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Rule 5 Draft Guide, 2012

With the winter meetings coming to a close, today marks the 2012 Rule 5 draft. Which players would make sense as possible picks?

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It's that time of year again. The Rule 5 draft presents an interesting opportunity for teams to acquire useful players at a very reasonable price, if they can find diamonds in the rough amid their rivals' farm systems. The following players are some of the ones I consider to be among the better talents available in the major league portion of this year's draft.

When thinking about possible Rule 5 picks, it's important to keep in mind that there's a reason all of these players' organizations left them unprotected. All of the eligible players are flawed in some way. Pitchers might have command problems, for example, or non-traditional mechanics, or insufficient secondary pitches. To make a successful Rule 5 pick, you need to find a player whose weaknesses can either be corrected with instruction or minimized through situational usage. It's not just about picking a good player - it's about picking a good player for your team, given your current roster construction.

There are many different Rule 5 draft guides that have been written over the last month, and I encourage you to read as many of them as possible. Different observers will bring different perspectives to what is fundamentally a subjective process, and the more information (and more kinds of information) you have at your disposal, the better-prepared you'll be. This particular analysis is written with an eye toward choosing players whom I consider a good bet to not only be picked, but also to successfully stick with their picking teams for the 2013 season. There are many very talented players (some of whom are covered at length in other guides) who are not part of this one, because I do not believe that they are players who could (or in some cases, should) stick if they are drafted.

For example, the Indians' Jesus Aguilar is a very well-regarded first base prospect. He played in the Futures Game last year, and Baseball America listed him among the team's top 10 prospects. In spite of this, I can't recommend him as a pick, since he is defensively limited to first base (a position whose prospects are rarely taken and successfully kept in the Rule 5 draft) and his lack of upper-minors experience means that he will likely struggle at bat against ML pitchers with ML-caliber breaking balls that are thrown with ML-caliber command. Another example would be Braves left-handed pitcher Carlos Perez. Perez has very good stuff and a prototypical pitcher's body, but he lacks the command and mental approach needed to even survive against advanced hitters. Last year, after he was promoted to Class A, he walked 19 batters and surrendered 33 hits in 19 innings. If a bunch of random 20-year-olds were able to hurt him that badly, what would he do against Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout? A pitcher that raw will be nearly impossible to hide even as a mopup man, and losing a year of development time could have a terrible effect on his ability to achieve his potential in future seasons. Picking a player like that simply wouldn't be ethical, in my opinion. Others may have different opinions, and that's fine. That kind of disagreement is, in fact, part of what makes the Rule 5 draft so fun for observers and pundits in the first place.

Now, without further ado, here is my guide for this year's Rule 5 draft:

Jeffry Antigua, LHRP, 6'1", 170 lbs, DOB 6/23/90 - CHICAGO (NL)

Lefty relievers are always popular in the Rule 5 draft, and Antigua is one of the better ones available in this year's class. A Dominican swingman who split the season between A and AA, Antigua employs a low-90s fastball and an average curve and changeup. He's a strike-thrower with good command, and he's relatively effective against both left- and right-handed batters, even in multi-inning stints. Aside from some minor arm problems in 2010, his medical record is clear. Antigua isn't far from being ready for the majors, and could plausibly slot into a bullpen as a long reliever, with the potential to develop into something more down the road.

I can't find any video footage of Antigua, which is inconvenient since he's the first guy in the preview and now the format is all screwed up. If you run across some, please share it in the comments, and I'll append it to the post. (That goes for any of the other guys without video, too.)

Theo Bowe, CF, L/R, 5'9", 160 lbs, DOB 8/5/90 - CINCINNATI

A lot of people have been writing up Cincinnati outfielder Josh Fellhauer as a possible pick this year. No disrespect intended to Mr. Fellhauer, who's a much better ballplayer than I am (and who has a reasonable chance of making the majors at some point over the next few years), but I'm not seeing it. If Cincinnati loses an outfielder this year, I think it'll be Bowe. In the Rule 5 draft, speed and defense always trade at a premium.

