The first and most important thing to keep in mind regarding the Rule 5 draft is that all of these players were left off of their teams' rosters for a reason. None of them are perfect talents with an unblemished track record of success. They're too short/fat/tall/thin, or young and green, or coming back from injuries, or they have holes in their skill sets. The trick to the draft is finding a player who has skills that you can use and limitations that you can correct or work around, in order to maximize his value to you.
Below the jump, I've offered profiles of a selection of what I consider to be the best players available in the 2011 Rule 5 draft. Not all of these players will be equally good fits in all situations, but I believe that each one could have a reasonable amount of value to someone, if handled properly.
[It's also important to note that this piece is written from a somewhat Pirates-centric perspective. Eligible players from the Pirates' system, either current (Brett Lorin, Diego Moreno) or past (Ryan Kelly, Ronald Uviedo) will not be covered, as they are already familiar to much of the intended audience. Similarly, players' entries will sometimes speculate about the role that player might fill on the 2012 Pirates roster. This information may not be as applicable for your own team or situation, so caveat emptor.]
Orangel Arenas, Angels, RHSP, 6'0", 200 lbs, DOB 3/31/89
2011 level: AA (Texas)
Orangel Arenas is a Venezuelan hurler, and one of the better young arms in the Angels' system. He may project best as a reliever in the long run, but he's been used as a starter in his career thus far, with reasonably good results. His fastball sits in the low 90s with occasional spikes higher, and it has above-average movement as well. His breaking ball is a slider that's average-to-plus, and he is working on a changeup, though it's not a quality pitch at this point. Arenas doesn't miss many bats, but the movement on his pitches leads to lots of ground balls, giving him Aaron Pribanic-like results. Arenas is sturdily built and seems to have good mechanics, though his official listing as six feet tall may be a touch on the generous side, at least to my eyes. To the best of my knowledge, his health record is clean.
Arenas's numbers in 2011 were solid but unexceptional - better than the raw line would lead you to believe, given the offensive context of the Texas League, but not dominant by any means. His first half numbers were strong, but the second half saw an increase in his ERA, hit rate, and home run rate, accompanied by a drop in his groundball rate, culminating in a 7.16 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in September. The numbers suggest that he may have become fatigued and started leaving more balls up in the zone, with unfortunate results. I've seen some opinions that Arenas's stuff might play up if he were shifted to a relief role, and I think that's a plausible theory. He might be able to make at least a minimal contribution in a low-leverage role for a 2012 bullpen, and then show further improvement as he ages and gains experience. In the longer term, he still has promise as a starter. Coming into 2011, BA ranked him as the #19 prospect in a fairly deep Angels system, and he was named to the Texas League mid-season All-Star team.
Jon Bachanov, White Sox, RHRP, 6'4", 230 lbs, DOB 1/30/89
2011 level: R (Pioneer) and A (South Atlantic)
In recent years, more than one team has converted a failed Angels pitching prospect into a useful bullpen piece, with Bobby Jenks, Derrick Turnbow, and Joel Peralta among the success stories. Could Bachanov be the next iteration of this strategy? Los Angeles (of Anaheim) chose him in the first supplemental round of the 2007 draft. The son of first-generation Russian immigrants, he had provoked considerable debate among scouts, with some loving his sturdy build and arm strength, but others expressing discomfort about his mechanics and his mercenary inclinations - among other things, he had a "countdown 'til I get paid" on his MySpace page. He "got paid" to the tune of $553,300, but in between the time it took him to sign and report for game action, his throwing elbow fell apart. The resulting Tommy John surgery wiped out all of his 2007 and 2008. He came back strong in 2009, posting a 52/5 K/BB in 32 innings of Rookie-level action, but started feeling elbow pain again in 2010, and managed only eighteen marginal games in the Midwest League before going on the disabled list in May. Those eighteen games were his last in the Los Angeles (of Anaheim) organization, as he was released before the 2011 season. He signed with the White Sox in May and has gradually re-emerged as a prospect. Initially working out of the bullpen and then transitioning to the rotation as his stamina improved, he breezed through four Rookie-level games and then posted a 3.12 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in seven starts and seven relief appearances in full-season ball.
I haven't been able to get any hard intel on the quality of Bachanov's stuff in his comeback this year, though his low hit rate (7.4 per nine innings) suggests that he wasn't just throwing meatballs. Before the injury, his fastball touched 95/96 with good movement, his slurvy breaking ball was also regarded as a potential plus pitch, and he was working on a changeup that was seen as having some degree of promise. Similarly, I haven't been able to figure out whether Chicago altered his arm-cracking mechanics into something more sustainable. In fact, the most recent film on Bachanov that I could locate is this pre-draft video of him in high school from all the way back in 2007. To top things off, he isn't playing winter ball anywhere - an understandable precaution for a pitcher with his history of arm troubles, but a frustrating circumstance for someone in my position. As such, I really don't know whether or not I can recommend him as a pick. I just hope that the Pirates had a good scout make a road trip through Kannapolis once or twice, so they can make a more informed decision.
Pedro Baez, Dodgers, 3B, R/R, 6'2", 195 lbs, DOB 3/11/88
2011 level: AA (Southern)
A highly-touted but disappointing third baseman named Pedro? Sure, I don't see anything that could go wrong with that plan...
Pedro Baez probably has one of the highest ratios of tools-to-performance of all the prospects available in this year's draft. Never has he delivered an offensive season that could be fairly described any more favorably than "OK, I guess," yet he's already played in the Futures Game twice and his name is a perennial feature on BA's list of the best tools in the Dodgers' system. In the hot-off-the-presses 2012 list, for example, he's credited as being the Dodgers' Best Defensive Infielder and having their Best Infield Arm. He also has well-above-average raw power, but it's sabotaged by poor pitch recognition and a tendency to swing through balls. As if that wasn't enough of a problem, he's been sidelined by serious injuries in each of the last three years: Knee surgery in 2009, a dislocated (non-throwing) shoulder in 2010, and another dislocation of the same shoulder in 2011.
