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 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|
|Pop-up prospect has big league experience and is pitching well in the Dominican League this winter.|
|Reliever with a funky delivery gets loads of groundballs and features excellent control.|
|Probably a one-out lefty; great against lefthanded hitters but gets ripped by righties.|
|Stuff may be a little light, but hard to argue with excellent results at Double-A.|
|6-foot-5 reliever has plus fastball with downhill plane and is pitching well in Mexico.|
|Combines a plus fastball with questionable control.|
|Velocity keeps ticking upward, and scouts saw him pitch well in the Arizona Fall League.|
|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.|
|A starter in the minors, his stuff may play up with a move to the bullpen.|
|With a plus fastball and tick above-average slider, he has chance to help a club in relief.|
|Back-of-the-rotation starter has fringe stuff but survives with pitchability and competitiveness.|
|Hard-throwing lefty has two plus pitches with fastball and breaking ball, but little control.|
|Groundball machine throws strikes with an average assortment of pitches.|
|No carrying tool, but he has three average tools and could help as an extra outfielder.|
|Serious concerns about his bat, but grinder can play many positions reasonably well.|
|Solid center fielder who draws walks and gets on base and could fit as a backup outfielder.|
|Defensive concerns both at 1B and LF, but he does have some of best power available.|
|Catcher has solid defensive tools, OK bat, but has yet to play above Class A|
|Hard for a catcher to stick as a Rule 5 pick, but Perez could serve as a legitimate backup.|
|PLAYERS WHO CAN HELP LATER|
|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.|
|Sits at 95 mph most nights, but lacks a second pitch and strike zone jumps around on him.|
|Prospect who has lost luster; he may be a reclamation project for a team with good old reports.|
|Fastball may grade as an 80, as he runs it up to 98 mph, but he was hit hard as reliever in 2013.|
|A minor league Rule 5 pick in 2012, could jump to the major league phase with a near-100 mph fastball.|
|Renegotiated contract makes $2.5 million man eligible for Rule 5, but he hasn’t pitched above short-season.|
|Hit tool may grade at the bottom of the scale, but with 15 HR and 60 SB, he has rare power/speed combo.|
|Toolsy outfielder has power, speed and arm but carries questions about how much he will hit.|
|Not many better SS prospects have been available in recent years, but he’s not ready for the majors.|
|Power-speed center fielder has always had contact problems, but mechanical change got him going in June.|