Bowe would have a good chance to be the fastest player in just about any organization that didn't have Billy Hamilton on its books, and a tool like that is a pretty good hook for a scout to use in pitching a pick to his boss. More importantly, Bowe made significant progress this season in learning to use that speed to his advantage. After a promotion to Class A Dayton, he improved his contact rate and put more balls on the ground, and he ran wild on the bases, piling up 70 steals between the two levels. Bowe is also willing to take a walk, and he shows impressive range in center field. He probably isn't really ready for a major league job, but his speed and defense would let a team carry him as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, making him a part of a Rule 5 tradition that includes speedy CFs like Shane Victorino, Willy Taveras, and Scott Podsednik, among others.

Bowe's video clip shows an at-bat from a game in 2011, and the uploader helpfully appended a stopwatch so you can see that Bowe is getting from home to first in 3.9 seconds. That'll do.

Ryan Chaffee, RHRP, 6'2", 195 lbs, DOB 5/18/88 - LOS ANGELES OF ANAHEIM

It seems like every year the Angels have one or two interesting relievers eligible for the draft, and Chaffee continues that proud tradition in 2012. His performance history in his first three seasons was checkered, but he really turned things up a notch last year, driven by a significant improvement in the quality of his stuff. Splitting the year between the hitter-friendly Cal and Texas Leagues, he turned in a 2.60 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, with 84 Ks in 65 2/3 innings. The Angels have traditionally emphasized movement over velocity in their bullpen arms, but the supercharged 2012 Chaffee has both, with a fastball that routinely hits the mid-90s and a sharp slider.

There are some warning signs with Chaffee. FIrst, there's always a risk that sudden improvements in a pitcher's stuff can disappear just as suddenly if his mechanics fall just slightly out of order. Second, while Chaffee's overall performance was strong, he still walked nearly five batters per nine innings, and more advanced competition will be less inclined to chase balls outside of the zone. Third, his AFL performance was mixed. In spite of these red flags, he's an intriguing option as a pitcher with a combination of possible short-term impact and long-term ceiling.

Josh Fields, RHRP, 6'0", 185 lbs, DOB 8/19/85 - BOSTON

You might remember White Sox third base prospect Josh Fields, a top prospect from the not-too-distant past. Joshua D. Fields, first round pick out of Oklahoma State? Hit 23 HR in his first significant big league action back in 2007? This isn't him. It's the other Joshua D. Fields - the college closer out of Georgia. His hometown Braves made him a second-round pick back in 2007, but surprisingly, they were unable to come to an agreement. He returned to college for his senior year and substantially improved his draft stock, earning a $1.75M bonus from the Mariners as the 20th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Fields was expected to advance quickly, but his progress was derailed by command issues, as he walked right around six batters per nine innings in each of his first three professional seasons. His velocity was also lower than it had been in college, and he experienced "dead arm" periods. In 2011, the Mariners gave up on him, sending him to the Red Sox in the Erik Bedard trade. The change of scenery appears to have done all the good in the world, as Fields enjoyed a breakout 2012. He was dominant at AA, with a 2.62 ERA and a 59/16 K/BB in 44 2/3 IP, and then he posted a 19/2 K/BB in ten scoreless late-season scoreless at AAA. His fastball was back up to the upper 90s, and he was throwing his plus curve for strikes.

Fields's short stature means that he has a lot of effort in his delivery, and keeping his mechanics in order will be the key going forward. It's not a given that he'll be able to do so - he's currently playing winter ball in the DWL, and at the time I write this, he's already walked seven batters in six innings. If he can sustain the progress he made this year, he's one of the more ML-ready pitchers available in this year's draft, and he could end up as a quality setup man.

The above video is of Fields during his college days at Georgia. None of the online film of him is particularly recent, and this clip at least shows him when he's at something approximating his best.

Nate Freiman, 1B, R/R, 6'7", 225 lbs, DOB 10/35/86 - SAN DIEGO

I know that San Diego doesn't exactly have a crying need at first base right now, but even so, I'm genuinely surprised that the Padres didn't protect Freiman. A college pick out of Duke, and that school's career home run leader, he's arguably the best member of a small cluster of 1B prospects currently stuck at the upper levels of San Diego's farm system (along with Matt Clark and Cody Decker - both of whom are also eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year). Freiman is an impressive physical specimen, currently listed at 6'7" and sometimes billed as an inch taller in the earlier stages of his career. As an amateur, he played catcher, which certainly must have been a sight to see.