I think that the odds of Baez being able to make a useful contribution in the majors leagues in 2012 are extremely low, given the flaws in his approach and his lack of polish. His fielding might allow a team to carry him as an infield backup, though it wouldn't be pretty. I'm including him here purely because as with any player with his kind of tools, there's at least that slight chance that one scout or instructor will be able to break through and allow Baez to make a great leap forward and become what people always hoped he'd be. Middle relievers and utility infielders have their place in the scheme of things, but they ultimately aren't all that valuable. Baez is one of the few players in this year's draft class with legitimate star potential, and I'm listing him here in recognition of that fact.
Pedro Baez hitting in 2011.
Nick Barnese, (Devil) Rays, RHSP, 6'2", 170 lbs, DOB 1/11/89
2011 level: AA (Southern)
In my last two years' worth of Rule 5 previews, I mentioned (Devil) Rays pitcher Aneury Rodriguez as one of the better available options. This year, they have a pitcher of comparable status available in Nick Barnese. He isn't hugely flashy in any way - just broadly competent in most phases of the game. He's got a low 90s fastball that goes up to 94 on occasion, a good changeup, and an improving slider. The former third-round pick strikes out about seven batters per nine, keeps the ball down reasonably well, and (with the exception of 2011) does a fair job of minimizing the number of free passes he allows. He's been in the low double digits on most lists of Tampa's prospects over the last couple of years, not gaining any real ground but not losing any, either. Medicals are a bit of a worry. He's missed a fair bit of time with nagging injuries over the course of his career, including several bouts of shoulder pain, limiting him to 122 1/3 IP in even his most durable season. That said, he's never actually had surgery on the joint, so it could just be a lot of smoke with no actual fire at the source. Barnese isn't quite ready to work in a major league rotation, but could probably hold his own as a midlle or long man in 2012, and then go forward from there. I've seen sources that describe him as a potential #3 starter, and while I think that's a bit optimistic, I also think he could have a nice long career as a #4 if things turn out well for him.
Nick Barnese in 2011 (starting at around 1:01).
Rob Bryson, Indians, RHRP, 6'1", 200 lbs, DOB 12/11/87
2011 level: A (Midwest), A+ (Carolina), and AA (Eastern)
One of the hardest parts of writing this preview is determining the eligibility of players of interest. The rules on signing dates can confuse even the most dedicated pedant. Consider, for example, the diffuse cloud of online debate about the eligibility of Dodgers pitcher Ethan Martin, who escapes the clutches of the draft by one day, having been born on June 6, 1989 rather than June 5 (unless I got crossed up on the rules - which is exactly the point I'm trying to make). I bring this up in Bryson's capsule because he's part of a dying breed: the draft-and-follow player. In 2006, the year Bryson was drafted, the signing deadline for draft picks worked differently than it does now. High school players who were committed to a community college could play their entire CC season and then sign up until one week before the following year's draft. Thus, Bryson, who was a 31st-round pick by the Brewers out of a Delaware high school in 2006, could spend a year playing for Seminole CC in Florida, show an improved fastball, and then sign with the Brewers for $300,000 in late May of 2007. That 2006/2007 class of draft-and-follows, which also included Mat Latos, Jordan Walden, and Rudy Owens, is the last of its kind, and while a part of me is sad to see it go, I'm also kind of relieved that I won't have to worry about screwing up my dates anymore.
Where was I? Oh, yeah - Bryson. He's a fastball/slider reliever who's also working on a changeup. The fastball has good movement and touches the mid 90s, while the slider made significant strides this season and is probably now a workable pitch for MLB. The changeup is mostly a tool to keep him competitive against left-handed batters. Bryson misses a bunch of bats (career 11.9 K/9), and I believe that he could hold his own in a MLB pen next year, though I wouldn't pencil him into a high-leverage role at the start. The Indians had picked him up from the Brewers as one of four players in the CC Sabathia trade, and it was something of a surprise that he was left off their 40-man roster. His health record probably played into that decision. It throws up a few red flags, but none that should pose significant roadblocks to future success. He had shoulder surgery over the 2008/2009 offseason, with work being done on both his labrum and rotator cuff, but his performance since then should ease any concerns about the health of his arm. He also missed the start of the 2011 season with a broken ankle after stepping in a hole while doing conditioning runs - that's unfortunate, but not really a problem that signifies any sort of underlying issue. He's currently playing winter ball in the VWL, but as of this writing has only been used in 8 2/3 innings.
Rob Bryson in 2011. There's more footage of him on YouTube from 2009, if you're interested in a more extended view.
Cesar Cabral, Red Sox, LHRP, 6'3", 175 lbs, DOB 2/11/89
2011 level: A+ (Carolina) and AA (Eastern)
Cabral's name may sound familiar to you, as the (Devil) Rays took him in the 2010 Rule 5 draft. At that time, he struck me as a talented pitcher who had simply been taken too early in his career to make the adjustment to MLB. With another successful year under his belt, including some time at AA, I think he might finally be ready to make the jump.
Cabral's fastball can get up to 92 or 93 at times, as part of a nice four-pitch mix that also includes an above-average circle change, a solid slider, and a slower curveball. He misses a fair number of bats, with an 11.5 K/9 last year, and he's also good at keeping the ball down and strong enough to make multi-inning appearances. He really doesn't have anywhere to go in Boston, and could be a bullpen lefty for a team in need this year.
