Rule 5 Draft Preview: Cubs’ Marcos Mateo Draws Late Buzz

UPDATE: Reports added for Nationals catcher Adrian Nieto, Mariners outfielder Jabari Blash and Royals righthander Malcom Culver, bringing total number of reports to 30.

ORLANDO—The Rule 5 draft is the finale of the Winter Meetings for many team officials. Bags are packed, and often brought to the convention hall where the draft is held. Teams select their players and then quickly hoof it to the airport.

So Thursday morning will be the traditional grab-and-go for many teams. The buzz about which players might be selected in the Rule 5 will intensify tonight, but several names that keep bouncing around the Disney Swan and Dolphin lobbies. Pirates righthanded reliever Zach Thornton’s combination of command and  groundball tendency has drawn notice. Similarly, Mariners lefty reliever Brian Moran is frequently mentioned, even though he went unpicked as a Rule 5-eligible player in 2012.

Yet Cubs righthanded reliever Marcos Mateo is emerging as one of the most fascinating names because of what he’s doing in the Dominican League. Mateo, who has ranked among the Cubs’ Top 30 prospects three times, pitched reasonably well in the big leagues with Chicago in 2011 before missing all of 2012 and a significant part of 2013 recovering from an elbow injury.

Mateo, now 29, has been electric in the Dominican Republic, featuring a high-90s fastball and a filthy slider in the upper 80s. His results back up the stuff, as he’s 3-0, 0.98 for Estrellas de Oriente, with 22 strikeouts, seven walks and 11 hits in 19 innings. In his last six appearances, Mateo has struck out 12, walked none, allowed five hits and no runs in six innings over six appearances.

So Mateo’s name will be mentioned frequently as the Rule 5 approaches. After all the buildup, though, anyone witnessing the Rule 5 draft for the first time may be shocked at how quickly selections are made. From beginning to end, the process may take 10 minutes. But teams devote a lot of time and resources into preparing for the draft. The major league portion of the Rule 5 probably will end up with about 15 players taken. Historically, about five of those players may actually stick on their selecting club’s major league roster.

But as team after team has mentioned in discussions about the Rule 5 draft this week, the cost of acquiring a player—$50,000—is so marginal that it is well worth speculating on a player. As a reminder, any player picked in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft must remain on the club’s big league roster for the entire 2014 season (including 90 days on the active roster in case of injury). He can’t go to the minors until he is offered back to the team he was picked from and clears waivers.

Teams must have an open 40-man roster spot to make a pick in the major league Rule 5 draft, and 11 had full 40-man rosters as of Wednesday morning. Some could make moves before the draft to clear a roster spot, but many will simply sit the draft out. Also, the Cubs have forfeited their first-round pick to the Phillies to settle a grievance over 2011 Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo, a righthander.

Castillo spent the bare minimum of days on the active roster in 2012, thanks to stints on the disabled list, and the Phillies filed a protest. As compensation, the Phillies receive the Cubs’ No. 4 pick. Philadelphia also holds the No. 7 pick, though to actually select two Rule 5 picks they would need to create another 40-man roster spot.

 

RULE 5 DRAFT ORDER WITH 40-MAN CAPACITY
Pick Team 40-Man Pick Team 40-Man
1. Astros 37 16. Orioles 38
2. Marlins 40 17. Yankees 40
3. White Sox 38 18. Royals 39
4. *Phillies 39 19. Nationals 39
5. Twins 40 20. Reds 39
6. Mariners 39 21. Rangers 39
7. Phillies 39 22. Rays 39
8. Rockies 38 23. Indians 39
9. Blue Jays 40 24. Dodgers 35
10. Mets 37 25. Tigers 40
11. Brewers 40 26. Pirates 40
12. Padres 40 27. Athletics 40
13. Giants 40 28. Braves 37
14. Angels 38 29. Red Sox 40
15. D-backs 36 30. Cardinals 36
* Pick from Cubs as compensation for 2011 Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo. The Cubs, who have 37 players on the 40-man roster, could select a player in the second round of major league portion of Rule 5 draft.

