Around the MinorsNovember 26, 2008
The 2008 Rule 5 Draft: Previewing the Pitchers
By Marc Hulet

There are only 15 more shopping days left. Major League Baseball's Rule 5 draft will occur on at the end of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 11. The draft, which is explained here, has become extremely popular in the eyes of online fans, but participation amongst teams has been up and down in recent years.

Players selected:
2007: 18 | Best Player: Brian Barton, St. Louis selected from Cleveland
2006: 19 | Best Player: Josh Hamilton, Cincinnati (via Chicago NL) selected from Tampa Bay
2005: 15 | Best Player: Dan Uggla, Florida selected from Arizona
2004: 12 | Best Player: Shane Victorino, Philadelphia selected from Los Angeles (NL)
2003: 20 | Best Player: Willy Taveras, Houston selected from Cleveland
2002: 28 | Best Player: Luis Ayala, Montreal selected from Arizona
2001: 12 | Best Player: Jorge Sosa, Milwaukee selected from Seattle
2000: 10 | Best Player: Jay Gibbons, Baltimore selected from Toronto
1999: 17 | Best Player: Johan Santana, Minnesota (via Florida) selected from Houston
1998: 13 | Best Player: Scott Sauerbeck, Pittsburgh selected from New York (NL)
1997: 11 | Best Player: Scott Podsednik, Texas selected from Florida

The 2008 Rule 5 draft could be popular. The economic woes and uncertainty are impacting professional sports, just like the rest of the world. The draft is an opportunity for clubs to find cheap - and potentially talented - roster options. A club can pick up a 24th or 25th man pretty cheaply through this process.

As you can see above, the draft peaked in 2002 and dropped off sharply in 2004 - which is likely because teams started altering the way they protected prospects after almost 50 players were selected between 2002 and 2003. It is much harder to find a Johan Santana these days as all promising young pitchers - even those in Short Season ball or A-ball - are being protected on 40-man rosters.

The 2008 draft does not appear to have a raw, talented future star available, but then again, who knew Santana's name in 1999... aside from Minnesota and Houston? What this draft does have, though, is a ton of potential back-up infielders and left-handed relievers... as well as a few other interesting names. Let's take a look at some of the top options on the mound. Next week we'll look at some intriguing hitters.

Right-Handed Pitchers

Eduardo Morlan | Tampa Bay
Position: Right-Handed Reliever
Born: March 1986
2008 Level: Double-A

Eduardo Morlan was traded to Tampa Bay from Minnesota last winter in the Matt Garza-Delmon Young swap. He can dial his fastball up into the mid-90s and he has a high-80s slider that acts as his strikeout pitch. His numbers were down in 2008 after switching organizations but you don't get the chance to nab a player with this skill set after a fabulous season. He still allowed just 44 hits in 47 innings with rates of 2.87 BB/9 and 8.62 K/9.

Chris Mason | Tampa Bay
Position: Right-Handed Starter
Born: July 1984
2008 Level: Triple-A

Chris Mason has always been a Top-10 prospect, but he was also considered a step below the top two pitching prospects in the system: Jacob McGee and Wade Davis. Mason's horrendous 2008 season certainly did not help his cause. After going 15-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 2007 at Double-A, Mason regressed at Triple-A with a 6.21 ERA and 144 hits allowed in 108.2 innings. A former second-round amateur draft pick, he has the talent to succeed in the Majors and many scouts have felt he has always been better suited to pitching out of the bullpen. His slider is excellent, the change-up is very good, but the fastball is just OK at 87-91 mph.

Alan Horne | New York (AL)
Position: Right-Handed Starter
Born: January 1983
2008 Level: Triple-A

Alan Horne spent the majority of the season battling a bicep strain and was not at his best when he made eight starts at the Triple-A level. He allowed 35 hits in 32 innings of work and posted rates of 6.19 BB/9 and 6.75 K/9. Teams that are comfortable with his medical report could grab him with the hopes of seeing a healthy Horne show up at spring training. In 2007 at Double-A, he struck out 165 batters in 153.1 innings. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.

