LAS VEGAS—Usually, scouts, front-office types and media schmooze and meet informally in the lobbies and bars of hotels during the Winter Meetings. At the Bellagio, though, nothing is routine. Baseball officials are spread out throughout the lobby, the casino, the bars—they all run together here.
If there’s a buzz, it’s almost impossible to hear over the music, the background noise of the casino machines and the buzz of the crowd of gamblers passing through.
Industry types say there isn’t a ton of Rule 5 buzz anyway. The rules changes prior to last year, adding an extra year of protection for teams to keep players. Under the old rules, 2005 high school draft picks and 2006 college picks would have had to be protected (and most international players signed in ’04 as well). Prep pitchers such as Sean West (Marlins), Chaz Roe (Rockies), Brandon Erbe (Orioles) and Will Inman (Padres) would have to be protected but are not on 40-man rosters. That leaves more room to protect fringy players who otherwise might not have made the cut.
Similarly, the Pirates don’t have to make a 40-man call on 2006 first-rounder Brad Lincoln, who has missed a year with Tommy John surgery, and the Indians can wait on corner infielder Wes Hodges, who can hit but hasn’t shown he can handle third base.
That has left a thinner talent pool to choose from. The ’06 Rule 5 yielded stars such as Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria, but the top talents in the ’07 class were players such as outfielder Brian Barton, who stuck all year with the Cardinals; knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whom the Mariners swung a trade to keep; and lefthander Wesley Wright, who stuck as a reliever with the Astros.
Scouts and front-office officials agree there are few if any position players with Barton’s upside in this Rule 5 class, and and the quality and talent of players and pitchers has dipped accordingly with the rule changes. Big names such as Donald Veal (Cubs) and Eduardo Morlan (Rays) have attracted interest, but Veal pitched poorly all year and again in the Arizona Fall League, while Morlan’s velocity was back in the 89-92 mph range in Puerto Rico but not in the mid-90s he showed earlier in his minor league career.
"Pitching in the industry is so thin," said one American League front-office official. "It’s what everyone is looking for but there’s not much of it (in the Rule 5 class)."
The best analogies to Barton—prospects with injury questions—are pitchers such as Alan Horne (Yankees), coming off rotator cuff surgery on his shoulder, and Pedro Strop (Rangers), a former Rockies farmhand coming off his own arm injury; and catcher Donny Lucy (White Sox), who is athletic and plays a premium position but has never quite performed.
What buzz there is has centered on Class A pitchers with stuff rather than track records. Among the names bandied about:
• RHP Jordan Pratt, Dodgers: The 2003 fifth-round pick out of an Oregon high school has yet to progress past Class A. He spent 2008 in high Class A Inland Empire and walked 67 (while striking out 80) in 69 innings. However, Pratt has premium stuff, with a fastball that consistently reaches 94 mph, and an inconsistent curveball and a premium cutter that helps him handle lefthanded hitters. They went 2-for-35 off him in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where Pratt showed off some smoother mechanics that helped him throw more strikes. Lefty David Pfeiffer of the Dodgers, a sidearmer, also was getting some attention.
• LHP Jordan Norberto, Diamondbacks: Norberto has upside, as he’s just 22 and has reached 96 mph with his fastball. He’s also spent the last two years in the low Class A Midwest League, striking out 220 in 204 innings while walking 102.
• IF Corey Wimberly, Rockies: No one in the class fits the utility profile better than Wimberly, a 5-foot-8 switch-hitter with plus speed and defensive versatility. Wimberly played second base, third base, shortstop and the outfield in ’08 at Double-A Tulsa while posting a .370 on-base percentage. He lacks strength but has a solid track record as a hitter.
• RHP Loek Van Mil, Twins: The 7-foot-1 righthander has shown a fastball up to 97 mph in the past but has a partial ligament tear due after injuring his elbow just prior to the Beijing Olympics. Fellow Dutch national teamer Hainley Statia (Angels) remains the top middle-infield possibility in a thin group of players there.
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog