three days before the signing deadline to put his autograph on a contract. The protracted negotiations didn't leave Nieto much time to play in his first pro season, but he made a pretty quick mark during his eight games in the Gulf Coast League.

What his numbers don't show is the impression that he made on the pitchers that he was working with in the Nationals lowest minor league franchise. By the end of the season, Nieto had pitchers hoping that he would be behind the plate when they were pitching, which wasn't a knock on the other catchers on the club, but because Nieto had developed such a repertoire with them so quickly. "It was an adjustment," said Nieto about his introduction to pro ball. "But I pick things up pretty quickly, so I picked up the routine pretty well."

Eight games is not nearly enough time to make a judgment on a player and rest assured that we haven't seen the best of Adrian Nieto. The 19 year old catching prospect has plenty of talent to draw from and the fact that he can adjust so quickly will come in handy as he progresses through the system. Right now, Nieto is comfortable with where he's at, but can't wait to show more of what he can do. "I feel comfortable in the Nationals organization. I'd like to put up better numbers, but I think all I need is some more at bats and more experience," related Nieto about his first stint with the pros. "In high school, you're facing 17 and 18 year olds and here, you see guys who are further developed and might have pitched in college, so you have to adjust."

GCL manager Bobby Henley proved to be a big supporter of Nieto and did a lot to help him along. Henley, a former catcher who played part of the 1998 season in the majors, helped Nieto to learn what he has to do to be successful behind the plate. "You can't take any plays off," learned Nieto. "Henley helped me learn how to handle pitchers at this level, because when they throw a sinker, it sinks," laughed Nieto. "Handling them was different from what I was used to in high school." After the season, Nieto took part in the Florida Instructional League and continued learning from Henley and others in the Nationals organization. Perhaps one of the biggest things that he learned was to stop stabbing at pitches and let the game come to him more. One area of his defense that Nieto knows he has to continue to get better at is his footwork and he hopes to show that he can be a good, all around consistent player. "My footwork is something that I need to work on, but even that is coming around. My defense was getting much better in the Instructional League."

Of course, offense is the first thing that most fans look for in a player and Nieto didn't show the GCL fans much offense, hitting just .217 in 23 at bats. With so few at bats, even one or two more hits would have made a world of difference and his numbers would have looked much better to the casual fan. With just two more hits, Nieto would have finished his first pro season as a .300 hitter and nobody would be showing any concern about his offense. Darnell Coles worked with Nieto in the FIL and now, Nieto believes it will just be a matter of time until he can progress. "I just need more at bats, that's all," believes Nieto. "When I can get more at bats under my belt and play a full season, it will be easier to see what I've learned and what I can do at the plate."

So, with his late start, how quickly does Nieto figure on taking before he's pushing for someone's job at the major league level? "I think I can move up quickly. The one thing that I ask for is to stay healthy. If I can do that, I think it might only take me three or four years in the organization."

Nieto is right that as he gets to play more and continues to develop, his abilities will start to show more and more. Don't judge this kid on what we saw in 2008, because clearly, we haven't seen the best of Adrian Nieto.



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