Freiman hits for power and average, and for such a big man, he's shown fairly good plate coverage, with only 95 Ks in 581 PAs at AA last season. He drew a lot of attention this fall as the first baseman for the Israeli national team in the WBC qualifiers, where he hit four home runs in only 13 at-bats, on his way to a .417/.533/.1.417 batting line. His size limits him defensively to first base and makes him a below-average runner. His long wingspan gives him a good reach when receiving throws, though, and his hands are reasonably soft. He's regarded as a hard worker and a player with good character. The only real negative on his profile is his age relative to level, and as a senior sign, there's not much he could have done about that. I could see Freiman adding immediate value in 2013 as a bench bat, with the possibility that he might grow into a starter a year or two down the road.

The best film of Freiman I can find is in this highlight package from the 2012 Texas League's All-Star Home Run Derby, which Freiman won. The clips are all out of order, but even so, he's pretty easy to spot.

Jonathan Galvez, "2B", R/R, 6'2", 175 lbs, DOB 1/18/91 - SAN DIEGO

I wrote about Galvez in last year's preview, and he's pretty much the same player now that he was then, only a year older. He was originally signed as a Dominican teenager for $750,000, and he's got a nice broad package of offensive tools. He can hit for average, he's got doubles power with some remaining power potential, and he's an average runner who can steal a base if the opportunity presents itself. Galvez missed all of April after spraining his ankle during spring training, but doesn't appear to have suffered any long-term consequences. His raw stat line for 2012 doesn't look super-impressive, but it's more than adequate for a 21-year-old middle infielder in AA.

That brings us to the question of defense. Galvez was already moved from short to second, and there's a chance that his glove might necessitate a further shift to either the outfield or an offensively-oriented utility role. He has a below-average throwing arm, and he doesn't have that smoothness and grace that you'd like to see from a middle infielder. I don't want to oversell the problem, as there's a decent chance that he can stick at 2B, but it is a significant concern. A team that likes his glove (or at least doesn't hate it) will see him as a viable candidate to be picked, and a team that doesn't, won't.

The clip above shows Galvez taking BP in 2011, with footage from a couple of different angles.

Matt Gorgen, RHRP, 5’10", 210 lbs, DOB 1/27/87 - ARIZONA

Some day, Gorgen might make an interesting case study for a researcher investigating questions of nature vs. nurture. He and his brother Scott, a right-handed pitcher in the Cardinals’ system, are identical twins. Shortly after birth, the two Gorgens’ lives quickly diverged. Matt popped out hale and hearty, but Scott remained on a ventilator in the hospital for approximately three months, with his mother shuttling back and forth to split time with the two brothers. Scott lost part of his hearing as a result of his difficult entry to the world, necessitating huge external hearing aids when he attended grade school, while Matt did his best to defend his brother against bullies. In high school, Matt was the star quarterback on the football team, and Scott was the punter. Matt earned a baseball scholarship to UC Berkley, while Scott received little attention from schools entering his senior year. Their roles reversed that spring, when Matt injured his shoulder and Scott stepped up as the baseball team’s ace, winning a scholarship from UC Irvine. In college, Scott was Irvine’s Friday starter, while Matt ended up as Cal’s closer. Both were picked in the 2008 draft, with Scott being chosen in the 4th round and Matt in the 16th. Eerily, both Gorgens tore their UCLs within months of one another, and both missed the 2011 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. There are many interesting articles about the Gorgens and their interesting interpersonal dynamic – if you’d like to learn more, this piece is a good place to start.

