Some scouts' passports will be getting a workout in the leadup to the Dec. 12 Rule 5 draft.
The Nov. 20 deadline to set 40-man rosters in advance of the draft gave scouts a chance to start setting their travel itineraries to try to check out Rule 5 eligibles playing in winter leagues.
While few impact players have been nabbed in the Rule 5 draft ever since eligibility rules gave teams an extra year of protection before players are eligible, the lure of adding talent inexpensively (the cost of a Rule 5 claim is only $50,000) will keep teams sorting to find a potential gem in a sea of middling prospects.
Over the years, there are several kinds of prospects who prove most valuable for the Rule 5 draft: power arms with above-average velocity, especially if they already have the makings of a second pitch; lefthanders with excellent pitchability, speedy middle infielders and center fielders who can help both with their glove and as pinch-runners; polished first baseman/corner outfielders who provide enough power to have value as a big bat off the bench.
Of the five Rule 5 selections that stuck last year without being offered back to their original team, those categories are well represented. There were the power arm relievers (Josh Fields, Hector Rondon, Ryan Pressly) and a somewhat polished first baseman (Nate Freiman) as well as a lefthander with excellent control (T.J. McFarland).
Here's a look at a number of players who could hear their names called during the 2013 Rule 5 draft.
Junior Arias, of, Reds: Like many potential Rule 5 picks, Arias only fits on a team that is building for the future. Arias has yet to have an at-bat above Class A and he spent much of last year in low Class A Dayton. His bat is in no way ready to actually help a big league club in 2014. But Arias has a very useful combination of speed and power for a team looking for long-term help. Arias hit 15 home runs last year and stole 60 bases. A former shortstop/third baseman who was plagued with throwing errors, Arias quickly took to a move to center field this year. He still is a little raw in center, but his plus speed outruns a lot of his mistakes and his arm is above-average.
If a team picked Arias, he would be able to provide some value as a pinch-runner, late-inning defensive replacement and even an occasional pinch-hit appearance because of his pop. It would slow his long-term development, but a team looking to add athleticism to its outfield may be intrigued by Arias' tools.
Danny Burawa, rhp, Yankees: After missing 2012 with a torn oblique and a cracked rib, Burawa finally made his Double-A debut last season. He sported a fastball that sat in the 92-97 mph range and sat comfortably at 95 on most nights while featuring average sink. He couples that with an inconsistent, sweepy, 83-86 mph slider that he tends to cast and a show-me changeup that sits between 83-87 mph.
His problem lies with control. His delivery features a long, hooking arm action in the back that lends itself to wildness. He started slowly in 2013 but came on strong in the second half with a 0.92 ERA and an improved strikeout-to-walk ratio from July 1 until season's end. Velocity alone could earn him a look from a team looking for bullpen power.
Darrell Ceciliani, of, Mets: Any team with a gap in its system in terms of outfield depth could be enticed to gamble on Ceciliani, a fourth-round pick in 2009 who has a solid base of skills but no carrying tool. The 23-year-old bats lefthanded and has a full season of experience at Double-A Binghamton, where he ranked second in the Eastern League with 31 stolen bases. Scouts project Ceciliani to have three average tools: hitting, running and fielding, and while his walk rate dried up at Double-A, he did hit .276/.328/.390 versus righthanders and could be a functional extra outfielder.
Brody Colvin, rhp, Phillies: Once the top pitching prospect in the Phillies' organization, Colvin's career has been been on a decline the past two seasons. His control has fallen apart, partly because he has a wrap in his long arm action that makes it hard to repeat consistently. Colvin's once well-above-average fastball now sits 90-92 more often, but it could play up a little bit in the bullpen. He still has a hard curveball that can be a strikeout pitch although his inability to get ahead in counts has made it hard to use it lately.
Colvin's lack of control would make it hard for a team to use him in anything more than mop-up situations right now. A team who thinks they can fix his mechanical problems could take a chance on him.
Jose De Paula, lhp, Padres: (Please note that De Paula is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Designated for assignment on Nov. 20, he wound up on the Giants’ 40-man roster on a waiver claim. However, he’s still an interesting prospect, so read on . . .)
If not for a bout of shoulder tendinitis that sidelined him at Double-A San Antonio from mid-June to the end of the season, De Paula probably would have stayed on the 40-man roster and thus not be eligible for selection. That’s because he’s the rare pitcher from the Dominican Republic who throws lefthanded, pounds the strike zone (career walk rate of 2.2 per nine innings) and has natural feel to spin a curveball. The 23-year-old De Paula pitches at 89-91 mph with an easy arm action and the potential for three average pitches, plus he can start or relieve as needed.
Brian Fletcher, of/1b, Royals: Fletcher has been on the back end of the Royals’ Top 30 prospects list in both 2011 and 2012 thanks to his power potential. He hit well in a return to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, although he slumped after a midseason promotion to Triple-A Omaha.