Danny Carroll, Mariners, LF/RF, R/R, 6’1", 175 lbs, DOB 1/6/89
2011 level: A+ (California)
Carroll is a player of significant strengths and significant weaknesses. Originally a third-round high school pick from California, he had struggled in prior seasons to put his tools package to full use. First and foremost, Carroll is one of the minors' top base thieves, with 62 steals in 78 attempts last season. As you might expect, he's an above-average runner, with good bunting ability and the speed to beat out infield hits. He also has a strong arm throwing arm. Carroll lacks true center field instincts, though he has spent a fair bit of time at the position in the past, and probably projects best as a corner outfielder in the majors. The main hole in Carroll's game is his lack of contact ability. He struck out 157 times last year, the fourth-highest total in the Cal League and a somewhat alarming total for a player without big-time power. Those looking for an encouraging sign in his management of the strike zone, however, can point to a fairly dramatic improvement in his walk rate. In 2008, for example, Carroll had only 19 walks (and 101 strikeouts) in 362 plate appearances, but last year, he ranked second in his league with 88 walks.
Carroll's 2011 home park makes it extremely difficult to evaluate the value of his offensive breakout last season, as High Desert is one of the three or four best hitters' parks in the entire affiliated minors. Last year, the Mavericks as a team batted .279/.348/.450. In that light, how many of Carroll's 18 home runs would have gone over the wall in a more neutral setting? Did the lack of break on breaking balls at altitude contribute to the big bounce in his walk rate? Would it be even more difficult for him to adapt to MLB than an average player of his experience, given the adaptations any player makes when playing in such an extreme environment? Carroll's health is also a complicating factor in any analysis, as he as sustained numerous injuries over the years, most notably a broken thumb on a HBP that contributed to his struggles in 2008 and 2009. His wife has even expressed the wish that he could play inside a plastic bubble, in order to have a better chance of staying healthy. Has he just been the victim of some bad luck, or will his high-energy style inevitably end up forcing him to play at less than 100%? I don't know. Carroll may or may not be a successful major league player, but if he's chosen in the draft, the only thing I can guarantee is that learning the answer to these kinds of questions will be a fascinating experience.
Matt Clark, Padres, 1B/LF, L/R, 6'5", 215 lbs, DOB 12/10/86
2011 Level: AAA (Pacific Coast)
First basemen are rarely taken in the Rule 5 draft, but Matt Clark may be one of the rare exceptions. He has good bloodlines, as the son of former ML pitcher Terry Clark. For the Pirates, the younger Clark would represent a second chance to grab the "one that got away", as the Littlefield-era front office had selected him in the 28th round of the 2007 draft, out of Riverside CC in California (by way of UC Santa Barbara, which he had left because he was unsatisfied with the amount of playing time he was receiving). He had entered that draft as BA's #193 prospect, but slipped on concerns about signability, and rather than turning pro at that time, he transferred to LSU. That decision proved to be a good one for Clark, as he tied Gordon Beckham for the NCAA lead with 28 HR, propelling the Tigers to a berth in the College World Series and improving his draft position to the 12th round that July.
As a pro, Clark's best tool continues to be his power. He has 24, 28, and 23 home runs in his three full seasons in the minors, and a career ISO of .212. Even though he's generally played in good offensive environments, those are still impressive numbers. Contact has been an issue for him going back to his amateur days, but he actually made some strides in that area last year, improving from a 47/146 BB/K in 499 AB in 2010 to a 58/116 BB/K in 462 AB last year. He's not much of a runner, and as a pro he was moved from third base to first due to limited mobility. He did spend some time in left field last year, as a way of trying to work around the Padres' logjam at first base, but it's a stretch for him. He does have a strong arm, which would make him a bit easier to hide in RF at PNC Park, if we ended up needing to use him there. There has been some speculation this offseason that the Pirates might trade or non-tender Garrett Jones, and if they do, Clark could be a quality replacement.
Tyler Cloyd, Phillies, RHSP, 6'3", 190 lbs, DOB 5/16/87
2011 Level: A+ (Florida State) and AA (Eastern)
Cloyd has had an unusual path to professional baseball. As a youth he was, by his own admission, much more interested in pitching than in academic pursuits. He played his high school ball in Nebraska, and earned a spot on the pitching staff of D-II University of Nebraska - Omaha, where he dominated right from the start, earning honors as the conference's Pitcher of the Year in both his freshman and sophomore seasons and leading his school to the Division II College World Series. That success turned to ashes, however, when he stopped going to class, lost his spot on the team as a result of his academic problems, and dropped out of school. He then got a job as a groundskeeper for his high school's district and started taking night classes at a local community college, before local scout and former major league pitcher Dan McGinn organized a private workout on his behalf for several major league clubs. The Phillies liked what they saw, and selected him in the 18th round of that year's draft.
Cloyd was not seen as a top prospect, for understandable reasons. After respectable showings in 2008 and 2009, he was moved to the bullpen in 2010, and seemed to be establishing himself as an organizational player. He was thrust back into the rotation in 2011, however, and made the most of his opportunity, dominating the FSL and then carrying that success over to AA following an in-season promotion. Cloyd's fastball is only average, but he has a good slider and changeup, and he excels at throwing strikes and hitting his spots. For the year as a whole, he posted a 2.77 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and a K/BB of greater than 6/1. He then finished the year off with a successful stint in the AFL: a 4.35 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 27/7 K/BB in 31 IP in a very offense-friendly environment. Cloyd's ultimate ceiling is uncertain, but his advanced approach could help him make a smooth transition to a major league staff in 2012.
Tyler Cloyd in 2009 (by Ted Kerwin).