Anyway, back to baseball. Matt Gorgen was originally picked by the Rays, and was traded to Arizona as a PTBNL in 2010 in a deal for beloved ex-Pirate Chad Qualls. He’s a pretty typical right-handed reliever: Low-90s fastball that can touch 95, pretty good slider, competitive demeanor on the mound, that sort of thing. His short stature does play down the impact of his fastball a bit, but it hasn’t showed up in his results so far. He started 2012 at AA and earned a midseason promotion to AAA, handling the transition to a difficult Reno environment with ease. His command improved as the year went on, as is fairly typical for pitchers recovering from TJ, and his final numbers for the two levels ended up as a 2.90 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and a 71/25 K/BB in 48 games and 62 innings. Gorgen wouldn’t be a hugely sexy choice, but he seems ready to be a useful contributor to a bullpen right out of the gate, and his ability to work multi-inning stints would let him easily slot in as a middle reliever.

The embed for Gorgen's video clip doesn't seem to be working properly, but you can watch it on Vimeo here. It's old footage from late 2009, when Gorgen was pitching in the AFL, with a long side view of his mechanics and not much else. At least the camera's steady (thanks, David Pratt, whomever you are!).

Jeremy Hazelbaker, LF, L/R, 6'3", 190 lbs, DOB 8/14/87 - BOSTON

As previously noted, speedy outfielders are always popular in the Rule 5 draft, and Hazelbaker is one of the better specimens of the breed in this year's draft class. Per BA, he's a 70 runner, and he's stolen 157 bases at a 78% success rate in four minor league seasons. As a lefty, he gets out of the box quickly, and he's willing and able to drag bunt for a hit if given the opportunity. He also has a surprising amount of power to his pull side, though his swing is a bit long and he has trouble with inside stuff. The lack of bat speed gives him a higher K rate than you'd prefer, and even though he posted a .429 BA and .550 OBP in his draft year, he'll probably never hit for much average as a pro. Maintaining his walk rate as he advances will be key, and his opportunistic power should help keep pitchers honest.

Hazelbaker isn't as good at exploiting his speed on the defensive side of the game. He was primarily a second baseman in his first two college seasons, and didn't start playing the outfield until his junior year at Ball State. As a result, while he has the speed to play center field, his instincts and reactions make him a better fit for an outfield corner - at least at this point. His throwing arm isn't great, and defensively the ideal scenario for him probably involves playing left field in a park with a lot of ground to cover. He's not quite ready to combine his ML-caliber tools into a complete package, but he's advanced enough to have at least a fighting chance of holding his own against ML competition, and his speed would give him short-term tactical value on a bench. In the longer term, he profiles as either a second-division regular or a quality outfield reserve.

The above video is a montage of 2011 clips of Hazelbaker at bat. There are some newer clips from 2012 on YouTube (most of which seem to involve him striking out, go figure), but I thought this one was the most useful because it included several different pitchers and different angles on his swing, and also showed an attempt at a bunt.

Kyle Heckathorn, RHRP, 6'6", 225 lbs, DOB 6/17/88 - MILWAUKEE

Scouts have been saying for years that Heckathorn belonged in the bullpen, and at this point, it looks like they were right. The Brewers chose him in the supplemental first in 2009 out of Kennesaw State, at that time a fairly new D-I program in the not-particularly-well-regarded Sun Belt Conference, mostly on the strength of his pure stuff. His fastball sat in the mid-to-upper 90s and touched 99, velocity that he maintained deep into games, and he supplemented it with a plus slider. He was more of a thrower than a pitcher, but Milwaukee wanted to give him a chance to start, in the hope that he could learn to improve his approach against advanced competition.

Instead, his approach remained pretty much the same, and his stuff regressed. Coming into 2012, his fastball mostly sat around 90, and his changeup had surpassed his slider as his best secondary offering, due in equal parts to improvement from the change and regression from the breaking ball. He pitched to contact more often, using the advantage of his height and his pitches' downward motion to induce ground balls. Even at his best, Heckathorn showed poor fastball command within the zone (due to inconsistent mechanics), which led him to groove balls and made him too easy to hit. This July, Milwaukee threw in the towel, and moved Heckathorn to the bullpen, and over his remaining 29 1/3 innings that season, he posted a vastly improved 3.68 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. His fastball gained a few ticks, and he seemed to be doing a better job of staying focused as well. His Arizona Fall League performance was a mixed bag, with some effective performances and a few spectacularly ineffective ones. Heckathorn is still finding himself as a pitcher, but he has a reasonable amount of upside, and a change of scenery and access to different instructors may help him tap into his natural talent.