J. Brent Cox | New York (AL)
Position: Right-Handed Reliever
Born: May 1984
2008 Level: Double-A

The Yankees are putting a lot of faith in the hopes that teams will be scared away from intriguing prospects by medical reports. J. Brent Cox was a top college reliever when he was selected in the second round of the 2005 draft. He was on the cusp of a Major League call-up after a solid 2006 season at Double-A but those hopes were derailed by Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2008 and allowed 30 hits in 36 Triple-A innings. His rates were poor at 4.25 BB/9 and 4.00 K/9 but command and control are the last things to return after the surgery. Based on his past performances, Cox is worth a look.

Erik Cordier | Atlanta
Position: Right-Handed Starter
Born: February 1986
2008 Level: A-ball

Of the players listed in this article, Erik Cordier is certainly the biggest reach, but he also has the most potential - if his stuff fully returns after Tommy John surgery after the 2006 season. Obtained from Kansas City for disappointing shortstop Tony Pena Jr. prior to the 2007 season, Cordier allowed 51 hits in 40 A-ball innings in 2008. He posted rates of 4.73 BB/9 and 6.98 K/9. Prior to the injury, the right-hander was touching 98 mph and sitting in the mid-90s. He was topping out in the low-90s in 2008, and needs to regain the feel for his plus change-up and average curveball.

Chris Nicoll | Kansas City
Position: Right-Handed Reliever
Born: October 1983
2008 Level: High-A/Double-A

Chris Nicoll was originally selected by the Royals in the third round of the 2005 draft as a starter. After injury woes in 2007, he was converted to a reliever and thrived. Between the two minor league levels, Nicoll allowed 77 hits in 87 innings and struck out 104 batters. At Double-A, he posted rates of 1.65 BB/9 and 11.34 K/9. With an organization badly in need of pitching depth, it is a little surprising that Nicoll - even with just an average fastball and slider - was left unprotected.

Left-Handed Pitchers

Ryan Mullins | Minnesota
Position: Left-Handed Starter
Born: November 1983
2008 Level: Double-A

A third-round selection out of Vanderbilt University in 2005, Ryan Mullins is a 6'6'' lefty with a fringe fastball and a big-league curveball, which are just the right ingredients for a 2009 MLB LOOGY. His 2008 numbers at Double-A were nothing to write home about: 169 hits allowed in 148.1 innings, 3.58 BB/9, 6.01 K/9, but check out the splits:

Left-Handed Batters: .204 AVG, 0.88 WHIP, 1.45 BB/9, 12.8 LD%
Right-Handed Batters: .314 AVG, 1.72 WHIP, 4.24 BB/9, 17.9 LD%

Donald Veal | Chicago (NL)
Position: Left-Handed Starter
Born: September 1984
2008 Level: Double-A

A former top prospect, Donnie Veal has stagnated at Double-A. In two seasons at that level, he has allowed 276 hits in 275.2 innings of work. His rates in 2008 were not so good at 5.02 BB/9 and 7.62 K/9. Obviously, his control is lacking but he is a lefty that can consistently throw in the low 90s and he has two solid secondary pitchers: a curveball and change-up. He faced 142 left-handed batters in 2008 and did not allow a home run. His splits suggest he could also have some success as a LOOGY: Left-handed batters hit .221, while right-handed batters hit .290.

Chuck Lofgren | Cleveland
Position: Left-Handed Starter
Born: January 1986
2008 Level: Double-A

Yes, Chuck Lofgren's numbers, which included a 5.99 ERA and 93 hits allowed in 85.2 innings, were ugly in 2008. He carried those struggles over into the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 32.14 ERA in 10 games. But he is just 22 years old and two years removed from a breakout season in A-ball that saw him added to the Indians' top prospects list. A club that thinks it could fix his mechanical and/or mental woes could take a flyer on him.

