Rule 5 Draft Preview
A day into the Winter Meetings, it's time to preview the end. Annually, on the last day of this "Winter Wonderland," the Rule 5 Draft is held. The Major League portion tends to generate a bit of interest, as each year, anywhere from ten to thirty former minor league players get their shot.
Need a review on what exactly the Rule 5 Draft is? For that, I go to Rob Neyer and his fantastic transaction primer:
A player not on a team's Major League 40-man roster is eligible for the Rule 5 draft if: the player was 18 or younger when he first signed a pro contract and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft since he signed, OR if he was 19 or older when he first signed a pro contract and this is the third Rule 5 draft since he signed.
A player drafted onto a Major League roster in the Rule 5 draft must remain in the majors (on the 25-man active roster or the DL) for all of the subsequent season, or the drafting club must attempt to return him to his original club. However, since a returned Rule 5 player must first be placed on outright waivers, a third club could claim the player off waivers. But of course, that club would then also have to keep him in the majors all season, or offer him back to his original club.
Occasionally, the drafting club will work out a trade with the player's original team, allowing the drafting club to retain the player but send him to the minors.
Of the players drafted each year, no more than five are likely to stay on a roster the entire year. However, this draft is so intriguing because of those that slip through the cracks. It's a time when a front office is completely accountable for their 40-man roster decisions.
In the past, I have seen seven types of players given a chance on draft day. I will go through those groups below, with the success stories (or at least who I have deemed the group leader), and we will use that to preview which players could be called upon on Thursday.
1. Scott Sauerbeck Group -- Given to southpaws who have little business being on a roster except for one remarkable skill, their ability to retire left-handed batters. If they do their job well, LOOGYs have a high chance of staying on a roster, especially on a small market team that could find better ways to spend one million dollars than Mike Myers.
Named after: With the seventh choice in the 1998 Rule 5 Draft, as far as these records go back, the Pittsburgh Pirates nabbed Sauerbeck from the New York Mets. Interestingly enough, Sauerbeck had been a starter in the Mets organization, but it's likely that the Pirates scouting staff saw something that no one else did. After posting a 3.93 in 160.1 International League innings, Sauerbeck's 1999 numbers with Pittsburgh were sparkling: 53 hits allowed, 2.00 ERA in 67.2 innings. He has yet to abandon the LOOGY role in the Majors, and will likely pitch in his 500th Major League game before the 2008 season.
Others: Steve Kent, Matt White, Javier Lopez, Frank Brooks, Tyler Johnson
2005 Group One Candidates
Russ Rohlicek (AAA)- Like most of the players in this section, this isn't Rohlicek's first time being draft eligible. Does not throw especially hard, but a .213 average against and 2.47 G/F speaks much about his skills.
Bill Murphy (AAA)- OK, so Murphy wasn't a reliever last year. But either was Sauerbeck, and short stints against left-handed hitters might be the best way to get the most out of Murphy's good arm.
2. Jay Gibbons Group -- Simply put, all bat, no glove. These players can hit the tar out of the ball, and most of the time, will even offer a lot of walks to go with it. Their offensive numbers are probably high across the board, there is just one problem, positions don't really fit. Most scouts believe these players can't do much other than DH, which tends to scare away potential suitors.
Named after: Gibbons was chosen in the 14th round of the 1998 Amateur draft out of UCLA, where he had spent a college career being shadowed by Troy Glaus. He was quite dominant in the minor leagues, especially slugging .525 in the Southern League in 2000. The Toronto Blue Jays left him off the 40-man roster, and the Orioles picked him fourth in the draft. At worst, Gibbons makes a nice platoon bat, and has been able to get by in right field, and play well at first base.
Others: Chris Shelton, Jason Dubois, Travis Chapman
2005 Group Two Candidates
Vince Sinisi (A+/AA)- Has serious power, and does not strike out very often. Problem is, he's injury prone, and didn't adjust well to AA last year. His bat pretty much necessitates a pick.
Jake Blalock (A+)- Hank's brother plays the outfield, and not particularly well. He also strikes out a lot. But, he takes his walks and has serious untapped power.
Brandon Sing (AA)- His offensive numbers are fantastic, and his power is an enormous strength. But more than any other player on this list, Sing cannot play defense. At all.
