As we let the thanksgiving meals slowly digest, let's consider some ideas for the Rule 5 draft, which is set for Dec. 9. If you don't know about the Rule 5 draft, check out the wikipedia description. Teams which draft players in the Rule 5 draft must keep the players on their major league roster for the full season, or face sending the players back to their previous organization. It is this restriction that the makes the draft--and the decisions to allow players to become eligible for the draft--an interesting thought process. On the one hand, drafting teams attempt to project minor league players who can contribute for a full season to a major league roster, or at least can be hidden on the major league roster without too much damage. Teams setting their 40 man roster may take a calculated risk that good young prospects are too far away from major league ready to be drafted. The last Astros Rule 5 pick to stick on the roster was Wesley Wright.
As I will discuss later in this piece, the Astros may not even use their draft choice to select a player in the Rule 5 pick. But I am always intrigued by Rule 5 picks, because it's almost like found money. It can be chance to add a good young player for next to nothing. So, I'll suggest some drafting ideas, whether it's likely or not.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite tools, minorleaguesplits.com, has been pulled down this off-season. Therefore, I can't examine platoon splits for minor leaguers, a comparison that is helpful fo evaluating the usefulness of Rule 5 candidates.
Before the trade for Clint Barmes, I would have assumed that the focus of Astros' Rule 5 interest would be middle infielders, and shortstops, in particular. Perhaps the Barmes trade reduces that emphasis somewhat. However, I still think that the middle infield is the more likely area of interest. With Geoff Blum gone, there will be plenty of spring competition for back up infielders-- with no players, at this point, viewed as overwhelming favorites. Also, middle infielderrs (and particularly shortstops) are high value positions; so, if you can find a useful young player at the these positions, it's a big plus for your organization.
The second area reviewed below consists of relief pitchers. Relief pitchers are the most frequent position selected in the Rule 5 draft. Relief pitchers can be more easily protected in the bullpen, and it seems like relief pitchers have a greater probability of making the transition from AA to the major leagues (example: Wesley Wright). In the Astros' case, identifying LOOGY candidates would be particularly helpful, since the team recently non-tendered two lefty relievers, Byrdak and Chacin.
Justin Sellers, shortstop (Dodgers)
The Dodgers have a few young shortstop prospects, and Sellers wasn't protected on their 40 man.. At age 24, Sellers had a career high season as Albuquerque's AAA shortstop. A .860 OPS and .365 OBP really gets your attention when it comes from a shortstop. He showed a fair amount of pop, with 14 HR, and exhibited above average walk rates and an average strike out rate. The question is: Was 2010 a break out season for Sellers or will it prove to be an aberration? His previous minor league career was more like that of a low .700's OPS shortstop. Also, Albuquerque is a high run environment, and Sellers' home offensive stats were much better than on the road. (Sound a bit like Barmes?) Sellers talks on an instructional video about hitting here. A video of a RBI hit in AA here. I don't have much information on his defense. What little I can find makes me guess that his shortstop defense is average; it's possible that his defense projects better at 2d base.
Brad Emaus, 2d / 3d (Blue Jays)
This 24 year old out of Tulane was an infield teammate of Brett Wallace in Las Vegas, and probably can make a transition to the majors as a back up at 2d base and 3d base. His main tool is as a hitter. He hits to all fields, shows gap power, and exhibited an ISO in the .180 - .190 range in the minors, which isn't bad for a 2d baseman. He had a great 2010 campaign in AAA: .298, .393, .495, .888. Granted that Las Vegas is a hitter's park, but he has also posted mid-.800's OPS seasons in both A+ and AA, and is posting an OPS in the .800's in the DWL. Another positive factor is his above average walk rate, which probably allows his offense to play at higher levels. His profile reminds me of a Ben Zobrist when Zobrist was a AA middle infielder traded by the Astros. Baseball America has rated him as the minor leaguer with the best plate discipline in the Jays' organization. During his minor league career, the scouting reports predicted Emaus' upside to be a starting 2d baseman with 20 HR power. But he has never hit more than 15 HRs in a season. The knock on Emaus is that he is tweener for 2d base and 3d base--not enough power for 3d base but sub-par range for 2d base.