Good video of Heckathorn is surprisingly hard to find, given his prospect pedigree. You can see an old pre-draft clip of him from 2009 at this link. It doesn't give a true picture of him as he is today, but does show his aggressive mound demeanor and some of the mechanical flaws the Brewers have been working to correct.

Odubel Herrera, 2B, L/R, 5'11", 165 lbs, DOB 12/29/91 - TEXAS

If you want a toolsy young middle infielder, Herrera is probably your best bet in this year's draft class. You wouldn't know it to look at him, given his broad frame and muscular build, but he's actually an above-average runner with a strong arm and smooth footwork. According to BA, as a teenager in Venezuela he was an elite-level volleyball player with a 40-inch vertical leap. On the offensive side of the game, he definitely has the hit tool, and his ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball suggests that he'll develop at least line-drive power. His raw numbers last year may not look particularly impressive, but it's important to remember that he was a) only 21 and b) skipping over A-ball entirely. That he was able to hold his own is a strong point in his favor.

Herrera has a significant amount of experience at shortstop, and his tools would allow him to play there or at third on at least an occasional basis, if needed. He also has a high baseball IQ, and is regarded as a tough and scrappy talent. He would be a very interesting middle infield option for a team with a need in that area.

This first piece of video is one of the better clips available for this year's players, as it shows two and a half minutes of Herrera fielding ground balls and taking cuts in BP, all filmed from a sensible angle by a man who knows the value of a tripod.

Ender Inciarte, CF, L/L, 5’11", 160 lbs, DOB 10/29/90 – ARIZONA

Ender David Montiel Inciarte (man, what a great name) provides an opportunity to contemplate the eternal question for young players coming off an unexpectedly strong season: breakout or bust? In his case, I’m going to lean toward breakout. Inciarte is a speedy young centerfielder, an above-average runner with plus range and a plus arm. As a left-handed hitter, he gets out of the box quickly, and he’s an aggressive baserunner who’s making good progress at learning how to convert his speed into steals, posting a 46/12 SB/CS rate last year in a season split fairly evenly between A and A+. Inciarte is a good contact hitter who uses the whole field, and last year he started adding a few doubles and triples into the mix. His size and build mean that he probably won’t ever hit for much over-the-fence power, but he looks like he might hit enough line drives to keep pitchers honest as he moves through the minors.

The rub is that Inciarte pretty clearly isn’t ready to hit in the majors at this point. His raw stat line looks a little more impressive than it is, since the first half came as a level repeater and the second was in the hitter-happy California League. He’s playing in the VWL right now, and while he’s shown flashes of promise, his overall stat line is fairly poor. Inciarte brings enough speed and defense to the table to be a realistic option as a bench player, but a team selecting him would need to believe that a year spent getting the bat knocked out of his hands wouldn’t do irreparable damage to his psyche and skill set. Still, his potential to grow into a Michael Bourn-like player may be to tempting to resist.

Inciarte's video clip (link here) is one of those irritating ones with an un-skippable :30 ad in front, but it's worth seeing anyway, if you're wired to enjoy the sight of a guy easily cruising around the bases and turning a ground ball down the RF line into a standup triple. And if you aren't, why are you reading this preview?

Gary Moran, RHRP, 6'8", 255 lbs, DOB 5/21/85 - ATLANTA

Moran probably has the most unusual background of any player in this year's preview. He initially spent four years at Fresno City College, a community college in California, then transferred to D-II Sonoma State University for two more seasons. Moran was drafted by the Padres twice during his community college days, but elected to stay in school both times, amid health problems that necessitated two arm surgeries. He enjoyed an excellent season as a 24-year-old senior in 2009, winning his conference Pitcher of the Year award and earning second-team All American status. The Giants chose him in the 41st round, a draft position that reflected his advanced age, and at that point he finally signed.