Rhiner Cruz, Mets, RHRP, 6'2", 205 lbs, DOB 11/1/86
2011 Level: A+ (Florida State) and AA (Eastern)
The lure of something fast, cheap, and out of control can be difficult to resist. Every year, a few hard-throwing relievers with poor command get taken in the Rule 5 draft, and Rhiner Cruz is one of the better specimens of the type in this year's draft class. A Dominican, he originally signed with the Tigers, the same team that at that time employed his older brother Jose Cruz. Rhiner Cruz experienced elbow pain while there, however, and after two undistinguished seasons, Detroit cut him loose. Fortunately for Cruz, he caught the eye of the Mets' Latin American scouting director, who gave him a second chance, and he's been throwing heat for various Mets affiliates ever since.
Cruz's defining attribute is his fastball. In 2011, it regularly sat around 95 with good movement, and often snuck into the high 90s, though it tended to flatten out at higher speeds. He complements it with a slurvy slider, which isn't exceptional but should be at least a workable secondary offering. The biggest obstacle Cruz faces is a lack of command. He struggles to keep his pitches inside the zone, and his ability to throw strikes can vary dramatically from day-to-day. In 2011 as a whole, he walked 5.7 batters per nine innings, with nearly as many walks allowed (47) as hits (52). That kind of command will be a serious obstacle for him when he faces MLB-caliber hitters. Still, Cruz's kind of pure heat doesn't grow on trees, and a team that's lucky and/or skilled enough to address his command and control issues would have the advantage of an inexpensive hammer for the back of their bullpen somewhere down the road.
Drew Cumberland, Padres, 2B/SS, 5'10", 175 lbs, DOB 1/13/89
2011 level: None
McCutchenIsTheTruth wrote a FanPost about Cumberland as a possible Rule 5 pick a day or two ago, and there's a good case to be made for the Padres' infielder. Cumberland was a sandwich round pick out of a Florida high school as a two-sport star (football) in 2007, and he signed for $661,500. At the time, he graded as a 70 runner, and he drew comparisons to Brian Roberts. He hits for average, as you'd expect for a left-handed hitter with speed and contact ability. He also showed signs of developing power in 2010, with 29 extra-base hits in half a season of playing time. Defensively, he's spent most of his pro career at short, but he probably profiles better as a second baseman, because in spite of good hands and range his throwing is inaccurate and his arm strength isn't great, either.
Cumberland missed all of 2011 after inner ear problems (a condition called bilateral vestibulopathy) led to headaches, vertigo, and sensitivity to light. A new treatment has largely addressed those symptoms, and he recently received clearance to resume play in 2012. There are other medical concerns with Cumberland as well. He has also missed a significant amount of time with knee, oblique, finger, and hand injuries. He's a high-energy player, and he tends to play a little bit out of control, and one thing leads to another. It's not a given that he'll be able to hold up as a full-time starter. Still, his potential may be too much for teams to ignore in this year's draft.
Terry Doyle, White Sox, RHSP, 6'4", 225 lbs, DOB 11/2/85
2011 level: A+ (Carolina) and AA (Southern)
If Pedro Baez is the scoutiest player on this list, Terry Doyle is his polar opposite. Doyle was Boston College's ace in 2006, and he co-earned Pitcher of the Year honors in the Cape Cod League that fall, but his velocity dropped off to the mid-80s in 2007 and he wasn't picked until the 21st round. He went back to school for his senior year, put up a 6.96 ERA, and signed with the White Sox as an undistinguished 37th-rounder. He threw a lot of strikes, worked as a substitute math teacher in the offseason to make ends meet, and kept his baseball dream alive through 2011, when a solid performance as an older player in A+ and AA earned him one of Chicago's slots in the Arizona Fall League. Doyle packed his bags, reported to the Mesa Solar Sox, and immediately started mowing guys down, opening a few eyes in the process. He put up a 1.98 ERA, a 0.61 WHIP (which led the league), and a 22/5 K/BB in eight starts in that notoriously hitter-friendly environment. That earned him a spot in the AFL's "Rising Stars" game, where he pitched a scoreless inning. (You may recall that as the same game where Gerrit Cole coughed up five runs while getting only two outs.)
Doyle is pure pitchability all the way. His fastball just barely pokes its nose up above 90 MPH, and it's accompanied by a slider, curve, and changeup. His recipe for AFL success was simple and time-tested: Work quickly, change speeds, and throw strikes. He doesn't look like a future star, but he's durable (168 1/3 IP in 2010 and 173 last year, not counting his AFL performance) and competitive and could probably be reasonably expected to compete for a fifth starter's job in the spring. I'm not convinced that he has what it takes to make it in the majors, but I wouldn't want to bet against him with the run he's on right now. That's an inclination that Keith Law evidently doesn't share... which may only make some people here like Doyle even more.
Doyle in 2011. This is mostly an interview, but there's a little film of him pitching interspersed as well.
Gorman Erickson, Dodgers, C, B/R, 6'4", 220 lbs, DOB 3/11/88
2011 level: A+ (California) and AA (Southern)
Managers are often reluctant to entrust their pitching staff to a rookie signal-caller, but Erickson has a solid all-around game that could give him a chance to emerge as a ML backup in 2012. The son of former minor league catcher Chuck Erickson, Gorman was chosen out of a San Diego high school in 2006, and he signed for $35,000 as part of the same draft-and-follow class as Rob Bryson (mentioned earlier in this piece). He served as a backup for his first two years, but emerged as a prospect with a strong offensive showing in rookie ball in 2009. He struggled offensively in 2010, but bounced back in 2011, showing doubles power, contact ability, and plate discipline (the latter just described as the best in the Dodgers' system by BA). His ability to switch hit is also an attractive quality, and a rare one among catchers. On the defensive side of the ball, he has made a large amount of progress in a short period of time, as he only started catching during his junior year of high school.
