Vettleson, Rivero come aboard to Nationals

Vettleson, Rivero come aboard to Nationals
February 18, 2014, 7:30 am
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The biggest piece -- literally -- that the Nats got from the Tampa Bay Rays in return for pitching prospect Nate Karns is Jose Lobaton, the 6-foot, 210 lb catcher expected to compete for the backup backstop role with the big club.

But one of the lesser-known commodities that Washington received could end up making a much bigger impact down the road. 

Outfielder Drew Vettleson, 22, and Felipe Rivero, also 22, are likely still years away from from donning a Nationals uniform -- if they ever do. However, an American League source said over the phone that fans in Washington have reason for anticipation.

Vettleson, a plus defender with a cannon in right field, profiles as a strong 4th outfielder on a first-divison team, or as a second-division starter. The 2010 sandwich round pick makes solid contact and flashes gap power.

However, 15 home runs in 2012 became 4 homers last season, as he moved up to High-A Charlotte. Part of the problem may have been contextual: The Florida State League consistently features a dearth of offense, and advanced analytics had Vettleson hitting 12 home runs had he been in an offense-neutral league.

The jury remains out on how far his bat can take him -- but if all breaks right, his doubles power would make him a useful hitter in the lower half of the order.

Vettleson also swiped 20 bags in each of his first two minor league seasons. If he makes it to Washington, he'll make baserunners think twice about stretching singles from his spot in right thanks to an arm that brought a low-90s fastball in high school.

Rivero, a teammate of Vettleson's last year in Charlotte, went 9-7 with 91 strikeouts as a starter -- and, according to the source, "may be better than Karns -- right now."

Still, "his future is probably at the back end of the bullpen."

Capable of hitting 97 with his fastball, the lefty may lack the repertoire and the control for starting. He has experimented with a curve and a slider, but neither has yet developed into a reliable pitch. A fierce competitor who clamors for the ball in big situations, the Nats may find the most success by keeping him engaged in high-leverage, late-inning situations.

All of this is merely hope and conjecture -- but if things turn out the way Mike Rizzo and co. think they could, the Nats may have pulled one over one Tampa Bay, and nabbed a pair of key contributors in the process.