Now that the deadline for protecting players on teams' 40-man rosters has passed, we can start talking about which players have been left open to the rule 5 draft, and which ones may be advantageous to acquire. In the effort to inform myself and others, I'll be researching such players over the next couple of weeks.
This is a big project, so bear with me if I've made any factual mistakes. It can be difficult to find lists of eligible players for each team, and I won't be checking eligibility player by player, because that would be beyond the amount of time I have available for this project. That said, I should be able to at least present some interesting possibilities for discussion.
Before I go any farther, the rules:
- Unless the player was particularly outstanding or a very good prospect, I will not discuss eligible players who do not have AA experience or higher. (I will break this rule one time in this post; you will see why.)
- I will also not discuss players 28+ years of age, for the simple reason that there are likely plenty of fine minor league free agents that old who don't need to be drafted and guaranteed a roster spot.
- Finally, I won't discuss catchers or outfielders unless they are truly exceptional. The Astros already have plenty of depth in both areas.
- Beyond that, I will select players to examine based upon their statistics and/or scouting reports. I won't be covering every Rule 5-eligible player, or anywhere close.
With that out of the way, first up is the AL East. Which means the Yankees, who by far seem to have the most promising Rule 5 selection in their division. And as you'll see, that depth comes from their pitching.
*Please note that the link on each player's name is to his FanGraphs page. I will summarize rather than specify each player's statistics--if you'd like to look for yourself, all you need to do is click.
1. George Kontos. Kontos is a 24-year old right-handed starting pitcher who has quietly been putting in fine work in the Yankees organization for four years now. The problem? He's currently rehabbing from a mid-summer Tommy John surgery. That said, he apparently throws low-to-mid 90s, and in four years has never posted an ERA worse than 4.02. (He had a 3.15 ERA between AA and AAA this year.) He strikes out almost a batter per inning, and has average control, for a good overall K/BB ratio. It remains to be seen how he comes back from surgery--he won't be ready until sometime around the middle of the 2010 season--but he's a promising starter who could be had for next to nothing, buried on the DL while he recovers and used at the big league level if he comes back strong.
2. Kanekoa Texeira. Now here's a guy we should pick up just so we can have fun pronouncing his name all season. He's a 23-year old snagged by the Yankees in the Nick Swisher trade who has put in time both starting and in relief. He apparently has a plus fastball and slider, and is good at both inducing groundballs and striking batters out. Through his minor league career, he's struck out almost a batter per inning, with decent control. He's never played above AA, but he does have a season and a half of experience at that level, so he might be ready for a big league bullpen job. Also, being only 23, he could be sent down to AAA after 2010 and given a chance to start--possibly alongside the likes of Jordan Lyles. His ERA this season was 2.84 in 101 innings.
3. Josh Schmidt. One of the older guys on this list, Schmidt is an interesting case, using a nasty slider and an assortment of off-speed pitches rather than high heat. His fastball tops out in the low 90s, but he apparently has one of the best sliders in the Yankees system, and he uses it to strike out plenty of batters. In any case, his microscopic 1.61 ERA was one of the best in the minors for a pitcher with 50+ innings this year, and he's consistently put in good work throughout his minor league career--his ERA hasn't been above 3 for a season since 2006. All of that said, he's quite old for his level, at 27, and he hasn't made it above AA as yet.
4. Jonathan Ortiz. Splitting time between Class A-Advanced and Class A this year, the 24-year old Ortiz served as closer on both clubs. His is the case where I break my rule above, simply because he has posted jaw-dropping K/BB numbers throughout his career in the Yankees system. He is clearly playing well above his level, and may be capable of adequate middle relief in the bigs this season. Anyway, Ortiz struck out over 12 batters per nine innings this season, while only walking 1.6. That's a 7.6 K/BB ratio. It doesn't get much better than that, folks. And it's no fluke--he's been posting numbers like that his entire career in the lower minors. If he's capable of middle relief now, he could be capable of closing in the future. It's worthy of consideration, anyway.
5. Kevin Whelan. The last pitcher in the Yankees system I want to mention, 25-year old Whelan is a former catcher with a big arm who has been a back-end bullpen presence in the Yankees' system for years now. He made it up to AAA this year, but the problem that's been holding him back ever since he converted to pitcher still plagues him: He has trouble finding the strike zone with his fastball. It looked like he was getting it under control at AA this year, but when he moved up to AAA, he promptly walked 13 batters in 12.2 innings, regressing right back toward his career average of approximately six walked batters per nine innings. So why am I interested in him? Because his stuff is exceptional. He strikes out over ten batters per nine innings on a consistent basis, and he's been able to keep his ERA low on the strength of that alone. I still wouldn't be interested in him if we didn't have Arnsberg coaching for us... but with a good pitching coach, projects like this suddenly look a lot more reasonable.
Red Sox Prospects
1. Chad Rhoades. Hey, you know what would be great? If we talked about more pitchers! The BoSox don't have anywhere near the pitching depth of the Yankees, but they do have one former prospect who caught my eye. Rhoades is 26 this year, and it was his first full season at AA. Fortunately, it was a good one. He posted a 3.94 ERA while striking out about one batter per nine innings and walking just under half as a many. He has a low-90s fastball, a nasty splitter, and a curve ball, and has some experience as a closer. He's also from Texas, born and raised. He's no longer a prospect, but he still may be able to contribute as a solid middle reliever at the big league level.
2. Jeff Natale. A utility infielder without a good defensive position, 27-year old Natale makes up for his defensive deficiencies with great strike zone discipline and a bit of power in his bat. Despite being more of a DH, he does have a fair amount of experience at second base, and might be a Dan Uggla type at the big league level. He spent the last season playing part time at the AAA level, and split time between four teams the year before that. His career OBP is .431, boosted by a walk rate consistently above 15%. He might be useful as a big bat off the bench, or even given the chance to compete for second or third base in spring training.
1. Eduardo Morlan. After bouncing off the Brewers and back to the Rays in last year's Rule 5, Morlan is eligible again, and still as promising as he was when the Brewers didn't give him a chance to earn his roster spot. According to a scouting report from earlier in his career, his fastball has been clocked as high as 100 MPH, and he also has a plus curveball which can be thrown for strikes and an above average changeup. Oh yeah, and he's only 23. He strikes out around eight batters per nine innings while walking 3-4, and his ERA has been in the 3's the past couple of years at AA in the Rays' system. He's strictly a relief pitcher so far, but a young and promising one.
2. Scott Campbell. 24-year old Campbell finally made it up to the Blue Jays' AAA club in the latter part of this year, where he stunk in a small sample size, primarily due to a low BABIP. Neveretheless, the young utility infielder still shows strength in his strike zone discipline, though not in his power (or lack thereof). He was particularly good at AA in 2008, where his batting line was .302/.398/.427. Though his stock has fallen since then, he still has a few advantages over Chris Johnson: His walk rate has always been good, around 13% for his career, he doesn't strike out much, and he has more versatility. He has particular problems hitting left-handed pitching, so he'd likely platoon with Keppinger were he to play at third base, but he still might be an upgrade over Johnson or Blum, or barring that, a useful bench player.
3. Jim Miller. 27-year old Miller's complete lack of presence at the big league level this year is a bit of a head scratcher. He was very good with the Orioles in 7.2 innings in 2008, and has been consistently solid throughout his minor league career, making him look like a good bullpen addition. Nonetheless, he spent all of 2009 at the Orioles' AAA club, posting a 2.64 ERA while striking out over 8 batters per nine innings and walking less than three, a typically strong season for the quad-A reliever.
Next up: The AL Central.