Ryan Flaherty, Cubs, 2B/3B/OF, L/R, 6'3", 220 lbs, DOB 7/27/86
2011 level: AA (Southern) and AAA (Pacific Coast)
The son of Ed Flaherty, coach of the University of Southern Maine and two-time winner of the D-III College World Series, Ryan Flaherty enjoyed an amateur career of unusual accomplishment. Gatorade named him their High School Player of the Year for the state of Maine, and he parlayed that recognition into a scholarship at Vanderbilt, where he was the starting shortstop and cleanup hitter behind Pedro Alvarez. At Vanderbilt, he set a school record with a 35-game hitting streak. He also started at second base for Team USA at the 2007 Pan American Games, earning a silver medal. The Cubs chose him with a sandwich pick at #41 overall in 2008, using a compensatory selection they had received for losing Jason Kendall as a free agent, and he signed in exchange for a $1.5M bonus.
As a professional, Flaherty has shown a broad base of offensive skills. He hits for a solid average, displays doubles power, maintains a respectable walk rate, and has never posted 100+ Ks in a season. In 2011, he started the year at AA and posted a .305/.384/.523 batting line, earning a slot as a mid-season All-Star and a promotion to Iowa. At AAA, he faced a stiffer challenge, putting up a .237/.277/.399 batting line in 49 games at that level, though he showed steady improvement throughout his time there. The defensive side of the game is a more enduring challenge for Flaherty. He was moved off of shortstop for good last year, and spent substantial portions of the season at second base, third base, and in the outfield corners. The scouting consensus is that his game is best suited to third base, though he needs to improve the consistency of his defensive execution there, as he is still prone to careless errors. Flaherty is ML-ready (or nearly so), and could be a valuable bench bat and backup at several positions in 2012, with the potential for further improvement down the road.
Jonathan Galvez, Padres, 2B, 6'2", 175 lbs, DOB 1/18/91
2011 level: A+ (California)
Thr three groups of players who are most often selected in the Rule 5 draft are hard-throwing relievers, athletic center fielders, and young middle infielders. Galvez is a member of the third group. The Padres signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 for $750,000, and he quickly began attracting attention with his bat. He shows a broad base of offensive skills: speed, on-base ability, and line drive power with the potential for more. Defense is more of a question. He was signed as a shortstop, but moved to second base in 2011, and that may not be the last move he makes. In spite of his athleticism, he's not very fluid for a middle infielder, and his hands aren't great, either. He also has some physical projection remaining, and depending on how his body fills out, he might end up as a better fit at third base or in the outfield - though of course, the offensive requirements for those positions would leave less room for error in his offensive development.
Taking a player as young as Galvez is a tricky proposition. Most utility infielders are bad enough hitters that the cost to the team of carrying a player like him isn't a big sacrifice, but asking a 20-year-old to make the jump to the majors is a tall order. You can really screw up a player's development by throwing him into a situation that he can't handle, but you can screw it up equally badly in a totally different way by keeping him hidden all year and putting a lost season on his record. Along with the practical aspects of the decision, there are ethical considerations in play here as well.
Steve Geltz, Angels, RHRP, 5'10", 170 lbs, DOB 11/1/87
2011 level: AA (Texas) and AAA (Pacific Coast)
The Angels have a fair bit of RP talent available in the draft this year. There's Robert Fish, a lefty with a mid-90s fastball who was picked by the Yankees in the R5 draft and then claimed on waivers by the Royals when the Yankees initially tried to return him. There's Chris Scholl, 5'11" righty swingman who put up a 2.32 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in the hitter-friendly Texas League. But the one who interests me the most is Steve Geltz. In 65 1/3 innings at AA Arkansas over the last two years, Geltz has put up 103 Ks and only allowed 40 hits. That's a 14.2 K/9 and a 5.5 H/9: a seriously harsh stat line, and one that only becomes more impressive once you know Geltz's background. In college, he was the closer for the University of Buffalo, but scouts rarely consider right-handed pitchers of his size as potential prospects. As such, he went un-picked throughout all 50 rounds of the draft. Geltz was able to earn a spot in a fall showcase, the wood bat New England Collegiate Baseball League, and there his pitching attracted the attention of Angels area scout Greg Mohardt, who signed him as a non-drafted free agent.
Geltz's fastball is generally between 91-94 with plenty of movement. He also throws a good slider and a split-finger fastball that he uses like a changeup. He also has a surprising stamina for a small reliever, often working multi-inning stints. If this is sounding too good to be true, there are a few warts on his profile as well. First among these is his flyball tendencies. Last year at Arkansas, Geltz had an incredible 0.24 GO/AO split, and while that number wasn't as low for him in past seasons, it's always been tilted in favor of balls in the air. This is of particular concern because Arkansas's home park tends to suppress home runs, partially masking Geltz's main weakness. He also received a substantial disciplinary suspension last year, covering approximately a month. No official explanation was ever released, though one would think it must have been a fairly serious offense to merit that kind of punishment.
In spite of these flaws, I think that Geltz is worthy of consideration for a slot in the Rule 5 draft. He would probably fit best on a team like San Diego or Oakland, whose stadium would hold his mistakes and allow him to focus on what he does best: missing bats.
Marwin Gonzalez, Cubs, SS, B/R, 6'1", 186 lbs, DOB 3/14/89
2011 Level: AA (Southern) and AAA (Pacific Coast)
Teams usually guard their young shortstops this time of year like dragons sitting on heaps of Krugerrands, which is why it's so surprising that the Cubs decided to leave Marwin Gonzalez unprotected. Between Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, D.J. LeMahieu, Junior Lake, and Josh Vitters, Chicago does have a decent crop of young infielders in the majors and upper minors, and they may feel that this depth gives them the luxury of being able to risk second-tier options like Franklin and Gonzalez.
