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2013 Winter Meetings: Astros Rule 5 Draft Primer - Part 1

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A look at some of the more intriguing names available in the Rule 5 draft.

JD Martinez is available in the Rule 5 draft
JD Martinez is available in the Rule 5 draft

With all the signings and trades that occurred prior to this week's Winter Meetings, it's possible that the Rule 5 draft might be the highlight of the week for the Astros.

So what is the Rule 5 draft?

Well, it takes place on the final day of the Winter Meetings, Thursday December 12. The draft order is determined by the 2013 standings. Since, the Astros finished last in all of MLB they will have the first pick. They will be allowed to select from a pool of players who were either signed when they were 19 or older and have at least four years played in professional baseball or who were signed at 18 or younger and have played at least five years of professional baseball. Teams can protect players from the Rule 5 draft by placing them on the 40-man roster. Last month the Astros added Luis Cruz, Asher Wojciechowski, Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.

A team that selects a player from another team's minor league system will pay $50,000 for that player and must keep them on the 25-man major league roster for the entire season. If a team decides not to keep a player on the 25-man roster, the player is sent through waivers and if he passes through waivers unclaimed he will be offered back to his original team for $25,000.

Nate Freiman is an example of a Rule 5 selection who did not make the Astros 25-man roster out of Spring Training and was sent through the waiver process. He was claimed by the Oakland Athletics and kept on their roster the entire 2013 season. Teams will sometimes decline to have the player returned, in which case the team that selected that player can send him to the minor leagues. Teams can also try to work out a trade for that player. Willy Taveras was drafted by the Astros in the 2003 Rule 5 draft and then acquired from the Indians along with Luke Scott for Jeriome Robertson just before the season started.

Rule 5 From The Astros Perspective

The Astros are a sure bet to select at least one player in the Rule 5 draft. The expectation is that it will be a pitcher and likely one that can help in the bullpen. Previous pitcher selections by the Astros include Anuery Rodriguez, Josh Fields and Wesley Wright. Pitchers tend to be a lot easier to carry on a 25-man roster than a position player.

On the flip side of that, there is a pretty good chance that someone will be plucked out of the Astros farm system this year by another team. Notable names include: J.D. Martinez, Jake Buchanan, Carlos Perez and Rene Garcia.

Potential Rule 5 Selections

Below are potential Rule 5 selections from several of our staff writers:

Zack Thornton, 26, RHP:

This kid hasn't gotten much buzz among the TCB writers as some other names, but he's a guy who I think might actually be one of the most likely players to be selected by the team. If you value statistical results more than raw stuff, this, ladies and gentleman, is your guy. He split 2013 among Class A-Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A, and the numbers were eye-popping; 10.75 K/9, 1.43 BB/9, 51.8% GB%, 2.63 ERA, 2.06 FIP. You'll not find sexier numbers among this year's draft class, and that alone is enough to make you think of him as a guy who could immediately help out a Major League bullpen.

He only has one career minor league start, so that's what he is; a reliever. He also doesn't have the typical heat you want from your relievers, and he'll be turning 26-years-old on May 19, but of course, those "flaws" are likely the reasons he's available at all. And with that said, he's not totally a soft-tosser either; he sits low-90s and reportedly can hit 93 with some regularity, so it's not as though he's lobbing it up there like Barry Zito. His upper-70's slider is his strikeout weapon, and again, for a guy without great heat, he does indeed rack up strikeouts.

He also competes well against left-handed hitters with a solid change-up and his sinker. In fact, his career FIP against lefties is slightly better than against right-handers. He just looks rock-solid, and despite not having excellent raw stuff, he just screams "Jeff Luhnow-type" to me. He's my personal pick, and I wouldn't be at all shocked if he does end up our first pick on draft day. I highly doubt he'll still be on the board when our pick in the second round comes up. -Ashitaka

Boone Whiting, 24, RHP:

Whiting's profile is one we've seen a lot of; mediocre velocity, excellent command and poise and some solid off-speed stuff that have led to him putting up rock-solid numbers at the minor league level. He missed most of 2012 due to an injury, but he came back in time to slap around Arizona Fall League hitters (11.72 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 3.59 FIP) for twenty five innings. After six killer starts in Double-A to open 2013, he spent the remainder of the year in Triple-A, compiling an 8.43 K/9, 3.41 BB/9 and 3.84 FIP in 105.2 innings. It wasn't enough for him to be protected in one of baseball's deepest farm systems, and the Astros could be the beneficiary of that.

Info on him is scant, having been drafted and quickly buried in a farm system so deep you need to immediately impress in order to stay on the national radar, but those who have seen him have sent back only favorable reports; while his fastball tops out at a paltry 91 MPH, his change-up has been consistently raved about. The folks over at Viva El Birdos called it "a thing of beauty," and Kevin Goldstein himself stamped the "plus" label on it back when he was with Baseball Prospectus. He was also, of course, drafted by Jeff Luhnow, so the front office may well have a higher opinion of him than many others. He won't be turning 25 until late August of 2014, which is pretty good considering he missed a large part of 2012. Whiting appears to have a good balance of remaining upside and being someone with enough chops that you can keep him on a Major League roster all of next season without being embarrassed by him. -Ashitaka

Omar Luis, 21, LHP:

A lot of pitchers available in the Rule 5 draft each year are the safe ones; the guys with good command, large repertoires made up of mostly mediocre pitches. The guys who eat innings and keep teams in ballgames...boring! Let's get crazy. How about a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher who's entire professional career consists of less than 35 innings in the Gulf Coast League? Oh yeah, that's more like it. Due to Luis having his original contract voided after a physical, and signing a second contract with the Yankees, he's now Rule 5 eligible before even sniffing Class A baseball. Crazy enough of a pick?

