The deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft brought the addition of four players to the Nationals' 40-man roster on Tuesday. And all four are pitchers ranked in the Nats' Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline: Left-hander D.J. Herz (No. 16), right-hander Cole Henry (No. 18), lefty Mitchell Parker (No. 25) and righty Zach Brzykcy (No. 28).
In corresponding moves, the Nationals designated first baseman Dominic Smith and righty reliever Cory Abbott for assignment. They also granted the unconditional release of right-hander Andrés Machado to pursue opportunities in Japan.
Of those moves, the most notable is DFA’ing Smith, who started 140 games at first base this past season. The 28-year-old veteran hit .254 with a career-high 12 home runs (six in September) and was lauded for his defense, recording a .994 fielding percentage. Next season, Washington could tab designated hitter Joey Meneses at first, where he logged 284 2/3 innings in 2022 and 156 frames in '23, or explore starter options via free agency or trade.
Let’s take a look at the prospects protected from the 2023 Rule 5 Draft, scheduled to take place on Dec. 6 in Nashville, Tenn., during the Winter Meetings.
RHP Zach Brzykcy
Brzykcy is recovering from missing the entire 2023 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April. In ‘22, he went 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA in 51 relief appearances while rising from High-A Wilmington to Triple-A Rochester. Brzykcy earned an invitation to Major League Spring Training last season.
MLB Pipeline scouting grades: Fastball, 70; curveball, 55; changeup, 45; control, 45; overall, 40
RHP Cole Henry
Drafted: 2020, second round by the Nationals
Henry returned last season after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery in August 2022. He made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 0-3 with a 6.21 ERA while advancing to Double-A Harrisburg. Henry reached Triple-A in ‘22, and he has a cumulative 4-8 record and a 3.29 ERA in 112 innings over three seasons in the Nationals organization.
MLB Pipeline scouting grades: Fastball, 60; curveball, 55; changeup, 55; control, 50; overall, 40
LHP D.J. Herz
Drafted: 2019, eighth round by the Cubs
Herz was acquired in the Jeimer Candelario trade last season, and he went 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA in eight starts with the Double-A Senators. He ranked 13th among all Minor League pitchers (minimum of 90 innings pitched) with a cumulative .196 opponents’ batting average between the Nationals and Cubs organizations. Herz was named to the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game this month.
MLB Pipeline scouting grades: Fastball, 55; curveball, 40; slider, 50; changeup, 65; control, 40; overall: 45
LHP Mitchell Parker
Drafted: 2020, fifth round by the Nationals
Parker topped all Washington Minor League players last season with 150 strikeouts. Between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester, he went 9-7 with a 4.72 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 28 games (26 starts). Among the Nats' farm system, Parker also tied for the most wins with lefty Alemao Hernandez.
MLB Pipeline scouting grades: Fastball, 50; curveball, 55; changeup, 45; splitter, 50; control, 45; overall, 40