The Rule 5 draft occurs next Thursday as the winter meeting takes place in Las Vegas. Ah, Las Vegas seems particularly appropriate for a discussion of the Rule 5 draft ! In many ways, the Rule 5 draft is like spinning the Wheel of Fortune. Even with the best scouting, the Rule 5 draft is a crap shoot.
The Rule 5 dratt probably gets more attention than it deserves from baseball obsessed fans. After all, many teams don't pick anybody; in fact, some teams can't pick anybody because their 40 man roster is full. And the vast majority of Rule 5 picks are soon forgotten. But I think fans like the Rule 5 draft for the same reason that the Lotto and Lottery scratch off games are popular. The possibility exists, as remote as it may be, that a Rule 5 draft choice could change the fortunes of a franchise---like Roberto Clemente or Johan Santana. Also, everybody likes free stuff; and the $50,000 cost is virtually free, in major league baseball terms anyway.
In this article, I will focus on the major league Rule 5 draft. I haven't seen these players, but I can glean a little bit from their stats. All teams will also rely on their scouting reports in making Rule 5 choices. Last year, Wesley Wright was chosen largely because newly hired, ex-Dodgers scout Clarence Johns knew him and originally signed him. I wouldn't be surprised if the Astros' choice depends on whether any of their scouts know particular players and are pushing to draft them.
I don't know of any overall published list of Rule 5 eligible draftees (the listing would entail 400-500 names). Most minor leaguers drafted in the 2005 and 2004 amateur draft will be eligible for the Rule 5, unless they have been protected. However, I have relied heavily on two web sites for lists of Rule 5 candidates. BaseballAnalysts.com has an article on hitters here and pitchers here. BaseballThinkFactory has an article here. As you look at the BTF article, an additional listing is shown in comment number 3. If you want to look at comprehensive listings and do your own research, check out those links. An interesting research web site for minor leaguers is minorleaguesplits.com, which shows every conceivable split and even clutch stats. This site also has a feature to convert a player's minor league stats to "major league equivalents" (MLE).
Because the Rule 5 draftees are raw, and in some sense "rejects," who must stay on a major league roster all season, certain roles tend to get the most attention. Many relief pitchers are chosen, because they are easier to "hide" in the back of a bullpen. Players who are good bench candidates as defensive substitutes, pinch runners and pinch hitters have a better chance of making the roster. It isn't likely that you will get a pitcher for the starting rotation from the Rule 5 draft, at least immediately. Johan Santana was drafted out of the Astros' system, and a relatively weak Twins team was able to find a spot for Santana in the bullpen. This allowed Santana to adjust to the major leagues as a reliever; a couple of years later he was a mainstay in the Twins' rotation. Also, left / right handedness may be important in determining whether a role can be found for the Rule 5 draftee.
From the Astros perspective, I emphasize the following roles:
(1) utility infielder. With the likely losses of Loretta and Newhan, it would be helpful to find a young, cheap utility infielder.
(2) outfielder. Ideally, a RHB centerfielder to share time with Bourn would be most useful. Realizing that Erstad can cover CF, a young corner infielder might compete with Abercrombie for the 5th outfielder spot.
(3) 3d base. If the Astros are seriously considering trading Wigginton, a young RHB third baseman who platoons with Blum would be useful.
(4) catcher. If J.R. Towles starts out in Round Rock, is it possible to find a decent young catcher instead of paying for a free agent? If nothing else, the Astros need catchers in spring training to be receivers for the large number of pitchers.
(5) relief pitcher. You can never have enough relief pitchers. Just ask Ed Wade. Chris Sampson is coming back from surgery, just one example of why you need depth. A decent LOOGY might be able to replace Byrdak more cheaply. A young hard thrower might start in the mop up role and (if all goes well) advance to a late inning role later.
Ok, here are some names I have picked as possibilities (after the jump).
Will Rhymes. This 25 year old middle infielder (plays SS and 2b) is out of Tigers system. Drew Sutton is likely a better hitter than Rhymes, but Sutton has yet to play in AAA; I assume that Sutton is likely to be sent to AAA after spring training, unless he has a spectacular spring. Unlike Sutton, Rhymes advanced to AAA late last season. In AA :.305, .356, .391, .747; AAA: .320, .370, .400, .770. Not much power but lots of speed (17 stolen bases in partial 08 season at AA, and 29 SB in 07). LHB who hits LHP well also. It turns out that he is from Houston too. Primarily a 2d baseman, but had 65 at bats last year as a shortstop. His MLE (OPS=.607) isn't great, but it probably is adequate if his role is primarily pinchrunning and defensive replacement.