Brad Kilby | Oakland
Position: Left-Handed Reliever
Born: February 1983
2008 Level: Triple-A

Brad Kilby is not a former top prospect like the other southpaws listed above, but he has quietly put up some solid career numbers as a former 29th round draft pick. Career-wise, he has compiled a 2.64 ERA, allowed 178 hits in 232.1 innings and posted rates of 3.41 BB/9 and 10.16 K/9. In 2008 at Triple-A, Kilby allowed 51 hits in 70 innings with rates of 3.34 BB/9 and 8.49 K/9. On the downside, his stuff is a little short and he is a flyball pitcher (27.2 GB%).

Pedro Viola | Cincinnati
Position: Left-Handed Reliever
Born: June 1983
2008 Level: Double-A

Signed as a pitcher by the Reds at the age of 22 in 2005, Pedro Viola rocketed through the minors in his North American debut in 2007 and reached Double-A. He spent the entire 2008 season at that level while struggling with his command and control. Viola can hit the mid-90s, a rarity for southpaws, and also has a slider and change-up. After dominating left-handed batters in 2007, he struggled against them in 2008 and allowed a .292 batting average.

Robert Rohrbaugh | Seattle
Position: Left-Handed Starter
Born: December 1983
2008 Level: Triple-A

A former seventh-round selection out of Clemson University, Robert Rohrbaugh had three solid pro seasons prior to 2008. He even held his own in 13 Triple-A starts in 2007. This season though, thanks in part to injuries, Rohrbaugh allowed 109 hits in 96 innings and posted rates of 2.63 BB/9 and 7.13 K/9. He has actually been much more effective in his career against right-handed batters than lefties, so he doesn't make a very good LOOGY. That said, he has solid control and could provide multiple innings out of the bullpen.

Kei Igawa | New York (AL)
Position: Left-Handed Starter
Born: July 1979
2008 Level: Triple-A/Majors

The Yankees paid $26 million to negotiate for Kei Igawa's rights prior to the 2007 season and he has been a disappointment, to say the least. Igawa has thrived at the Triple-A level but he has struggled to succeed in the Majors and under the intense scrutiny that comes with pitching in New York. At $4 million a year through 2010, he might be a worthwhile gamble for a National League club like the Padres. In 2008 at Triple-A, he allowed 141 hits in 156.1 innings, with rates of 2.59 BB/9 and 6.74 K/9.

Be sure to check back next week for a look at some of the position players that could be on the move during the MLB Rule 5 draft on Dec. 11.


Not so sure Viola is available. U.S.S. Mariner took him down after someone explained something complicated. Sorry I can't be of more assistance.

Viola is iffy, but he was signed in 2005 at the age of 22... and was originally signed even earlier by the Giants as a teenager (as an outfielder)... I am fairly certain he's available but thanks for the heads up... I'll do some more research.

Great job on highlighting some of those available. Interesting that in the last 5 years the best player has been a position player. I do like some of the arms you have highlighted.

Jim Callis at Baseball America doesn't share your enthusism for Donald Veal. In his latest chat, he says Veal "is not that good" and "I can't see Veal sticking on a big league roster next year."

Callis only knows what he is told by others who want him to write nice things about them. Veal may or not stick but Callis lacks the ability to make even an educated guess on that topic.

Callis only knows what he is told by others who want him to write nice things about them. Veal may or not stick but Callis lacks the ability to make even an educated guess on that topic.

I might suggest that the best rule 5 draftee in 2006 was Joakim Soria. Hamilton had a decent, not great injury-plagued season in 2007, an awesome first half in 2008, followed by a big drop off in production in the second half. Soria, meanwhile, has been one of the best closers in the game for the last season and a half.

Nice job!! AS a Yankees fan any lefty with potential, there are some guys on the list with potential, can help the Yanks. I just hope some team takes Igawa off our hands. That was one of a few oops by Cash! Maybe we get a Johan, if Cash decides to stick his hands in the Rule 5 Draft!

