DALLAS—The Winter Meetings wrap up Thursday with the Rule 5 draft, and the status of the first pick of the draft seemed to be coming into focus as Wednesday night crept into Thursday morning.
Most of the buzz in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole centered on Jiwan James, the Phillies' outfielder and No. 9 prospect, being in the Astros' cross-hairs. He's athletic, he's a major league-caliber defender right now, and his speed and defense could buy time for his bat to develop. One scout compared him to Dewayne Wise, whose long big league career started when he was Rule 5'd back in 1999.
However, the James speculation seemed to stop when word leaked that the Astros had hired Cardinals scouting director Jeff Luhnow as their new general manager. Luhnow had success with St. Louis' drafts, but he made his name with the Cardinals drafting more polished, role players—along the lines of World Series heroes Allen Craig or Lance Lynn—rather than high-risk, high-reward players such as James. It remains to be seen if the Luhnow hire would affect Houston's Rule 5 pick—for example, would the Astros pick a Cardinals player, such as righthander Francisco Samuel?—and Astros officials weren't commenting Thursday night.
Minnesota media was reporting the Twins were focused on selecting a pitcher, and speculation centered on Mets righty Rhiner Cruz, whose fastball touches the upper 90s. Cruz, a former Tigers farmhand who was released in 2006, has reached Double-A and is pitching well for Cibao in the Dominican League this winter. However, a Twins source indicated the club was looking in a different direction. Cruz still fits the profile of players who typically get picked in the Rule 5 and was one of the players not previously named in our two previews who had some buzz.
The Royals, who were one of five clubs to keep their Rule 5 pick all year in 2011, figure to make a selection again Thursday after trading Yamaico Navarro to make room on their 40-man roster. Kansas City selects fifth. The Royals made it 20 teams that were under the limit on their 40-man rosters, so Thursday could be an active Rule 5 draft.
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