Ryan Adams, 2d / 3d (Orioles)
Adams is a 23 year old former shortstop, who was recently rated the 8th best prospect in the Orioles system by Baseball America. That makes his exposure to the Rule 5 draft puzzling. For some reason, the Orioles have exposed several promising prospects to the draft, while leaving three spots open on their 40 man roster (presumably for free agent signings). In 2010, his first season in AA, Adams' batting average was .297 and his OPS was .827, with 15 HRs. Scouts like Adams' potential for future power, and one report opines that Adams is the best in the Orioles' system at squaring up the ball. He has a below average walk rate and an above average K rate. Adams also had an issue with throwing errors, and I can't tell whether this is a yips type problem or inexperience. This youtube video of Adams in spring training this year shows a few fielding plays and an infield single. Adams was suspended and sent home at the end of the 2009 season, presumably for getting into an argument in the dugout with manager Richie Hebner., but this doesn't appear to be a major issue. The Orioles seem to feel that this "heat of moment" event isn't unusual for highly competitive young players. The defensive question marks may keep Adams undrafted.
Brandon Waring 3d / 1st / LF (Orioles)
He isn't a middle infielder, but I'll consider the 24 year old as a potential utility player at the positions, above, if he is drafted. This is another surprising 40 man roster decision by the Orioles; Waring is rated the 17th best Orioles' prospect, and the organization's No. 1 power hitting prospect by Baseball America. Some Orioles' fans viewed him as the successor to Miquel Tejada at 3d base in 2011. Scouting reports view Waring's power as exceptional. He has never hit less than 20 HRs at any minor league level, and he hit 27 HRs between A+ and AA in 2009, and 22 HRs in AA in 2010. He has a decent walk rate, but his high K rate (30%) probably means that he could use a year in AAA. Here is a video of his swing. This hometown article offers high praise for Waring and quotes his former college hitting coach as saying: "He's so far above the norm in terms of strength. He's blessed with a special form of bat speed that very few possess." Little is said about Waring's defense, but it is acceptable at 3d base as best I can tell. If Waring were drafted, he might be able to come off the bench as a pinch hitter and back up Chris Johnson.
Jeremy Horst, Reds (LOOGY)
Jeremy Horst is a 24 year old lefthanded pitcher in the Reds' system. As indicated by quotes in this article, Horst realizes that he has to get LHBs out in order to make it to the big leagues, and he has concentrated on a style of pitching aimed at shutting down lefties. Horst has performed exceptionally well in 2010 with a 2.19 ERA in AA and a 2.51 ERA in AAA. His FIP is nearly the same as his ERA, which indicates that this isn't just good luck. Horst has a history of good strike out rates, low walk rates, and decent groundball rates. He looks like a good LOOGY candidate.
Geison Aquasviva, Dodgers (LOOGY)
The last Astros' Rule 5 success story was a lefthander out of the Dodgers' system. Why not again? The 23 year old Dominican has not pitched above A+, which is a negative factor for the Rule 5. But his 3.75 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League is quite good under the circumstances. He has a low HR rate and a good 1.7 K/BB rate. I don't know much more--other than a comment at True Blue Dodgers asserting that he is a better lefthand pitcher than Wesley Wright was when Wesley was picked in the Rule 5 draft.
Kasey Kiker, Rangers (LOOGY)
Kasey is a high risk candidate, but he could be worth a try out in spring training. Kiker was the Rangers' 2006 first round pick, drafted just behind Clayton Kershaw and ahead of Kyle Drabek. Heading into this season, Kiker was the 6th best prospect in a deep Rangers' system. However, Kiker had a poor year in 2010, with a 7+ ERA and 5.49 FIP in the Texas League. Kiker's K rate stayed strong (22%) in 2010, but his walk rate spiked above 4 per 9. His repertoire consists of a low 90's fastball, a change up, and a 70 mph curveball. Given that line, I might not be inclined to list him here, except that he performed well in the AFL, with a 2.33 ERA and a K/BB rate above 2. That would give me some comfort that his inflated walk rate in AA isn't due to a bad arm. As a pitcher who used to throw in the high 90's when he was drafted, Kiker could be a bounceback candidate.