No one would take Igawa you fool.

It was certainly a difficult decision whether to call Hamilton or Soria the best player of the draft...

And with most teams badly in need of pitching, I wouldn't be shocked to see someone in the NL take a risk on Igawa for $8 million over two seasons... He is a veteran lefty with OK Triple-A numbers, who just couldn't handle the pressure in NY... It's happened to a lot of pitchers that haven't had to also deal with a language/culture barrier. The biggest ouch with Igawa was the money NY had to shell out just to negotiate with him.

I've seen Veal pitch at least a dozen times, and I agree with Jim Callis's take. Veal has no idea where his pitches are going most of the time, and no idea how to fix it so that he does know. Putting him on a major league roster at this stage is a recipe for disaster for someone.

what the hell is the difference beetween the rule 5 draft and the 1st player draft. I love baseball but the offseason is so freakin complicated!!!!!!

You left out Jay Rainville RHP 22yr old 1st round draft pick of Minn. Twins in 2004. Much higher upside than Mullins. He has been pitching without his Mid. 90,s fastball for the last two years still he has continued to progress even without his top velocity. Last year in and up and down first year of double AA he finished up as New Britians top starter with 11K,s in 6 innings and then 7K,s in 5 innings. He had an nerve removed from his upper back/Shoulder blade two years ago (genetic defect). The Twins knew it could be two to three years for him to regain full velocity. He has not missed any time before or after surgery. They hope nobody else noticed his ommission from the 40 man roster.

Thanks for the tip, Jay!

Thanks for the tip, Christian!

Re: Mason-

I got to watch him a lot (too much...) this year in Durham. Pretty decent stuff, but his control just leaves him at times. Like, goes out back to take a smoke break mid-way through the bottom of the third and doesn't come back until the 5th. I agree that he'd be better suited to come out of the 'pen, and frankly, he never really had much of a chance to start for the Rays, anyhow. He strikes guys out well enough to come out of the 'pen, and I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the more pitching-starved teams give him a shot.

At the same time, I don't really see him being a "top guy" from a draft like this. At best, I think he's a set-up guy for a year. More likely, he's a swing man/long reliever type.

Considering some of the names listed here as "best player" of a given year, not mentioning Soria is criminal. But, then again, why decide between Hamilton and Soria and list only one name? Why can't there be two "best players" in a year? They both deserve a mention as great Rule 5 picks in 2006 and I don't think at this point that either should be listed as best player over the other.

I think Nichols was left unprotect due to a shoulder injury at the end of the season.

Honestly 2006 was a good year, yielding Jeremy Guthrie, a pitcher for the Orioles who is probably a top 30 starter overall and is doing taht in the AL East. He comes very close in terms of value as Soria and Hamilton. Soria is probably the best player as he is a top-3 closer at the moment and should remain a top 5 closer for a while.
To Mike Emeigh the 1st player draft, drafts college and high school players while the Rule 5 draft allows team to take an unprotected player from another team's minor league affiliate and keep him on the major league roster all year long

Guthrie was NOT a Rule 5 pick. He was claimed off waivers.

I can't believe the Yanks have left Alan Horne unprotected. He was a 1st round pick out of high school and was recently one of the Yankees' top 10 prospects. When healthy he throws in the mid 90's, and had he not been injured this year, he probably would have gotten a call-up when Wang went down. I don't understand protecting Michael Dunn over Horne.

Everyone who is claiming Soria is "better" than Hamilton, do me a favor. Go ask every GM who they'd rather have on their team, Hamilton or Soria. If you get more than 2 votes for Soria, come back and let me know. But you won't. Soria is a decent young reliever. Hamilton put up HOF numbers for the first half of the season and finished weak, but still had a monster season for a first full year in the majors. 32 HR and 900+ OPS. I'll take it over a young flamethrowing reliever that will likely burn out in 2-3 years. Hell even if he does turn out to be K-Rod, I'd still take Hamilton.