Moran pitched well as a reliever in rookie ball in 2009, but the Giants released him after the end of the season, for reasons that I haven't been able to determine. He might have been injured (I've seen references to a possible third operation on throwing arm), or they might have just seen him as an organizational player and wanted to clear out room for prospects. From there, Moran moved on to the River City Rascals of the Frontier League, where dominant performances in their rotation in 2010 and 2011 caught the eye of the Braves. They probably saw him as an organizational player, but quality pitching (including a near no-hitter in 2011) kept earning him more and more prominent roles, and in 2012 he led the class AA Southern League in ERA.

Moran isn't a hard thrower, but his fastball has good sink and run, and his height allows him to deliver it from a downward plane that generates a ton of ground balls. He also has a nasty curve and above-average command, and his stamina and efficiency allow him to work deep into games. The fact that he was able to weather so many trials and tribulations throughout the course of his career speaks well of his character and work ethic. Even his hitting isn't bad for a pitcher - he had a .324 OBP last year. Moran's age, lack of upper-minors experience, and medical history are all red flags, but in spite of these things I think that his groundball tendencies and ability to work multi-inning stints make him an interesting bullpen option.

The game highlight clip above is fairly old, from a 2010 game during Moran's time in indy ball, but it does at least give you a few looks at him pitching. He's the tall guy in the red shirt, wearing #34. Check out the movement on his ball in the bit starting around 0:35.

A.J. Morris, RHRP, 6’2", 185 lbs, DOB 12/1/86 – CHICAGO (NL)

If you want a groundball specialist, but aren't interested in a 27-year-old in AA, how about a 25-year-old in A+? Born in the incongruously-named town of Humble, Texas, Morris was originally a fourth-round pick by the Nats out of Kansas State in 2009. When the Cubs traded Tom Gorzelanny in 2010, they liked Morris so much that they made him part of the trade package even though they knew he was due for shoulder surgery that offseason and would be on the sideline for all of 2011.

Once he was healthy, he quickly started making up for lost time, tearing through the Florida State League like Paula Deen through five pounds of bacon, putting up a 2.24 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and an extremely high groundball rate, while allowing only one home run in 52 1/3 innings. I haven't seen firm information on Morris's velocity after his return, but before the injury he threw a heavy fastball that ran up to 95, with a slider as his second pitch. There's always a risk of overrating the value of a performance compiled against dramatically inferior competition, but Morris's stuff and command suggest that he'd be a strong relief option even against much better hitters.

There's no video of Morris. Keep calm and carry on.

Carlos Perez, C, R/R, 6'0", 195 lbs, DOB 10/27/90 - HOUSTON

Catchers are almost never taken in the Rule 5 draft and successfully kept all year. The last pure catcher who stuck all season was Jesus Flores back in 2006, and the last one before him was 28-year-old catch-and-throw backup Alberto Castillo all the way back in 1998. Managers often don't trust rookies to call a game or handle a pitching staff, and catchers tend to develop offensively later than other position players. It's a bad combination.

Similarly, taking players from A-ball or lower is often a losing proposition. Even if they have good physical tools, players at that level usually haven't made the refinements necessary to succeed at the ML level, and losing a year of development time can do severe damage to their chances of having a significant ML career.

In spite of those rules, I believe that Carlos Perez is a viable option in this year's Rule 5 draft. Originally signed as a Venezuelan teenager by the Jays (and then dealt to Houston at the deadline in a ten-player deal), he's unusually polished for a prospect of his age, particularly on the defensive side of the game. He has nice soft hands, and in spite of relatively average arm strength he controls the running game well thanks to good footwork and a quick and accurate release. He could stand to make a few more adjustments (on blocking balls in the dirt, for example), but he already has enough defensive skills to at least hold his own as a catch-and-throw backstop in a world where a guy like Eli Whiteside can get claimed on waivers. Offensively, Perez probably isn't ready, though he might have enough bat to hold his own for a year, given his defensive value. He's a good contact hitter, he's generally had enough pitch recognition to maintain an acceptable walk rate, and he's got a little bit of gap power (with the potential for more down the road). I'm not going to lie - he's still likely to be overmatched against ML competition in 2013, but I think he'd be at least a step above an automatic out, and he has the potential to develop into a starting catcher a few years down the road.