Daniel Mayora. 23 year old shortstop out of the Rockies system. Because he has only made it as far as high A ball, he may struggle offensively in the majors; but he is reported to be solid defensively. He has played more shortstop (approximately 2/3 of his time at short, and the remainder at 2d base) than Rhymes, which may give him an edge defensively. He has put up .770 - .840 OPS at the A level, with some power, but this translates to a poor MLE (.575 OPS). However, he may be OK if he used as a hitter against only LHP (MLE of .661).
Corey Wimberly. 25 year old switch hitting middle infielder out of the Rockies system. He has no power but tons of speed. His AA line: .289, .363, .343, .706. This results in a poor MLE. He is similar to Rhymes, but not as good a hitter. However, he is versatile, splitting time between 2d base and shortstop, with the additional ability to play both 3d base and CF.
James Skelton. With Towles somewhere between AAA and the majors, a Rule 5 catcher might be unlikely. But Skelton is well regarded as a 23 year old catcher with good on base skills from the Tigers' system; he almost certainly will be selected by some team. A consistent .800+ OPS offensive player, his line in AA: .294, .425, .388, .813. His offensive performance in the minors is similar to Towles, except he doesn't have as much power. As a LHB, he could be a true platoon partner for Towles or Quintero. His MLE isn't bad: .672 OPS. If he did that, it would beat Towles' rookie year.
Jesus Guzman. 24 year old RHB third baseman who has bounced between the Giants and A's this year. He can also play 2d base and the outfield. He had an outstanding season in AA last year (.979 OPS), and then struggled somewhat (.650 OPS) in a handful of at bats in AAA. Good Isolated Power (ISO) in AA and high A. Translates to good MLE (.740 OPS). If the Astros are serious about trading Wigginton, I would look into this possibility. Reportedly, several teams were interested in signing him earlier when he was a free agent.
Baseball Analysts.com claims that 3 of the 4 top Rule 5 outfield candidates are Astros (Einerton, Iorg, and Parraz). This doesn't speak well for the OF crop. The three Astros are long shots to be selected.
Bubba Bell. 26 year old LHB CFer from the Red Sox organization. He may be the victim of a deep Red Sox system, since he has remained at AA at an advanced age. Consistently good (for a CF) OPS in the minors. AA line last year: .281, .361, .474, .835. MLE translates to .684 OPS, which would be better than Bourn last year. He has shown decent power at times (22 HR in A+ ball). Since he is a LHB, he isn't well suited for a platoon with either Bourn or Erstad.
Danny Putnam. 26 year old LHB corner outfielder from the A's system. Former 1st round draft pick. Consistently good OPS throughout his minor league career. Not a lot of HR power, but his ISO isn't bad. Had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2007. His line in AAA this year: .276, .383, .494, .877. Tougher out against RHP. MLE translates to .734 OPS, which might be acceptable for a 5th outfielder.
Eduardo Morlan, 22 year old RH reliever from Rays organization. Also listed at top of BaseballAnalysts.com’s list of pitchers. Once highly regarded prospect traded to Rays in Young deal. Fastball in mid-90’s and hard slider in high 80’s. 3.56 FIP and 3.36 ERA in AA. MLE suggests that his ML results will be poor, unless he is used only against RHB. Wouldn't be surprised to see him picked early.
Luis Perdomo, 24 year old hard throwing RH reliever traded by the Indians to Cardinals (Anthony Reyes trade). Could be a “get righthanders out” specialist. Good K rate and decent GB rate in compiling 3.47 FIP in AA last year. This may be misleading, but MLE is 3.96 FIP, with a 3.17 FIP against RHB.
Kevin Whelan, (ex-Tex. A&M, by the way), another power arm RH reliever, from the Yankees organization. Good K rate. Good in brief stint in AFL…not sure why it was so brief. 4.07 FIP in AA and 2.49 FIP in winter ball.
Chris Mobley. 25 year old RHP in Marlins system. Groundball pitcher. 3.09 ERA and 2.75 FIP in AA. Pitched poorly in AAA, but very small sample size (4 IP). Translates to decent MLE (3.82 FIP). He appears to be a righty who is tough on LHB.
Brad Kilby. 25 year old LHP in A's organization. 3.47 ERA and 4.49 FIP in AAA last year. Allowed 50 hits in 70 innings, with almost a K per inning. MLE against LHB (3.86 FIP) indicates that he may be a LOOGY candidate.
Darren O'Day. 26 year old RHP with ML experience. Throws sidearm. Minor league ERA ranged between 2.51 and 3.25. 47 major league innings for the Angels last year with a 4.40 ERA and 4.01 FIP. Fastball/slider pitcher. Tough on RHB, probably due to side arm action.
Donald Veal. 24 year old LHP from Cubs' system. Once was a top prospect. His performance has deteriorated in AA over the last two years. Throws in low 90's with two solid off speed pitches. Better against LHB, and might be a LOOGY candidate. He is a gamble.