After a relatively undistinguished minor league career with the bat, the Venezuelan Gonzalez took a step forward offensively in 2011, displaying mastery of AA and then holding his own at AAA following a promotion. He's a good contact hitter and a decent runner, and in 2011 he added doubles power to the offensive mix, putting up a .288/.343/.400 batting line in time split roughly evenly between the two upper levels of the minors. Before the promotion, he was named to the Southern League mid-season All-Star team this year. Gonzalez picked up where the regular season left off this winter, and is currently batting .333 in the VWL. Opinions differ on his defense, though he should have enough glove to stick at short. He comes from a strong baseball family, as both his father (Mario) and brother (also named Mario) are scouts for MLB clubs. The total package might not ever stand up under everyday duty, but Gonzalez seems eminently qualified to be someone's utility infielder in 2012, and with his youth and the improvement he showed last year, who knows what the future might hold for him?
Erik Komatsu, Nationals, OF, L/L, 5'10", 175 lbs, DOB 10/1/87
2011 level: AA (Southern, then Eastern)
In a way, it would make sense for Komatsu to end up as a Pirate, as he's cut from the same kind of cloth as players like Nate McLouth and Alex Presley. A high school teammate of Delmon Young who was drafted as a college player out of Cal State Fullerton, the Brewers' 2010 Minor League Player of the Year has spent most of his professional career in center field, but scouts think that he's stretched defensively at the position, and he's also regarded as a bit too small for an outfield corner. Offensively, he's a left-handed batter with doubles power, walks, good contact ability, and slightly above-average speed enhanced by aggression and sound technique. Sound familiar? Like those two outfielders, Komatsu also flew under the radar for the first few years of his minor league career. In his case, it was due to injuries: He missed but 26 games' worth of the 2009 season as a result of a broken wrist, two pulled hamstrings, and a concussion (which were not, fortunately, all sustained at the same time). He emerged with a top performance in 2010, the Brewers cashed him in last year in a trade for Jerry Hairston Jr., at the trade deadline, and a slow hundred-or-so AB in the Nats' system convinced them to leave him off their 40-man roster this offseason.
McLouth developed into an All-Star before his game collapsed, and Presley made an impressive audition for the Pirates' right field job in the seocnd half of last season. Can Komatsu follow in their footsteps, and if he can't, does that matter? A good left-handed fourth outfielder to use against right-handed pitchers isn't a bad consolation prize. Komatsu's skill package doesn't mesh particularly well with the current Pirates roster, but you never say no to talent, and even if they don't take him, it's fairly likely that another team will.
Braulio Lara, (Devil) Rays, LHRP, 6'1", 180 lbs, DOB 12/20/88.
2011 level: A (Midwest)
Our second and final (Devil) Ray on today's list, Lara is very different from the first, Nick Barnese. Where Barnese is a quietly competent righty, Lara is more of a flash-and-thunder type, and a lefty to boot. He works in the mid 90s with two- and four-seam fastballs, along with a slow curve and change that both have their moments, but generally are in need of more work. He's been used out of the rotation up until now in an effort to get him innings, but I think he's a bullpen guy in the long run, so I've listed him as such in the header. Lara has the heat to miss bats, but his results in the low minors last year speak for themselves: 4.94 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 4.1 BB/9. The video clip below, from the 2010 Appalachian League playoffs, shows an awful lot of Lara running to cover third while guys circle the bases, and also thoughtfully includes a wild pitch at 1:09. If guys in Rookie ball can poke that many holes below his waterline, he's definitely going to need a bigger boat against MLB competition. Still, lefties with his kind of heat are rare - there's a reason we were willing to carry Donald Veal as a bench ornament in 2009. If we could get Lara through a full season, he'd be very interesting raw material for the player development staff to work with.
Braulio Lara in 2010 (starting around 0:18).
T.J. McFarland, Indians, LHSP/RP, 6'3", 209 lbs, DOB 6/8/89
2011 level: A+ (Carolina) and AA (Eastern)
When I want to know something about the Indians' farm system, my information source of first resort is always Tony@IPI. Tony was shocked that Cleveland didn't protect McFarland, and honestly, I'm pretty surprised myself. There's always going to be a job in baseball for a lefty who keeps the ball down, and McFarland fits that archetype to a "T". He's got a low-90s sinker that's really a thing of beauty. It just looks and feels incredibly heavy coming out of his hand (watch below), and the results certainly agree: The lowest GO/AO rate of his career is a 2.17 in 2009, and he set a career high with a 2.49 last year. McFarland also has a workable slider and a changeup that's behind but progressing. He spent all but two starts in 2011 at AA and put up solid numbers, then held his own in the hitter's paradise that is the AFL, with a 3.18 ERA and only one HR allowed in 28 1/3 innings for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
McFarland does have some history of arm problems in his background. He experienced elbow pain as a high school junior, and the initial diagnosis suggested a torn UCL. McFarland got a second opinion, which said that it was just tendinitis, and after resting the remainder of the season he came back strong as a senior. BA saw him as a second- or third-round talent, and the Indians (who had forfeited both their second- and third-round picks that year) took him in the fourth and paid him an above-slot $285,000 to sign. A recurrence of the elbow pain led them to take a cautious approach with his development, shelving him for the remainder of 2007, but it worked and he's been clean ever since. McFarland may be able to stick as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but I think that he'd work best in 2012 as a reliever. With only Tony Watson as the only reliable LHRP currently on the Pirates' 40-man roster, McFarland could be a nice fit as the second lefty in next year's pen.
Brad Meyers, Nationals, RHSP, 6'6", 195 lbs, DOB 9/13/85
2011 level: A- (New York-Penn), AA (Eastern), and AAA (International)
Most potential Rule 5 picks can be placed along a continuum, with high ceiling at one end and high ML-readiness on the other. Myers is decidedly on the ML-readiness end of the scale. He was regarded as a potential sandwich-round talent coming out of high school, but elected to go to Loyola Marymount instead. When he came out of college, his stock had dropped, as he didn't experience the sort of velocity gains that scouts had predicted. He went to the Nats in the fifth round, and has remained pretty much the same pitcher ever since. His fastball sits a hair under 90, with the occasional bump up to 92, and he also has an average change and slider, and I've read some things about him working on a cut fastball last year as well. He won't turn many heads with his pure stuff, but he throws strikes and commands his pitches well, and he's basically ready for a spot at the back of a ML rotation right now.
