Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Can the Astros find a diamond in the rough? Or will this year's pick go the way of Aneury Rodriguez and Rhiner Cruz?
The Astros have the first pick in the 2012 Rule 5 draft, a privilege they also had last year when they selected Rhiner Cruz. The Cruz pick was dubious to me and many speculated that the weird pick was caused in part by the big shifts in the front office that were taking place right before the Rule 5 draft. It can be difficult to find information on the players eligible, so I wanted to take a look at some names from this years draft that jumped out to me. On the surface, I think that this year's crop of Rule 5 talent is a bit stronger than last year's, and I think that the Astros should definitely put their pick to use- I think they can find a contributor.
Without further ado, here's a look at some of the best available talent in this years Rule 5 draft.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Indians (Age 22)
A 2012 Futures Game selection, Aguilar is a behemoth at 6'3", 257 lbs; however, he's a good athlete for his size and plays a good first base and isn't in danger of becoming a DH-only type player. He has put up consistently solid numbers as a minor leaguer, his batting averages have hung in the .275 range, and last season he showed more patience, posting an 11.2% BB rate, about half of his 22.5% K rate, which is a workable number. He's shown just average power so far, hitting 15 home runs last season, but he hits a lot of outfield fly balls (4.3% over league average last season) and as he matures he projects to have more significant pop. It comes as a surprise that Aguilar was left unprotected, and although he has just 82 AA plate appearances, he strikes me as likely to be selected.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF, Red Sox (Age 25)
Hazelbaker has been one of the most popular names popping up in articles about potential rule 5 picks, and while he's far from a perfect prospect, there's enough to like that I can see him sticking with a major league club. Hazelbaker is an older prospect at age 25, but he has plenty of experience at AA and a taste of AAA ball. He has solid tools and can play all over the outfield. His speed, in particular, is an asset- he swiped 34 bags last year- and could give him use as a pinch runner or defensive replacement if his bat doesn't play right away. His contact ability is below average, as he struck out in almost 24% of his plate appearances last season, but he is able to contribute offensively with his above average power (19 home runs in 512 PAs last year) from the left side of the plate. If the Astros spend their pick on Hazelbaker, I think they're getting a guy who could draw some starts in the OF and provide some value on both sides of the ball.
Josh Fields, RHP, Red Sox (Age 27)
Another member of the Red Sox organization and a former first round selection, it is surprising to me that Fields is yet to reach the major leagues. He has a compact build at 6'0" 185 and throws right handed and definitely profiles as a bullpen arm for the long term. He had a phenomenal season across AA and AAA last season, posting a 2.01 ERA and 12.03 K/9 vs. 2.78 BB/9 in 58.1 IP, resulting in a stellar 2.34 FIP. He has a definite flyball tendency (just a 39.6 GB% last year), but did a good job keeping the ball in the park, so despite his height I don't see that as a major concern. His stuff is very solid and perhaps even late-inning quality, as he sports a fastball that touches 95 MPH, and a curveball that has been described by some as a borderline plus pitch. Fields is a guy who could play a big role in bullpen if he acclimates himself to the majors well, and I think he's a player the Astros should take a long look at.
J.C. Sulbaran, RHP, Royals (Age 23)
Acquired from the Reds in the Jonathan Broxton trade, Sulbaran is not the kind of player that you expect to see in the Rule 5 draft. He got off to a great start in 2012 and was drawing hype as a potential number two or three starter, but command woes that plagued him early in his career returned and his performance fell off the table. That said, Sulbaran still sports the mid-rotation stuff that made him a coveted property at one point, and his K/9 rate in 2012 was an impressive 9.30. The big red flag here is his command, which went from below average to ugly in 2012. His walk rate after the trade was especially awful (over seven!) and he ended up with an overall BB/9 figure of 5.23 for the season. Despite that, the quality of his arsenal, which includes a 93-95 MPH fastball and an above average breaking ball, combined with the fact that he's just a year removed from posting a 3.29 FIP in the Cal League, could make him a guy worth stashing in the bullpen for a year.
Addison Maruszak, IF, Yankees (Age 25)
Maruszak is far from a sexy prospect, but he could provide some much-needed depth in the Astros infield with his diverse skills. A disciplined hitter with some pop, Addison hit .274/.330/.456 and 16 HR in AA while playing shortstop for the Trenton Thunder. His splits offer even more cause for optimism- he started poorly, hitting only .220 through May and April, but exploded in June and July to hit .321 with 10 of 16 homers. He has played all four infield positions in AA, but spent most of his time at shortstop and reports seem to indicate that he can play there at the big league level. To me, Maruszak looks like a Matt Downs type of player who can play a super-utility role and offer modest offensive production.
Jonathan Galvez, 2B, Padres (Age 22)
A surprising omission from the Padres' 40 man roster, Galvez is a younger, toolsier Addison Maruszak. He, like Maruszak, can play all over the infield capably. He's a fairly disciplined hitter who strikes out in less than 20% of his plate appearances and can draw walks at a league average rate. Galvez isn't punchless- he hit 13 home runs in a full Cal league season in 2011 and followed that up with 6 more in 81 games in AA in 2012, and that combined with his good OBP skills (he put up a .366 mark at AA last year) and defensive versatility could make him a valuable player very soon.
Conner Crumbliss, 2B, Athletics (Age 25)
An OBP machine in the Nolan Fontana mold, Crumbliss has reached base at a rate over .400 for the last two seasons. He doesn't offer any power and his defense is just okay, but his colossal walk rate (an even 20% last year) and good strikeout rates (16-17%) and speed (48 stolen bases in the last two seasons) make him appealing nonetheless. His batted ball data is also good across the board- his LD% and OFB% above average and his GB% below average. He's on the older side and is punchless, but Crumbliss fits the stathead Jeff Luhnow profile and I think he's a real possibility for the Astros.
Ivan De Jesus, 2B, IF, Red Sox (Age 25)
Acquired from the Dodgers midseason, DeJesus's father and namesake had a long and productive major league career. De Jesus, like Jonathan Galvez, plays primarily second base and bats right handed. He offers next to nothing in terms of power and speed, but he has posted some intriguing batting average numbers in the high minors. However, it's easy to question the legitimacy of his averages because of some favorable offensive environments he's played in (namely Albuquerque) and his high ground ball rates, which have consistently been well above average. Like Galvez, his primary strengths are strong infield defense and strong contact ability, and De Jesus can probably carve out some kind of major league role, but, while he offers polish, his tools won't generate much excitement.
Kyle Kaminska, RHP, Pirates (Age 24)
A lean 6'4", 180 pound righty, Kaminska's ticket to the majors is going to be his excellent command. His stuff is just fringy- his fastball sits about 90 MPH and he pairs it with a decent slider, but he allowed just 1.59 free passes per 9 innings last season across 3 levels including AAA. Unfortunately, he also allowed 98 hits in 81.2 IP and let up about a home run per 9 innings while striking out just 7.27 per 9 innings. He looks like a middle reliever who may be able to get by without real major league stuff because of superb command, but doesn't incite as much excitement as a guy like Fields or Sulbaran do with their strikeout totals.
There are plenty more marginal prospects eligible to be selected in the Rule 5, but these guys were the ones that I saw as having the best chance to contribute to a major league team, whether it be right away as is the case with Fields, or in the longer term as could be the case with Sulbaran. Do you agree that the 2012 crop is superior to 2011's? Who do you think the Astros should take? Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments.