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Nats look for more Rule 5 success

Nats look for more Rule 5 success

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last year, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden selected Jesus Flores, who turned out to be a successful backup catcher. Flores is now considered the team's backstop of the future.

Bowden hopes that his luck continues with the 2007 Rule 5 Draft, which took place on Thursday morning. The team participated in the Major League phase, as it selected Indians third baseman/first baseman Matt Whitney with the seventh overall pick and Twins outfielder Garrett Guzman with the 16th overall pick.

Whitney, 23, led the Indians' Minor League system with 32 home runs and 113 RBIs in a combined 128 games with Class A Lake County and Class A Kinston (Carolina League). Whitney was named the 10th-best prospect in the Carolina League following the season by Baseball America after hitting .288 with 16 homers, 49 RBIs and a .549 slugging percentage in 57 games with Kinston.

"Whitney is a Jesus Flores type -- not ready for the Major Leagues, but certainly has tremendous potential," Bowden said. "Whitney hit over 30 home runs last year. He has a tremendous bat and great power. He got healthy for the first time, and he did it in two levels."

It would appear that Whitney is a long shot to make the team out of Spring Training because Aaron Boone is expected to be the first player off the bench when it comes to first and third base. The Nationals most likely will have to make a deal to keep Whitney on the 40-man roster, since players selected in the Rule 5 Draft need to stay on a club's 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to their former club for $25,000.

The left-handed-hitting Guzman, 24, will be competing with Ryan Langerhans for the fifth outfield spot. Guzman was named an Eastern League postseason All-Star in 2007 after hitting .312 with 14 homers and 88 RBIs in 125 games with Minnesota's Double-A New Britain club.

In his first full year at the Double-A level, Guzman finished the year tied for fourth in the league in RBIs and tied for third in batting. He hit .333 (35-for-105) with three homers and 22 RBIs against left-handed pitchers.

"[Guzman] is a quality kid," Bowden said. "He hits the ball hard, he goes the other way. He has a little bit of power. We feel he could be a fifth outfielder, left-handed bat."

The Nationals did not participate in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, but lost shortstop Marcos Cabral to the Blue Jays, left-hander Juan Cedeno to the Tigers and right-hander Brett Campbell to the Brewers.

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

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