Since Major League Baseball revamped and strengthened its drug-testing system, the White Sox have stayed relatively clean. They're not immaculate, because three players who spent significant time on the 25-man roster in 2013 had served 50-game suspensions in the minors. A point in the White Sox' favor: Only Andre Rienzo was hit with a suspension in their organization, whereas Jose Quintana and Tyler Flowers tested positive in the low minors with former employers.
Adrian Nieto, the catcher the White Sox selected from the Washington Nationals in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, is another mark in that column. His minor-league progress stalled in 2011 after testing positive for Oxandrolone and metabolite before the season. He gave an excuse similar to the one used by Rienzo and Quintana, saying he took protein shakes and liquid supplements at his gym without reading the label -- a story he even said he doubted from others before he tested positive himself.
There's some reason to doubt it in this case, as ESPN.com and "Outside the Lines" reported that Nieto's name appears in documents from the Biogenesis clinic, which is currently in the center of the protracted battle between Major League Baseball and Alex Rodriguez.
[Nieto] is referenced twice in clinic documents. In both instances, he is identified as connected to "baseball" or "sports performance," and regimens prescribed by Bosch list banned substances such as human growth hormone, testosterone and the oral anabolic steroid Anavar -- abbreviated on a clinic computer spreadsheet.
The records list separate fees of $500 and $1,500, but there is no verification that Nieto was ever seen by Bosch, received the substances or made payments. Nor is there a date associated with Nieto in clinic records. [...]
He denied any involvement with the clinic or Bosch when reached by "Outside the Lines."
"I don't know who Tony Bosch is," he said. Nieto later added that perhaps his father had visited the clinic for treatment of a skin condition.
So the stories may never line up. Theoretically, this news shouldn't have an impact on any plans the White Sox have for Nieto. The report says MLB had determined that his appearance in clinic documents occurred during the timeframe of his failed test, so he had already served his time.
Still, considering the incongruity between Nieto's version and the documents, and the unfinished business with the rest of the Biogenesis scandal, this might be the hairiest PED-related situation the Sox have encountered yet -- which still means the Sox have been pretty fortunate. I'd say that their response warrants monitoring, but since Rule 5 picks generally have a pretty short shelf life, it could be hard to distinguish a motive apart from talent evaluation.
For instance, Nieto could fall out of the mix before he even puts on a uniform. Hahn talked up Nieto's potential on Thursday, but with qualifiers:
"Obviously, we've talked about wanting to upgrade or potentially have some competition at the catcher's position," said Hahn, who listed solid defensive skills, a plus arm, some pop, a compact stroke and good plate discipline as impressive traits attached to Nieto. "This is just another avenue to bringing someone in.
"Any time you take a guy in Rule 5, you are rushing his development a little bit, so it's a longer shot of it working out. But this kid made some real nice strides in 2013 in terms of development. We figure bring him in and give him the shot and have some competition. It doesn't mean by any means we are done in terms of our search for potential upgrades. This is another avenue to try to bring in some talent."
Should Hahn bring in some talent of the more proven variety, Nieto may end up being a winter placeholder. Hahn said he left Orlando with irons in the fire, and Daryl Van Schouwen says that Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton remains a possibility.