The main concern with Meyers, other than his lack of ceiling, is medical. He suffered a stress fracture while running in 2009 that cost him the latter part of that season, had surgery that winter to install pins in the fractured foot, missed the start of 2010 recovering from the surgery, and then lost the end of that season after developed a stress reaction requiring the removal of the pins, which were then replaced with different, longer ones in yet another surgery. He also missed all of last July with an injury, though I haven't been able to determine exactly what was wrong with him. Still, it seems likely that a pitching-needy team will look to Meyers at some point this draft - according to his agent, at least two have already expressed interest in him.
Meyers in 2009 (embedding disabled).
Alexander Perez, Indians, RHSP, 6'2", 156 lbs, DOB 7/24/89
2011 level: None
Let's get this out of the way right up front: Perez has only thrown 6 2/3 innings in the minors over the last two years. He had Tommy John surgery in May of 2010, and was on the shelf until this middle of this year. He started throwing side sessions at midseason this year, to build up his strength, and he's working in games in the Advanced Instructional League right now. But as far as real games with box scores in the paper are concerned, we're talking about 2009, pretty much.
Before the injury, Perez's fastball sat around 90 with good sink, and his slender build suggested that there might be more velocity coming as he filled out. He also had an above-average curve and change as complementary offerings. His command was good, but command typically doesn't come back for about six months after velocity does following TJ, so it might be prudent to expect him to be a little wild in the spring. He'll probably need to be on a significant workload restriction in 2012, but since he'd be used out of the bullpen in low-leverage situations if drafted, that shouldn't be too tricky.
On paper, Perez doesn't look like a guy who should be drafted, but there's just something about this kid that I like. I'm not a real scout with real scout's instincts, but I think that the whole here is more than the sum of its parts, and that he could be a solid part of a ML rotation in about three years.
Tommy Pham, Cardinals, CF, R/R, 6'1", 175 lbs, DOB 3/8/88
2011 level: AA (Texas)
It's extremely difficult to know what to make of Pham, and it's been that way for years. He was a highly touted two-way prospect in Nevada during his high school days, pitching and playing shortstop. There was significant interest in drafting him as a pitcher, but he made it clear that he wanted to hit, and the Cardinals respected his wishes. They took him in the 16th round and signed him for an above-slot bonus of $325,000. Back then, he ran a 6.7 60-yard dash, and his bat was seen as his ticket to the majors. Even if he didn't stick at short, the Cardinals figured, he'd hit enough to have good value as a third baseman. As it turned out, ground balls moved him off of shortstop and into center field by the end of his first year in rookie ball (22 errors in only 37 games), and he was unable to break a .700 OPS in any of his first four pro seasons, with a .232/.313/.378 line and a K in a little over 30% of his at-bats in 2009 serving as his best offensive performance of the bunch. There were serious discussions about trying a last-ditch conversion to the mound in the hopes of salvaging the team's investment, and then in 2010, Pham almost miraculously turned a corner and started crushing the ball. What happened?
It turned out that Pham had been playing for several years with an eye condition called keratocornus, in which the cornea thins and stretches the eye into a conical shape, with predictably disastrous effects on vision. Pham wasn't aware that his vision was changing, or that he was no longer seeing the ball as well as he once had. Now, he wears special contact lenses to bring his eyesight back up to par, and he's able to return to being the player he should have been all along. That player has above-average power and above-average speed, as well as a good CF glove and a killer throwing arm (the best in the system, according to BA). Unfortunately for him, other medical issues have truncated each of his last two years. He sustained a broken wrist when he was hit by a pitch in late 2010, and he only played in 40 games in 2011 after sustaining shoulder (May) and wrist (June) injuries, both while swinging the bat. There are also lingering concerns about his eyes, as keratocomus is a degenerative condition with an irregular progression, and there's at least some chance that his career could be cut short as a result. If Pham can stay healthy, though, he's arguably the most ML-ready position player in this year's Rule 5 crop, and a very high-ceiling player as well. Center field isn't a position of much need for the Pirates right now, but for a talent like Pham, sometimes you need to make an exception.
Dae-Eun Rhee, Cubs, RHSP, 6'2", 190 lbs, DOB 3/23/89
2011 level: A+ (Florida State)
The Cubs have worked hard to bring in top Korean amateurs, and Rhee is one of their marquee signings, pocketing $525,000 as an 18-year-old in 2007. In my opinion, he is the best long-term starting pitching prospect available this Rule 5 draft. He has a low-90s fastball that touches the mid-90s, a big-breaking curveball that he can throw for strikes, and a plus changeup (which BA just graded as the best in Chicago's system). His results to date haven't matched that scouting report, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008, and his stuff didn't fully return from the procedure until partway through 2011. In 38 August innings this year, he posted a 2.84 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, along with a 40/10 K/BB and a strong groundball rate. In spite of his lack of upper-minors experience, I believe that in the short term, his stuff and pitchability could allow him to be reasonably effective in a low-leverage role in 2012, with an eye toward a rotation spot in 2014. I honestly can't understand why the Cubs decided not to roster Rhee - he seems like a cinch to be picked. The only question is whether or not he'll last long enough for us to have a shot at him.