 

The players who will be selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft can be divided into two basic categories. On one hand, you have those who are viewed as potential contributors in 2014. On the other, there are toolsier players who aren’t ready to play in the big leagues, but who can potentially be stashed for a year in hopes that they can be contributors in future years.

Here’s a quick look at more than two dozen Rule 5 eligibles to watch for tomorrow’s draft:

 

PLAYERS WHO CAN HELP NOW
Pitchers
Marcos Mateo RHP Cubs
Pop-up prospect has big league experience and is pitching well in the Dominican League this winter.
Zach Thornton RHP Pirates
Reliever with a funky delivery gets loads of groundballs and features excellent control.
Brian Moran LHP Mariners
Probably a one-out lefty; great against lefthanded hitters but gets ripped by righties.
Stephen Kohlscheen RHP Mariners
Stuff may be a little light, but hard to argue with excellent results at Double-A.
Marcus Hatley RHP Cubs
6-foot-5 reliever has plus fastball with downhill plane and is pitching well in Mexico.
Tommy Kahnle RHP Yankees
Combines a plus fastball with questionable control.
Freddy Lewis LHP Yankees
Velocity keeps ticking upward, and scouts saw him pitch well in the Arizona Fall League.
Malcom Culver RHP Royals
Former shortstop/third baseman moved to mound in 2011 but already shows some feel. His 92-94 mph fastball helped out by average change and breaking ball.
Matt Loosen RHP Cubs
A starter in the minors, his stuff may play up with a move to the bullpen.
Kevin Munson RHP Diamondbacks
With a plus fastball and tick above-average slider, he has chance to help a club in relief.
Boone Whiting RHP Cardinals
Back-of-the-rotation starter has fringe stuff but survives with pitchability and competitiveness.
Alex Sogard LHP Astros
Hard-throwing lefty has two plus pitches with fastball and breaking ball, but little control.
Jake Buchanan RHP Astros
Groundball machine throws strikes with an average assortment of pitches.
Hitters
Darrell Ceciliani OF Mets
No carrying tool, but he has three average tools and could help as an extra outfielder.
Mike Freeman 2B/UTIL Diamondbacks
Serious concerns about his bat, but grinder can play many positions reasonably well.
Jae-Hoon Ha OF Cubs
Solid center fielder who draws walks and gets on base and could fit as a backup outfielder.
Brian Fletcher 1B/OF Royals
Defensive concerns both at 1B and LF, but he does have some of best power available.
Adrian Nieto C Nationals
Catcher has solid defensive tools, OK bat, but has yet to play above Class A
Carlos Perez C Astros
Hard for a catcher to stick as a Rule 5 pick, but Perez could serve as a legitimate backup.
PLAYERS WHO CAN HELP LATER
Pitchers
Angel Nesbitt RHP Tigers
Think a skinnier Bruce Rondon with similar stuff, but he hasn’t pitched above Class A.
Tyler Ybarra LHP Blue Jays
History of success and 93-95 mph fastball, but has yet to pitch beyond Class A and has iffy control.
Danny Burawa RHP Yankees
Sits at 95 mph most nights, but lacks a second pitch and strike zone jumps around on him.
Brody Colvin RHP Phillies
Prospect who has lost luster; he may be a reclamation project for a team with good old reports.
Matt Lollis RHP Padres
Fastball may grade as an 80, as he runs it up to 98 mph, but he was hit hard as reliever in 2013.
Hector Nelo RHP Dodgers
A minor league Rule 5 pick in 2012, could jump to the major league phase with a near-100 mph fastball.
Omar Luis RHP Yankees
Renegotiated contract makes $2.5 million man eligible for Rule 5, but he hasn’t pitched above short-season.
Hitters
Junior Arias OF Reds
Hit tool may grade at the bottom of the scale, but with 15 HR and 60 SB, he has rare power/speed combo.
Jabari Blash/td> OF Mariners
Toolsy outfielder has power, speed and arm but carries questions about how much he will hit.
Marco Hernandez SS Cubs
Not many better SS prospects have been available in recent years, but he’s not ready for the majors.
Brett Eibner OF Royals
Power-speed center fielder has always had contact problems, but mechanical change got him going in June.