NASHVILLE—A relatively placid day during the Winter Meetings on Wednesday gives way to what should be a much more active Thursday.
Most fans are hoping for a free-agent signing by their team or to be involved in a trade involving Justin Upton. The only guaranteed activity is Thursday's Rule 5 draft, which starts at 9 a.m. Central time at the Opryland Hotel's Delta Ballroom A.
Scouts and front-office officials contacted throughout the week here do expect it to be a fairly active Rule 5 draft by recent standards, especially compared to last year. The 2011 draft saw just 12 players picked, the fewest since 2005.
While the Rule 5 draft produced star big leaguers such as Johan Santana, Dan Uggla and Jose Bautista in the first half of the decade the eligibility rules changed for the 2006 edition of the draft, granting teams an extra year of protection for their players. After teams got used to the new rules of the game—Joakim Soria and Josh Hamilton went off the board early in '06—the draft has mattered less and less each year. Since '07 the success stories have been much more modest, such as Orioles infielder Ryan Flaherty last year and 2008 pick Darren O'Day.
This year's buzz starts with two hard-throwing pitchers who were identified in BA's two previews. Lefthander Braulio Lara of the Rays was the leading rumor to be picked first overall by the Astros, who have the No. 1 spot for the second straight season. General manager Jeff Luhnow said this morning the Astros expect to be active in the Rule 5 draft, and last year Houston kept two Rule 5 picks in righthander Rhiner Cruz and infielder Marwin Gonzalez.
Lara, 23, has a power arm like Cruz, has the added benefit of being lefthanded and reportedly hit 100 mph in Licey in the Dominican Winter League. Lara also had seven walks in 5.1 innings after struggling in the regular season, walking 58 in 112 innings. Lara went just 6-10, 5.71 for high Class A Charlotte and has a 4.41 career ERA in nearly 400 pro innings.
Dominguez, 22, also has a fastball that has touched 100 mph and earns some 80 grades for his fastball. He also has a 25-game MLB suspension waiting for him to start the 2013 season for a violation of the drug-treatment program.
Other players expected to be selected include righthander Josh Fields of the Red Sox, the 27-year-old former Georgia closer, and catcher Jason Hagerty of the Padres. The 25-year-old had a huge 2010 season at low Class A Fort Wayne (.917 OPS) but has missed time the last two years with a variety of injuries, including back problems that limited him to 77 games in 2012. Hagerty's a switch-hitter who draws walks (.377 career OBP), but he struggled defensively in 2012, leading the Texas League with 11 errors and throwing out just 21 percent of baserunners.
2012 RULE 5 DRAFT ORDER
1. Astros. 2. Cubs. 3. Rockies. 4. Twins. 5. Indians. 6. Marlins. 7. Red Sox. 8. Royals. 9. Blue Jays. 10. Mets. 11. Mariners. 12. Padres. 13. Pirates. 14. Diamondbacks. 15. Phillies. 16. Brewers. 17. White Sox. 18. Dodgers. 19. Cardinals. 20. Tigers. 21. Angels. 22. Rays. 23. Orioles. 24. Rangers. 25. Athletics. 26. Giants. 27. Braves. 28. Yankees. 29. Reds. 30. Nationals.