LAS VEGAS—Catching up on a few news & notes before Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, which begins at 12 p.m. ET:
• Rule 5 buzz remains faint, but that doesn’t mean teams will sit out the draft. Most writers and scouts we talked to Wednesday in the Bellagio think 10-12 players will be picked. The Rockies could be the hardest-hit club, as rumors persist of players such as righthander David Patton, infielders Corey Wimberly and Everth Cabrera, and outfielder Matt Miller could be picked.
Cabrera, like Wimberly listed at 5-foot-8, is less experienced than Wimberly but has more juice offensively and more upside; he also played in low Class A in 2008, while Wimberly was in Double-A and has played in the Arizona Fall League. Cabrera, a Nicaraguan, increased his value by showing enough range and arm in a second-half trial at shortstop to make it an option as well. Rockies special assistant Walt Weiss has likened Cabrera to a young Rafael Furcal, and Furcal jumped from A-ball to the big leagues back in 2000.
Miller, 25, is this year’s fourth outfielder candidate in the Rule 5 class. He has solid tools and is coming off a career season, hitting .341/.408/.463 this season between Double-A Tulsa (where he’s played part of the last three seasons) and Triple-A Colorado Springs. Miller has played a bit of enter field but primarily has played a corner spot in the minors and has never hit for profile power; he hit 30 for Asheville in 2005 but has hit 34 combined in the three seasons since then.
• Pitchers are the most popular position among non-Rockies possibilities. The easy jokes to make in the lobby involve guesses on which Brewers will be selected by new Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik (formerly Milwaukee’s scouting director), and similarly what Indians farmhand will go to Pittsburgh, as Pirates GM Neal Huntington was once the Indians’ farm director.
Speculation with Pittsburgh has settled on righthander J.D. Martin (a six-year free agent who signed with the Nationals this offseason) and lefthander Chuck Lofgren. Martin, 25, had a healthy season for the first time since 2004, working primarily in relief at Double-A Akron but getting nine starts for the Aeros and Triple-A Buffalo. Martin fits better in relief for most scouts as a long man who combats the running game, gets groundouts with a high-80s sinker that peaks at 91 and commands an array of five pitches, including a split-finger and slider.
Lofgren, 22, started the Futures Game in 2007 in San Francisco and hasn’t had much luck since then. He lost a rotation spot at Akron this season, posting a 5.99 ERA as he lost his fastball command and velocity, then had a nightmarish performance in the Arizona Fall League. One scout who saw him there said he wouldn’t have gotten high school hitters out with his performance, which included a 32.14 ERA and 18 walks in seven innings. He gave up 40 runs, just 25 earned, and 19 hits while getting just 21 outs.
• The Reds have a pair of power arms who could get popped despite makeup questions and iffy performance histories. Righthander Terrell Young, a 2005 draftee out of a Mississippi high school, had his best season after being moved to the bullpen full-time. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder went 2-5, 2.88 and allowed only one homer in 59 innings between low Class A Dayton and high Class A Sarasota. Lefty Philippe Valiquette, 21, has reached the mid-90s with his fastball and also thrived in a bullpen role between Dayton and Sarasota last season, posting a 65/28 strikeout/walk ratio in 65 innings with a 3.65 ERA.
• Righthander Luis Perdomo, mentioned in our initial preview last week, seems almost certain to get popped. The 24-year-old 6-footer doesn’t have an imposing frame but has a quick arm and a 92-94 mph fastball with sink, having allowed just three homers in 72 innings last year at three stops. He finished the year with Double-A Springfield after the Cardinals acquired him from the Indians in the Anthony Reyes deal. However, Perdomo was hit hard in winter ball last month for Aguilas in the Dominican League, giving up eight hits and seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.
• With catchers hard to come by, Tigers farmhand James Skelton has attracted attention. The 23-year-old always has hit and attracted doubters from scouts because of his slight 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame. He’s also a lefthanded hitter at a premium position who controls the strike zone (83 walks, 72 strikeouts in 2008) and surprising speed. Skelton lacks power but is a solid defender who threw out 38 percent of baserunners between high Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
• Scouting directors and college coaches met for the second consecutive year as part of the scouting directors’ meetings. While the scouting directors don’t always agree on everything, they do seem to have settled on trying to set up a medical combine and are aiming for 2010 as the first year for it. However, many deals have to be worked out first for that to happen, such as whether the combine would happen in January before the season or in June before the draft.
The scouts and 10 college coaches met to discuss areas of cooperation to smooth relations between pro ball and college ball. The college coaches on hand included Pat Casey (Oregon State), Rich Hill (San Diego), Jim Scholassnagle (TCU), David Perno (Georgia), Mike Gillespie (UC Irvine), John Savage (UCLA) and Kevin O’Sullivan (Florida), among others. The scouting directors’ concerns include such mundane items as having college players wear numbers on their jerseys during batting practice and infield drills, which many teams do not do. Even an issue like that has not met with universal acclaim. More on this meeting later.
• Scouts give us most of this buzz and rumors and BA wouldn’t be what it is without scouts. Tonight’s events included the 25th annual Scout of the Year banquet, where many past winners came to be part of the event along with the four 2008 honorees. Epy Guerrero won the international award, having been a key to the Blue Jays’ run to excellence under Pat Gillick, and all five of Guerrero’s sons work in the game in scouting and player development. Tony DiMacio, now a special assistant to Braves GM Frank Wren, was the East scout honoree, a first-ballot winner after 25 years in scouting. Dodgers crosschecker Gib Bodet won the West award.
Art Stewart, BA’s 2007 Roland Hemond Award winner, was the Midwest honoree and spawned the night’s best line. Stewart made a notable, memorable if long speech in accepting the Hemond Award in ’07 and went a bit over the five-minute speech limit at Wednesday’s banquet at the Bellagio. When emcee Buck Martinez went back to the podium, he said, "The sports book called in, and anyone who had Art Stewart and plus-12 can come and collect."
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