Andre Rienzo, White Sox, RHSP, 6'3", 160 lbs, DOB 7/5/88
2011 level: A+ (Carolina)
If you're looking for a strong arm with a reasonably high ceiling and a bit of projection remaining, Rienzo might be the right choice for you. Signed out of Brazil in 2006, he's more raw than his age would suggest, given that country's still-emerging baseball infrastructure. Still, he's got good arm strength, with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, and his lean build suggests additional physical projection. Rienzo also throws a sharp-breaking curveball and is working on a changeup, though the latter is more promising than useful at this point. Command and control are still a work in progress as well, as he walked 66 batters in 116 innings last year. He's got some mechanical flaws, which contributed to the command issues, but they may be correctable with work and instruction as he's regarded as a good athlete who just needs more experience. He was named to the Carolina League's mid-season All-Star team last year, before missing about two weeks with elbow pain, but after some rest was able to return at full strength with no ill effects.
At this point, Rienzo is not ready to hold a significant role in the major leagues. At the same time, given his age and inexperience, he's not going to be able to afford to spend an entire season nailed to a chair in a bullpen. He has a fairly high ceiling as a starting pitcher, but getting him enough work that he can stay sharp and improve his skills without letting MLB hitters tee off on him and crush his confidence is going to be a difficult balancing act for the player development staff of any team inclined to select him.
Kyle Russell, Dodgers, RF, L/L, 6'5", 195 lbs, DOB 6/27/86
2011 level: AA (Southern) and AAA (Pacific Coast)
There are usually questions about power-hitting prospects in these previews, so I thought I'd include Russell as one of the better examples of the species in this year's crop, even though those sorts of players generally don't get selected in the Rule 5 draft. He's been a subject of interest to scouts for quite some time now. He led the NCAA in home runs in 2007 with 28 (breaking Texas's school record in the process and putting up a .336/.456/.807 raw batting line), but scouts worried about whether he had only metal bat power and whether he'd make enough contact to succeed as a pro. His elevated bonus demands didn't simplify matters, either. The Cardinals chose him in the fourth round in 2007, but were unable to sign him in spite of a reported $800,000 offer, and after a junior year where he hit .296/.432/.655 with 19 home runs, the Dodgers picked him in the third and signed him for $410,000.
The fears about Russell's power have proven to be largely unfounded - as a pro, he hit 26 home runs in both 2009 and 2010 (earning Midwest League MVP honors in the former), then put 20 over the fence last year. The contact rate has been a stickier issue, and while he has made some progress on that front, he still put up a 53/154 BB/K last year in only 432 AB. He's got a big uppercut, and he sometimes has trouble spotting breaking stuff, and strikeouts in bunches are the inevitable product of those tendencies. Russell's age is also a consideration, as the late start on his career meant that he turned 25 while playing in AA last year. Defensively, he's a solid right fielder with a strong arm, and he runs well for a man of his size. On the big league level, he'd probably hit right around the Mendoza line, but with his left-handed power and solid glove, he should be able to provide at least some value as a reserve. He'd certainly love the right field wall at PNC Park, and be a threat to pull a ball down the line and put it in the river every time he was up.
Josh Smoker, Nationals, LHRP, 6'2", 195 lbs, DOB 11/26/88
2011 level: A+ (Carolina)
It feels like Smoker has been around forever, even though he just turned 23 a few weeks ago. He was highly touted from his freshman year of high school, when he broke his school's strikeout record with 126 Ks in only 62 innings. Then, as a sophomore, he posted a 0.09 ERA. Washington took him with the first pick of the sandwich round in 2007, and he signed for $1,000,000. Back then, he worked with a repertoire of six different pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup, slider, split-finger fastball, and, um, something else that wasn't specified in the reports I read - sorry). These days, he mostly focuses on the fastball, curve, and splitter. The fastball is often in the mid 90s and sometimes as high as 97 or 98, and the splitter can be a plus pitch. His feel for the curveball comes and goes, but it's also good when it's on.
Command has been an issue throughout Smoker's career. His walk rate last year was 6.6 per nine innings, and for his career as a whole it's a not-much-better 4.9 per nine. He's more of a grip-it-and-rip-it type than a true scholar of pitching, which doesn't help. That type of mentality makes him a better fit for the bullpen, and he made the move to that role in 2011, showing some improvement in his results and the quality of his stuff. His development has also been set back by a variety of arm problems, including shoulder surgery in late 2008 to remove bone spurs. Smoker is a high-risk, high-upside bullpen arm, who would be frustrating to watch as a situational lefty in 2012, but could pay big dividends in the long run if he's able to put it all together.
Philippe Valiquette, Mariners, LHRP, 6'1", 205 lbs, DOB 2/14/87
2011 level: None
The final player on the list is, like Smoker, a left-handed reliever with a big fastball and big control problems. Valiquette was originally drafted by the Reds in the seventh round all the way back in 2004, out of a high school in Quebec, and he signed for $300,000, a very substantial bonus in those days. At the time, he was touted mainly for the strength of his fastball, with scouts excusing his underdeveloped secondary stuff as a consequence of the short season for pitchers from cold-weather environments. Valiquette's fastball has improved since those days, routinely going into the upper 90s and occasionally breaking triple digits, but his secondary pitches have shown little advancement since then. Command is also an issue, as even his strikes within the zone don't always hit the catcher right in the mitt.
Valiquette has suffered from a lot of nagging injuries throughout his minor league career, and he didn't pitch at all in 2011, though to the best of my knowledge he's never had arm surgery. In the fine tradition of past southpaws, he's also considered something of an eccentric - for example, he missed spring training in 2007 because he was too homesick to report to camp. The Reds finally gave up on Valiquette last year, releasing him at the end of August, but he signed a minor league deal with the Mariners and thus is eligible for the Rule 5. According to Keith Law, he's attracting some measure of interest as a possible selection, which isn't surprising. For all of Valiquette's faults, lefties with his velocity are as rare as hen's teeth, and hope springs eternal.