Fletcher has played in some offensive ballparks during his pro career, but his .488 career slugging percentage is a reminder that he has above-average power. He swings and misses too much and doesn't walk as much as teams would like. He has some position versatility, but he's his well below average speed limits his range in the outfield and he has only limited experience at first base.
Mike Freeman, 2b/util, Diamondbacks: Freeman hit just .247 this year, and the 26-year-old doesn’t have the pop to be an everyday player for a championship-caliber team. He does fit the utility profile well, however. He bats lefthanded; he draws walks (65 with Double-A Mobile this season); he can fill in at shortstop in a pinch and played second base (his best fit), third base and left field in the Arizona Fall League. He also has a quick first-step that helps maximize his fringe-average speed, both in the field and on the bases, where he’s an efficient basestealer. In short, in an era of 12- and 13-man pitching staffs, Freeman could be a valuable Swiss Army knife on the bench.
Jae-Hoon Ha, of, Cubs: A former catcher, Ha has taken very well to a move to the outfield. Although he's an average to tick-above average runner, he plays a very solid center field because he gets good jumps. He has enough arm strength to play right field as well.
Ha doesn't have much power, but at his best the lefthanded hitter can draw some walks and get on base. He doesn't profile as more than a backup outfielder long-term, but with more than 250 games in Double-A and above, he may be ready to fill that role in 2014, and teams would like his major league minimum salary.
Marcus Hatley, rhp, Cubs: The Cubs were already sitting at 37 players on their 40-man roster before they added Arismendy Alcantara and Dallas Beeler. That means that the club had to take a risk with a couple of other interesting prospects.
Hatley is probably the most interesting. A big (6-foot-5) righthander with a plus fastball (92-95 mph) that he throws with good downhill plane and an average slider and curve, Hatley ranked at the back end of the Cubs' Top 30 prospects list after the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He struck out 74 batters in 61 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year with adequate control (35 walks) and iffy command.
A Tommy John survivor, Hatley has good stuff and more than 150 innings of work in Double-A and Triple-A. Unlike most Rule 5 picks, he could potentially contribute more than just an occasional mop-up inning while making the major league minimum salary. Teams who want to get a closer look at Hatley can scout him in the Mexican Pacific League, where he's 1-1, 2.57 with six saves in 14 innings with Culiacan. He's struck out 18 and walked only four.
Marco Hernandez, ss, Cubs: Hernandez is a long ways away from being ready to actually help a big league club, but the switch-hitting shortstop has a lot of the attributes teams look for in a potential Rule 5 pick. He has defensive value because he can handle shortstop with range and a plus arm, he's a tick-above average runner and he has some hitting potential with a solid swing from both sides of the plate. Like many Class A shortstops, he's not sure-handed yet, so errors would be a problem whenever he played.
The bigger question a potential selecting team would have to ask is would they be ruining Hernandez's long-term potential by picking him and then letting him rot on a big league bench. The year off would hurt him significantly as he needs plenty of minor league at-bats.
Tommy Kahnle, rhp, Yankees: Similar to Burawa, Kahnle is a hard-thrower who features premium velocity and spotty command. His heat ranges between 91-96 mph and sits comfortably in the mid-90s with a little sink. He complements the fastball with small, biting changeup and an average slider that he sometimes fails to stay on top of. Kahnle, who cuts a chiseled, imposing figure on the mound, spent the season as the closer at Double-A Trenton. His command faded as the year went on, including 12 walks in just more than 14 innings in August. Once again like Burawa, Kahnle's velocity alone could earn him a look.
Stephen Kohlscheen, rhp, Mariners: Kohlscheen’s stuff might be a little less firm than the typical Rule 5 reliever, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
Pitching with an 89-92 mph fastball and a below average breaking ball and changeup, Kohlscheen went 7-3, 2.30 with 47 hits allowed in 67 innings at Double-A Jackson last year. He struck out 85 and walked 25. He’s struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings throughout his minor league career. Kohlscheen’s bigger problem is a tendency to give up home runs. At 6-foot-6, he’s an imposing presence on the mound, but his lack of a quality changeup makes him a comfortable at-bat for lefthanded hitters.
Freddy Lewis, lhp, Yankees: Lewis threw 78-86 mph as a high schooler and went to Tennessee Wesleyan, a strong NAIA program that also has produced four scouts who have won their organization’s scout of the year award in recent years. One of them, Jon Hendricks of the Blue Jays, coached Lewis in college and saw Lewis make adjustments to his delivery that eventually pumped his velocity up to 94 mph. A 47th-round pick in 2010, Lewis hit 96 as a reliever with the Yankees and sat in the 88-92 mph range while making five spot starts for Double-A Trenton, with good life down in the zone. Lewis threw well in the Arizona Fall League as well, tossing 11 scoreless innings and striking out 10, and showed his durability by tossing 70 innings overall on the year counting the AFL. His slider remains inconsistent and he throws a fringe-average changeup, but his attacking mentality helps him be more effective in 2013 against righthanded hitters (.632 OPS) than lefthanded ones (.790 OPS).