John Jaso (A-)- Like Mike Napoli last year, Jason's catching skills are completely unrefined. He also is relatively inexperienced, but with the bat, he's the complete package.
Brett Harper (A+/AA)- 36 home runs last year. Oh yeah, but he also had 149 strikeouts. Oh, and he can't play defense. Might get a pick, but won't last.
Ryan Mulhern / Kevin Kouzmanoff (A+)- Big sluggers in the Cleveland system, with very few defensive skills. I like the latter more, as he could get by playing third base on some teams.
3. Johan Santana Group -- High risk, high reward. These players are often starters in the minor leagues, and are chosen because they can throw the ball fast. Actually, really fast. They will likely spend a year at the back end of some bullpen, working with a pitching coach who can try to put it all together. If it works, the team will have one of two things: a good starter, or a helluva reliever. Problem is getting it to work.
Named after: The most famous player to ever come through the Rule 5 Draft. The Minnesota Twins acquired the rights of Santana through the Florida Marlins, who chose him second in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft. Because of a loaded system, the Houston Astros didn't have room for Santana, who had spent the 1999 season in the Midwest League. His power left arm intrigued the Twins, who honed his skills delicately. At this moment, Santana has a good argument for being baseball's best pitcher.
Others: Andy Sisco, Angel Garcia, Jorge Sosa, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Turnbow
2005 Group Three Candidates
Rafael Rodriguez (A-/A+)- Combined, Rodriguez had a 4.74 ERA last year. However, his struggles were in the California League, as his stuff was quite impressive in the Midwest League. Arm has serious potential.
Matt Chico (A+/AA)- Like Rodriguez, Chico did not adjust to a promotion well. He pitched well in the Cal League, striking out 102 in 110 innings. He was well thought of before the season, and a camp tryout would not be the worst thing in the world.
Jose Vaquedano (A+)- In the Carolina League, Vaquedano held batters to a .224/.299/.366 line. His control is not great, and his K/9 numbers could be higher. But, again, probably worth a camp visit.
4. Endy Chavez Group -- Oh, look how they run! Fast! And they can play centerfield with good range! Most of the time, these players happen to show off these skills at the same time they have a high batting average. Teams believe they have their next great leadoff hitter, and spend a pick on the player, ready to stash him away as a fifth outfielder. In a time where defense is viewed as being really important, these players have value.
Named after: Really, when you hear the term 'fifth outfielder,' does anyone else immediately think of Chavez? He actually isn't a player that stuck the whole season, but I just think his name fits the best here. Chavez was taken right behind Gibbons in the 2000 Rule 5 draft, after hitting .298 with 38 steals in the Florida State League. His speed and left-handed bat obviously made the Royals hope he would become what Juan Pierre has. He was returned to the New York Mets after struggling in Kansas City, but subsequently traded back to the organization. He has now played in 436 Major League games, and has 55 career steals.
Others: Glen Barker, Wily Taveras, Rich Thompson, Tyrell Godwin
2005 Group Four Candidates
Gregor Blanco (AA)- Very young for his league. 73 walks in 401 at-bats. 28 stolen bases. Good defense. Yes, I realize he had 124 strikeouts and 12 caught steals, but I would love to have a hitting coach spend the spring trying to refine him.
Javon Moran (A+/AA)- Doesn't walk and steal as much as Blanco, but strikes out and steals less. No power, not enough walks to make a real difference.
Jarred Ball (AA)- Similar to Blanco, but older. 74 walks, 39 steals, 115 strikeouts, 18 times being caught stealing.
5. Felix Escalona Group -- Oftentimes, these players are quite similar to the Endy Chavez group, except one thing: they play the infield. In fact, most of the time, they play shortstop. Chosen because they are quick, the players are almost always quite raw. They can run fast, and -- despite being mistake-prone in the field -- show off good potential with the glove.
Named after: Another player that the Astros let "slip away." Well, OK, he has been that great, but he's the best this group has got, after now playing in four Major League seasons. Escalona was picked in the 2001 Rule 5 Draft, after hitting .289 with 46 steals in the South Atlantic League. The Devil Rays acquired him, not noting it was his sixth year in pro ball, and he had not played higher than low-A. He's becoming quite the little AAA veteran, and will undoubtedly never have a chance to raise his career OPS to above .600.
