Teams have dipped deep into the low minors to pluck the ripest Rule 5 fruit during the past decade. For example, the Padres found starting shortstop Everth Cabrera, a 2008 pick, after he spent the previous year at low Class A in the Rockies system.
The Royals and Reds both uncovered future major league all-stars in the 2006 Rule 5 draft. Kansas City scouted closer Joakim Soria in the Mexican Pacific League, which he led that winter with nine wins and 79 strikeouts. The Reds hit the Rule 5 lottery by taking Josh Hamilton fresh off virtually four years of baseball inactivity stemming from multiple drug suspensions.
When it comes to the Rule 5 draft, in other words, the most far-flung prospect isn’t necessarily the most far-fetched prospect. The Brewers, with Taiwanese lefty Wei-Chung Wang, and the White Sox, with high Class A catcher Adrian Nieto, will bid to be the next clubs to strike gold with a low-minors longshot selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Milwaukee and Chicago aren’t the only teams rolling the dice on a Rule 5 pick this season. Four other picks will open 2014 on a big league 25-man roster or disabled list. A pick-by-pick rundown:
1. Patrick Schuster, lhp, Padres
Status: Waived and claimed by Royals, March 25; then returned to Diamondbacks, March 27
Spring training: 8 G, 8 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 3 SO
The Padres acquired lefty relievers Alex Torres (trade with Rays) and Tony Sipp (minor league deal) subsequent to selecting Schuster in the Rule 5, pushing him to third on the depth chart and out the door as a redundant bullpen piece. The Royals claimed Schuster so that they could simultaneously make another 40-man roster move, which was to designate Carlos Peguero for assignment.
2. Adrian Nieto, c, White Sox
Status: Made the 25-man roster as backup catcher
Spring training: 6-for-24 (.308), 14 G, 3 R, 2 2B, 6 RBIs, 2 BB, 6 SO
The 24-year-old switch-hitter ranked fifth in the Carolina League last season with a .373 on-base percentage, and this spring he impressed White Sox pitchers with his preparation. Nieto beat out Josh Phegley for the right to back up Tyler Flowers.
“To take a kid out of the Carolina League and put him in the big leagues as a backup catcher hasn’t happened a lot,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told the Chicago Tribune. “. . . But that doesn’t mean that he can’t do it.”
3. Kevin Munson, rhp, Phillies
Status: Returned to Diamondbacks, March 18
Spring training: 5 G, 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 8 BB, 6 SO
Despite having plenty of vacancies in the bullpen behind Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies didn’t want to gamble on Munson. He cleared waivers and returned to the Diamondbacks, who bought him back for $25,000.
4. Tommy Kahnle, rhp, Rockies
Status: Made the 25-man roster as a reliever
Spring training: 10 G, 9 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 9 SO
Kahnle ranked among the Double-A Eastern League relief leaders last year with a .182 opponent average and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and he’s impressed the right people this spring. Due to the unique conditions of Coors Field, however, the Rockies value roster flexibility more than most clubs, which could make keeping a Rule 5 pick a difficult proposition. Perhaps a trade to retain Kahnle’s rights is in the works.
5. Brian Moran, lhp, Angels
Status: Will begin on big league DL with left elbow inflammation
Spring training: 4 G, 2 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 2 SO
Like the Padres, the Angels sought to enhance their lefty relief roster through the Rule 5 draft, seeing as their holdovers included injured veteran Sean Burnett and rookie Nick Maronde. Los Angeles also has Clay Rapada (since released) and Justin Thomas in camp on minor league deals, but when the bell rings the Angels probably will make do with Maronde in the bullpen and Burnett and Moran on the shelf.
6. Seth Rosin, rhp, Dodgers
Status: Waived and claimed by Rangers, March 26; made the 25-man roster as a reliever
Spring training: 4 G, 11 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 12 SO
Traded by the Giants to the Phillies (as part of the package for Hunter Pence), Rule 5′ed by the Mets, sold to the Dodgers, claimed on waivers by the Rangers—that sums up Rosin’s transactions timeline since the 2012 trade deadline. With the Rangers beginning the year without Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison or Derek Holland on the active roster, Rosin has a shot to soak up low-leverage innings as other pitchers rise to fill in the cracks.
7. Wei-Chung Wang, lhp, Brewers
Status: Made the 25-man roster as a reliever
Spring training: 8 G, 1 GS, 12 IP, 15 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 6 SO
Easily the most buzzed-about Rule 5 pick—at the draft proper and also this spring—Wang will make the improbable leap from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year to the Brewers big league bullpen this year, where he will work as a long man behind established southpaws Zach Duke and Will Smith.
“It’s not just going out there and picking up innings and throwing strikes, which we feel he will do,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s holding runners on and doing all the little things. It’s hard to figure out if this guy is going to be able to do that stuff. The more you play, the more you see what happens in a game and you’re able to adjust to it.”
8. Marcos Mateo, rhp, Diamondbacks
Status: Returned to Cubs, March 12
Spring training: 3 G, 1 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 4 SO
The hard-throwing reliever cleared waivers and returned to the Cubs—with Chicago paying a $25,000 fee—after being outrighted by the Diamondbacks. As Nick Piecoro notes, Mateo could have elected free agency as a player who had previously been outrighted off a 40-man roster, but he chose to stay with the Cubs on a minor league deal.
9. Michael Almanzar, 3b, Orioles
Status: Will begin on big league DL with patella tendinitis in left knee
Spring training: 7-for-35 (.275), 19 G, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 9 RBIs, 3 BB, 7 SO
“We were prepared to make a decision on him, but that will wait now,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter told MASN.com. “Shouldn’t be too long.”