Nats tab three in Rule 5 Draft

Nats tab three in Rule 5 Draft

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Nationals selected catcher Jesus Flores and right-hander Levale Speigner in the Major League phase of Thursday's 2006 Rule 5 Draft, while taking left-hander Justin Jones in the Triple-A phase.

Washington also lost nine players in the draft. Shortstop Alejandro Machado was selected in the Major League phase, while pitchers James Henderson, Andrew Shipman and Ricardo Morales, catcher Salamon Manriquez, infielders Billy Webb, Josh Labandeira, Brandon Powell and Jose Contreras were taken in the Minor League phase.

Flores, 22, played with a bad thumb last season, but hit .266 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 120 games with Class A St. Lucie, the Mets' Florida State League affiliate. He is expected to compete with Brandon Harper for the backup job behind the plate. Defensively, Flores possesses quick feet that helped him throw out 40 percent of would-be basestealers with Class A Hagerstown in 2005.

Flores was drafted on Thursday under the recommendation of manager Manny Acta, Minor League manager John Stearns and Davey Johnson, who scouted for the Nationals before the trade deadline.

"Manny, Davey and John think of Flores as an everyday catcher in the big leagues someday," general manager Jim Bowden said.

Said Acta: "He has tremendous tools. He is a young kid and we can afford to carry the guy."

Speigner, 26, went a combined 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 49 games out of the bullpen for Triple-A Rochester and Double-A New Britain in 2006. Originally the Twins' 14th-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Speigner owns a career record of 21-21 with a 3.33 ERA in four professional seasons.

Speigner can be a starter or reliever. Dana Brown, the Nationals' director of amateur scouting, compares Speigner to reliever Saul Rivera.

"His fastball is 90-95 miles per hour, with a plus breaking ball. He commands the zone," Brown said. "What I like about him is that he commands his fastball and he commands his stuff, and he has an out pitch. He has a really good feel for the changeup. I like him as a starter."

Jones, 22, is a boyhood friend of Ryan Zimmerman. Jones was the Cubs' second-round selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. He has posted a 3.29 ERA during his five-year professional career.

Most of the players the Nats lost in the Rule 5 Draft were not going to compete for a spot on the Major League roster in 2007, but the club hated to lose Machado, who was looked upon as an extra utility player in 2007.

Machado played for Triple-A Pawtucket last year and hit .260 with four home runs and 32 RBIs.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.