Perez would probably need additional instruction on off-days in order to stay sharp and continue progressing, but I believe that his long-term potential makes him worthy of consideration, and his current defensive skills open up the possibility that he could stick on a roster for a year as a catch-and-throw backup.

The clip above is from 2011, with Perez batting against Kyle Lotzkar, a decent SP prospect from the Reds' system. There are some newer clips of Perez, but I like this one because you get to see a couple of swings, you get to see him lay off some outside breaking balls, and at the end you get to see him run. He runs OK for a catcher - not a burner, but not a Molina, either.

Perez gets a second clip, this one from early 2012, so you can take a look at his defense. He's warming up a pitcher, so it's not actual game action, but you can see a little of his hands and his footwork on one throw, even though the cameraman spent the middle section shooting shakycam b-roll for Cloverfield.

Julio Rodriguez, RHSP, 6'4", 195 lbs, DOB 8/29/90 - PHILADELPHIA

The draft previews that focus on who can throw hardest probably aren't going to write about Rodriguez. His fastball doesn't get much over 90. If not for the fact that he's been striking out a batter an inning for five years, generally as one of the youngest players in his league, nobody would notice him at all. Even the Phillies' development staff sounds bemused when they talk about his success. I like him, though, and I think he's a bit underrated. The first time I took note of Rodriguez was in 2011, when he was pitching for the Puerto Rican national team in the Baseball World Cup. He started two games, both against strong teams (the USA and Japan), and he was a stone killer in both: 9 1/3 scoreless innings, 15 Ks, and only 3 hits allowed. He also pitched (well) for Puerto Rico in a close loss to Canada in the Pan-American Games in 2011, and last year, he earned a spot in the Futures Game.

Rodriguez works quickly and throws a lot of strikes. I've read that he needs work on his fastball command within the zone, but whenever I've seen film of him, he's hitting the catcher right in the mitt. Take that for whatever it's worth - probably not much, since he's just under four walks per nine for his career, and was even higher than that in 2012. His second pitch is a fun little Bugs Bunny curveball, a super-slow bender that looks straight for a second and then turns on a dime, like it realized that it left the iron on and needs to swing home to take care of it. He's also got a slider and a change, and his advanced pitchability means that he'll throw any of them at any time. There's some deception to his delivery, which makes it hard for hitters to spot the ball right away|, and that probably doesn't hurt, either. He's tall and thin, and I think he might have a little physical projection remaining.

It's tough to know whether Rodriguez could cut the mustard at the ML level. Finesse guys, even ones who miss a bunch of bats, need to re-prove themselves with every promotion, and there's always a chance that his deception will stop being quite as deceptive when he tries it out against veterans with more experience than the kids he's been gunning down over the last few years. There's also the chance that his walk rate will metastasize and destroy him. Still, I think he has a decent chance of developing into a ML starter, and I'd love to see him get a shot in someone's camp this spring.

There's a good video interview with Rodriguez here, if you're interested.

The first embedded clip of Rodriguez is of him pitching in the 2011 FSL All-Star game. There are some 2010 clips where you can see his motion a bit more clearly, but I think that the extra year between those clips and this one does make a difference, as far as his stuff is concerned.

Just for fun, here's a second clip of Rodriguez, this one from 2010. In it, he's instigating a surprisingly robust brawl after his catcher got taken out in a play at the plate. It looks like he takes his first swing with his glove hand, which is the kind of sound fighting technique you like to see from a young pitcher on his way up the ladder. Crash Davis would be proud.

Jason Stoffel, RHRP, 6'2", 225 lbs, DOB 9/15/88 - HOUSTON

Stoffel was a college closer at the University of Arizona, where he broke Mark Melancon's career saves record. He had been projected as a possible first-round pick, but he dropped to the fourth round after slumping a bit in his junior year. He carried that inconsistency through his first three seasons in the Giants' system, and at the deadline in 2011 they traded him to the Astros in a deal for Jeff Keppinger.