Others: Hector Luna, Luis Ugueto, Jose Morban, Enrique Cruz
2005 Group Five Candidates
Gregorio Petit (A-)- He has the potential for a good glove. He doesn't strike out very much, and walks enough. But, his offensive skills aren't great. Someone will probably take a chance.
Elliot Johnson (A+/AA)- Good at holding his own, and young. He's fast, and he can play the middle infield. But no walks and a lot of strikeouts.
6. Damian Rolls Group -- Not every player drafted needs to be raw, not every player needs to have a high ceiling. In fact, it's a good thought to try and spend $50,000 to acquire a 25th man bench player. I'm not specifying whether the person is an infielder or outfielder here, just that the player doesn't profile to be an everyday one. But, certain skills like versatility and switch-hitting are looked highly upon.
Named after: Like Escalona, a player the Devil Rays didn't draft, but they did acquire. Damian Rolls had once been a first-round pick in Los Angeles, but in four years, had just finished high-A. In the FSL, Rolls hit .297 with a .418 slugging, showing decent speed and good contact skills. And, he could play a few positions. Rolls played with the Devil Rays in five straight seasons from 2000-2004, playing about 14 positions during that time.
Others: Jason Grabowski, Adam Stern, Andy Fox
2005 Group Six Candidates
Drew Meyer (AA/AAA)- Since the Rangers keep switching Meyer's position, he's become quite versatile. He looked very good in the Texas League, doing everything OK, if nothing great.
Kevin Howard (AA)- Showed pretty good power in Double-A, and did nothing poorly. If he could play shortstop in addition to second base, he would be the perfect pick.
Brooks Conrad (AA/AAA)- Reminds me of a split between Howard and Gibbons. For clubs unsure of their second base situation, like the Pirates, Conrad would be a great pick.
Mitch Maier (A+/AA)- Could very well be the next Jason Grabowski. I'm not convinced Maier could contribute anything in 2006, as his AA struggles were quite real. But he looked great in the Cal League, and once wore a catcher's glove. That has to count for something.
Anthony Webster (A+)- Sort of a tweener, because he could also be in Group Four. But I think Webster has the makings of a pretty good fourth outfielder. He could play all three positions, steal 20 bases a year, doesn't strike out very much, and offers some pop. Definitely worth a pick.
7. Buddy Hernandez Group -- Like the Rolls group, except for pitchers. They don't have a lot of potential, but they could fill a relief role nicely. They might be one-inning guys, they might be swing relievers, but somehow, they could fit into a bullpen. Most of the time these people will be right-handers, as the majority of your lefties belong in the Scott Sauerbeck group.
Named after: OK, so the guy has not made the Major Leagues. But, every December comes around, and people are calling for him to get drafted. He did, once, in 2002, but did not last with the San Diego Padres. Hernandez came to the Braves as an undrafted free agent in 2000, and since has pitched about 300 innings in the minors. In that time, he has allowed 219 hits, 11 home runs, struck out 375 batters, walked 114 and has had an ERA of 2.34. He'll never be more than a reliever, but he constantly has people convinced he could be a good one.
Others: D.J. Houlton, Colter Bean, Jeff Bennett, Luis Ayala, D.J. Carrasco
2005 Group Seven Candidates
Bob Zimmermann (A+)- Dominated in nearly 60 innings in the Cal League last year. Has a mid-90s fastball, and does not let the ball get out of the park. With a little more control, he could be a good reliever.
Justin Pope (AA)- Another good closer that did not allow a good hitting line against last year. His strike out numbers weren't great, but it appears his pitches have more sink than stuff. A 1.69 groundball-to-flyball ratio, good control, and only two home runs allowed.
Davis Romero (A+)- Another groundball pitcher, and one who had a K/9 over 9.00. His control is good, too, and it appears Romero is quite versatile. The D.J. Houlton selection of 2005.
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That's all for today. If you find any other players worth noting, please mention them in the comments. I will be back with a notes column tomorrow, and will then review the Rule 5 Draft on Friday.