Wilkins Arias, Yankees (LOOGY)
Do the Yankees just stockpile their pitchers as depth year after year? That seems to be the case for Arias, who keeps repeating AA with decent numbers, and now will be 30 years old next season. Arias throws in the mid-90's and posts a very good 10 K/9. His walk rate was average (8.9%) in 2009 and above average (11%) in 2010. One could imagine that his walk rate could become a problem against major league hitters. But the K/BB ratio looks good, with a 2.5 in 2010 and over 3 in 2009. Given his age, it may be possible that Arias becomes available as a minor league free agent if he isn't drafted.
Aneury Rodriguez, Rays (RHP)
This 22 year old righthander was acquired by the Rays in the Hammel trade. He is a starting pitcher, but might project to a bullpen project, perhaps becoming a swing man. He performed well for the Rays in AAA Durham, with a 3.80 ERA and 4.10 FIP. Considering that he was only 22 years old, that is quite good. His 19% K rate is decent, but not outstanding, and the same could be said for his 10% walk rate. Rodriguez's stock fell when his fastball velocity declined from the mid-90's when the Rays traded for him, to the low 90's now. Given his age, and the possibility of a velocity increase as a reliever, he may be good candidate for improvement.
Wayne Pelzer, Orioles (RHP)
Pelzer was the Orioles' prize when Tejada was traded to the Padres. That fact led to puzzlement when he was left unprotected. Baseball America recently ranked him as the Orioles' 6th best prospect. Pelzer throws hard, touching 97 as a starter. He has an unrefined slider which reportedly could be a plus pitch. Although he is somewhat raw now, if he is shifted to a bullpen role, it's not hard to project a late inning role in his future. The downside for keeping him on the major league roster is that his overall AA stats were not outstanding, with a split league AA ERA of 4.20/4.50 and a 3.85/4.73 FIP. His last 10 games with the Orioles' AA team showed improvement in his peripherals with a 22% K rate and a 7.8% walk rate. He was mostly used in a relief role by the Orioles, which provides some basis to believe that his performance will be better when he is used out of the bullpen. Pelzer also has shown good groundball rates, which enhances his chances of succeeding as a reliever in the majors.
Jason Rice, Red Sox (RHP)
This 24 year old pitcher throws in the mid-90's and compiled very good results out of the bullpen in A+ and AA. With ERAs of 2.45 and 2.80, respectively, outstanding K rates of 12.1 and 10.6, and a mid-90's fastball, he has the potential to be a late inning reliever. However, his control is sketchy, with walk rates in excess of 4 and 5 per 9. The control issue could become his fatal flaw if he were to pitch at the major league level right now. On the other hand, who knows if a major league pitching coach like Arnsberg might help improve his control.
Will the Astros Make A Rule 5 Choice?
As I alluded to earlier, it is not even clear that the Astros will use their Rule 5 draft pick this year. The Astros' 40 man roster has two open positions, after the recent removal of Tim Byrdak, Matt Nevarez Gustavo Chacin, and the addition of Carlos Corporan. Ed Wade has also hinted that the Astros have an interest in one or more free agent additions (like the "LH hitter" he has mentioned) later in the off-season. The two open positions could be aimed at Rule 5 pick ups. Or, if Wade envisions two subsequent free agent signings, it's possible that Wade has already decided that he won't be looking for help in the Rule 5 draft. In any event, if the Astros look at Rule 5 choices, they have to make a comparison of the Rule 5 candidate with Astros players on the 40 man, as well as the potential type of player they might seek later in free agency. If I were to guess, Wade probably has one space open in case a Rule 5 candidate that they like is available when the Astros selection comes up. That would leave an open slot on the 40 man for a free agent signing.
Despite the possibility that this whole exercise is for naught, I think the list above provides some interesting ideas. If I see any other good Rule 5 ideas, I'll pass them along in a later post. I looked at quite a few web sites, but I particularly give credit to Bucs Prospects and Bucs Dugout for providing good starting points.