Think about this; Luis is a man who the Yankees thought enough of to give him a $4 million signing bonus. Even after the undisclosed physical red flag, they still handed him a $2.5 million signing bonus, knowing they'd be exposing him to the Rule 5 and possibly immediately losing their investment. What does that say about the kid? Upside! He can already hit 95 MPH. A 21-year-old left-handed pitcher who's never had the benefit of professional coaching and conditioning that can hit 95 MPH. You want more? A slider and a change-up that already both look like they'll be average at worst in the future. Scouts have also praised his intangibles. Top it off with the high-level international competition he's already faced as a member of Cuba's national team, and its easy to dream. One quibble is that he has some funk in his mechanics, but those things are identifiable and fixable; it's the guys who can't find the strike zone without mechanical flaws that you have to really question their ability to improve. Make no mistake, it's a risky pick, about as risky as they come, but if the Astros can swallow hard and use a precious 25-man roster spot on him for the entire season, they could end up with an excellent, young pitching talent, the kind you simply never get for a mere fifty grand. -Ashitaka

Brody Colvin, 23, RHP:

Brody Colvin is a familiar name to many Astros fans as he was one of the names that floated around as a potential return piece in the Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence trades. Colvin's stock reached as high as top 100 status but the mighty sometimes fall. After going though some mechanical changes and some injuries over the past few seasons, he has lost his control/command and his velocity has dropped from the mid-90's to the low-90's. Last season was the worst season he's had and the reason he was left unprotected. He pitched 77 1/3 innings in AA Reading and posted a 6.40 ERA.

The peripherals don't make things look any better as he had a .281 BABIP and only 36 strikeouts while amassing 54 walks. Yeah, you read that right. A 10% strikeout rate and 15% walk rate won't get you far. Make no mistake, the arm strength and natural talent is there to be mid-rotation starter. However, the mechanical adjustments required to be successful in the majors are many and unlikely to be made during a spring. This would be the potential home run type pick, but the probability of him sticking is slim at best. - Brooks

Fred Lewis, 27, LHP:

Lewis is a 26 year old lefthanded reliever, going into his age 27 season, with good velocity and sink on his pitches. Lewis had TJ surgery in college, and might be a late bloomer. He had a very good 2013 campaign in the Yankees' farm system, moving through three levels, A+, AA, and AAA. His 2013 performance: 9.13 K/9, 3.84 BB/9, 2.61 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 60.2% GB. Lewis shows the ability to suppress home runs (0.46 HR/9), which would be important for a lefty pitcher in Minute Maid Park. The Yankees sent Lewis to the Arizona Fall League, where he excelled with 11 scoreless outings.

Lewis' fastball touches 96 mph, and the AFL pitch f/x data shows that he averaged 93 on both his fastball and sinker, consistently thrown low in the strike zone. He also throws a hard slider and a firm curveball; the Yankees want him to work on his change up, which (if successful) would turn him into a No. 5 starter candidate. Lewis is no LOOGY; in 2013, he was tougher on right-handed batters than left-handed batters, with a 25% K rate and .665 OPS against opposite side hitters. The Yankees have two other Rule 5 reliever candidates (Burawa and Kanhle) who throw harder, but Lewis is left-handed and may be more polished and, therefore, likely to stick on on a 25 man roster. -Clack

Buddy Baumann, 26, LHP:

Let's look at another left-handed relief pitcher. Left-handed relievers are exceptionally valuable at the major league level, and if you can get a productive lefty in the Rule 5 draft, you should go for it. Baumann was an extraordinarily productive relief pitcher for the Royals in AAA and AA. Baumann is not a hard thrower, his fastball is in the 88 - 92 range, but his pitches have good movement, making him a a legitimate swing and miss pitcher.Baumann had terrific strike out rates, with a K/9 of 12.2 in the PCL and 13.5 in the Texas League. Between AAA and AA, Baumann had a 2.38 ERA, a 3.12 FIP, a 2.83 SIERA, and a 25% swinging strike rate (more evidence of swing and miss stuff).

One reason that Baumann is not more highly rated as a prospect is his height, 5-11; However, Baumann says that he has used his height to his advantage, throwing at a 3/4 angle and utilizing deception through both his delivery and ability to hide the ball. Besides the fastball, Baumann also throws a sinking change up at 70 mph and a slider in the low 80's. As you might expect from the description of his delivery, Baumann is particularly effective against lefthanded batters. Against lefthanded batters, Baumann has a microscopic SIERA and FIP, 0.97 and 0.55. (Baumann actually has a negative SIERA against LHBs in AA-which is first time I have seen that.) LHBs had a 17.49 K/9 with a 36% swing and miss rate. Although Baumann is really tough on LHBs, he wasn't bad against RHBs, with a 3.86 SIERA and 9.75 K/9. The only weakness is a walk rate which is a little high (4.25). A Royals Review article suggested that the Royals' loaded bullpen prevented Baumann from getting to the big leagues last year. -Clack

Tomorrow we will have several more names for you to sift through.