I've seen all kinds of different published figures for the velocity on Stoffel's fastball, ranging from the upper 80s to the mid 90s. In general, I think he's good for something in the low 90s, with occasional spikes above that. (Stoffel himself said this year that he usually works 90-94, and he'd be in a position to know, right?) His primary breaking ball is an above-average slider, and he also threw a fairly good curve in college, though he rarely shows it now. His command was shaky until last season, when he adjusted his approach to focus more on throwing strikes and less on missing bats. cutting about two walks per nine from his stat line without sacrificing many Ks. Even though he was repeating AA, it was still a very impressive season.

Stoffel will probably never be a closer or top setup man, but he's fairly ready to compete right now, and if he can maintain his progress, a ML team in need of solid, inexpensive bullpen depth could do well with a sinker/slider reliever like him. These kinds of picks may not be particularly sexy, but they're a good way to improve a team for a reasonable price.

The clip above is from Stoffel pitching in the AFL in 2011. It's from a side angle, so you can really only use it to look at his mechanics.

Kyle Stroup, RHSP, 6'6", 235 lbs, DOB 3/13/90 - BOSTON

In the NFL, the last player taken in the draft is known as "Mr. Irrelevant". He gets a week-long party and an ironic trophy. Stroup was MLB's Mr. Irrelevant in 2008. He didn't get the party or the trophy, but a $150,000 bonus isn't a bad consolation prize, even if he was originally projected to go in the first ten rounds and only fell because of perceived bonus demands. He's a big, tall right-handed starter with a low- to mid-90s fastball, an advanced changeup, a breaking ball that's still a work in progress but shows some potential, and the stamina to maintain his velocity deep into games.

Stroup also has the knees of a much older man, thanks to a pair of torn ACLs (one on each side) that cost him the entirety of both the 2010 and 2012 seasons. As a result, he's only thrown a meager 119 2/3 innings in four seasons as a pro. Missing that much time is never a good thing, per se, but it does mean that his arm is relatively fresh, and since both knee surgeries went well and he doesn't have any more ACLs to tear, there are reasons to be optimistic about his health.

Stroup recovered from this year's surgery quickly enough to see some game time in instructional league play in the fall, and published reports indicate that his stuff showed no negative effects from the time off. If Stroup is picked in the Rule 5 draft, it's unlikely that he'll be ready to make a substantial contribution right off the bat, but he does have enough potential as a starter a few years down the road that he might be worth carrying as a low-leverage reliever.

There isn't much video of Stroup online. The best thing I can find is this 2008 clip of him throwing at a showcase (the embed doesn't work, sorry). It's old enough that I probably wouldn't place too much weight on it, but if you want to see it, it's there.

Rob Wort, RHRP, 6'2", 170 lbs, DOB 2/7/89 - WASHINGTON

People who enjoy unusual stat lines will appreciate Rob Wort's 2012 season with Potomac, in which he posted a ridiculous 95/19 K/BB in 56 2/3 innings, on his way to a 2.38 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. To put it another way, that's 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings. To put it yet another way, Wort struck out more than 40% of the batters he faced. To put it yet another way, Wort led his entire team in Ks, even though he was only ninth in innings pitched, a full 84 2/3 innings behind the team leader in that category. To put it still another way, there were only two Potomac batters who had more Ks than Wort last year. Regardless of how you couch the terms, it was a hell of a season.

The problem with a season like that is that numbers that big are so hard to process that the normal human response is to ignore them completely, letting the brain slide past the apparent incongruity like a cheerful penguin across a frozen pond. I once saw a quote from Dick Stuart, in which he opined that he would have been better off if he hadn't hit 66 home runs in the minors in 1956. He felt that if he'd put up a much lower total, maybe 30 or so, the front office would have seen the figure and been impressed by it, but because he went so far overboard, they didn't know how to react, and so they sent him back to the same level the next year. I think there's some truth to that observation.

In spite of the crazy numbers, Wort isn't just a curiosity. He's a highly capable fastball/slider reliever who can touch the mid-90s, and who deserves the kind of opportunities that a pitcher of that caliber would typically receive.