Matt Lollis, rhp, Padres: Though he has only one major league-caliber pitch, Lollis makes it count with a double-plus fastball he pumps up to 98 mph from a low three-quarters slot. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound behemoth pitched out of the bullpen exclusively in 2013, but that didn’t seem to help his secondary stuff (slider, changeup) play up, nor did it add to his deception. Both lefties (.888 OPS) and righties (.763) hit him hard across three levels, including a combined 35 appearances at Double-A and Triple-A. Still, physical relievers who throw hard, like Lollis, traditionally serve as prime Rule 5 bait.
Matt Loosen, rhp, Cubs: A righthander from Jacksonville, Loosen has very slowly climbed the minor league ladder, spending parts of three seasons in the Florida State League. He had to be demoted back to the FSL in 2013 after a rough start in Double-A, but he pitched well enough to return to Tennessee before the season ended. His second stint in Double-A went much better than the first, as he finished the season with 11 scoreless innings in his final two starts. He also was solid, if unspectacular, in an Arizona Fall League stint.
With an 89-94 mph fastball and a pair of erratic but promising breaking balls, Loosen might be served by a move to the bullpen, which would almost assuredly happen if he was picked in the Rule 5 draft.
Kevin Munson, rhp, Diamondbacks: A three-time member of the Diamondbacks' Top 30 Prospects list, peaking at No. 13 in 2011, Munson's stuff wasn't always as firm in 2013 as it was in 2012, but he still pitched with a plus fastball (91-94) and an average-to-tick-above-average slider. He doesn't always hit his spots, but he does throw strikes and he struck out 66 batters in 55 innings last season.
Hector Nelo, rhp, Dodgers: Nelo needs to develop a quality second pitch, but if you're only going to have one plus pitch, a 95-98 mph fastball is a pretty good solitary pitch. A minor league Rule 5 draftee in 2012 by the Dodgers, Nelo has pitched effectively in Double-A in the past two seasons. He possibly could move up to the major league Rule 5 draft this year.
Angel Nesbitt, rhp, Tigers: Is Nesbitt ready to help a big league club? Probably not. But he fits the profile of the kind of power arm who teams take a good long look at picking when they are left unprotected.
Nesbitt has the build of a skinnier Bruce Rondon, and he has the fastball to match. But he doesn't yet have a secondary pitch he can really rely on to go with it. Nesbitt can hit 95-97 mph with his fastball, but his slurve isn't very advanced, which explains why he struck out 54 batters in 67 inning in low Class A.
The Tigers took an understandable gamble in leaving Nesbitt exposed, as unrefined low Class A power arms rarely can stick on a new team, even if they are picked. Cubs righthander Starling Peralta from last year's Rule 5 draft is an example of that. But a team may take a chance on adding a righthander with potential long-term setup or closer potential.
Carlos Perez, c, Astros: Perez passed through the Rule 5 draft last year, but there’s a greater chance someone might roll the dice on him this time. Perez could be a fit for a rebuilding team with an established everyday catcher like, well . . . the Astros.
But given that Houston called up Max Stassi from Double-A and minor league veterans Cody Clark and Matt Pagnozzi late in the 2013 season, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that the Astros left Perez exposed. Perez, who turned 23 last month, is a dependable catcher who moves well behind the plate, blocks well and earns praise for how he handles a pitching staff. His arm is average and he gets rid of the ball quickly, helping him erase an impressive 47 percent of basestealers last year in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The question scouts have on Perez is his offense. His bat speed is below-average, he has minimal power and his swing can get long. But Perez doesn’t swing and miss much and he controls the strike zone, which helped him hit a respectable .269/.328/.345 with 25 walks and 39 strikeouts in 75 games in Triple-A. If the power develops, he could be an everyday catcher, but he should at least get a chance in a backup role. When Perez originally signed with the Blue Jays out of Venezuela at age 17, Marco Paddy was Toronto’s top scout in Latin America. Paddy now runs the White Sox’s international operations as a special assistant to the general manager, and with Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley, the organization could look for additional depth. The White Sox have the third pick in the Rule 5 draft (and the Astros are at No. 1), so Perez could go off the board early.
Boone Whiting, rhp, Cardinals: Smallish at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Whiting is a fly-ball pitcher who lacks plane on his fastball and doesn’t overpower hitters. His competitiveness, command, athleticism and feel for three average pitches helps him miss bats, as he has a career 9.31 SO/9 IP ratio. Whiting’s fastball sits in the 88-92 mph range and touches 93, and he locates it well. His changeup earns some above-average grades and is his best pitch. He throws a slurvy slider as well, and all three come out of the same over-the-top high arm slot, giving him deception. Whiting was homer-prone in Triple-A, giving up 11 in 106 innings, and profiles as no more than a fifth starter, but he’s close to that ceiling now. In Prospect Handbook terms, he’s a 40/Low.
Ben Badler, Matt Eddy, John Manuel and Josh Norris contributed to this report.