By Josh Boyd
December 15, 2003
NEW ORLEANS–By losing five players apiece in Monday’s major league Rule 5 draft, the Indians and Pirates each made $250,000, but that sum is hardly consolation for two small-market clubs who are dependent upon their farm systems to produce major league talent.
While the 2003 draft didn’t surpass last year’s record 28 selections, as many baseball officials expected, it was another active year as 20 players were chosen. Half were products of the thriving Indians and Pirates farm systems.
“We’re not surprised,” Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. “There were various hints this was going to happen. In different trade discussions, teams would shy away from certain players because of the fear they were going to lose them in the draft. Then you hear the talk in the lobby so you have an idea.”
Pittsburgh’s system was raided when they lost five of the first six selections, including the first overall pick, catcher/first baseman Chris Shelton to the Tigers. The Indians lost four players in last year’s major league phase, including Hector Luna and Matt White, who were drafted again this year.
The difference between the two clubs is that the Pirates had three spots open on their 40-man roster, while Cleveland was full at 40. There have been questions as to why Pittsburgh protected some of the players they did (such as Jason Boyd and Mark Corey), but they clearly believe they protected the right players.
“What this shows is we have a lot of depth in our system,” Pirates farm director Brian Graham said. “On the 2 to 8 scale, we have some 7 and 8s like John VanBenschoten, Sean Burnett and Mike Johnston, but we have a whole lot of 5s and 6s. Those are the kind of guys we lost today.”
In addition to Shelton, outfielder Rich Thompson (whom the Padres traded to the Royals for Rule 5 righty Jason Szuminski and cash in a prearranged deal), lefthander Frank Brooks (who was dealt by the Mets to the Athletics for a player to be named), righthander Jeff Bennett (Brewers) and third baseman/outfielder Jose Bautista (Orioles) all were pilfered from the Pirates system.
“I do realize this sends a mixed message,” Littlefield said. “What we’re trying to do is build a balance between winning at the major league level and improving our scouting and player-development systems to ensure long-term success.
“The reality is that it is awfully hard for young players with no major league experience to stay on a major league roster all season. We certainly feel we will get some of our guys back. We’ll have to look back in a few years to understand the impact and how it all worked out.”
Here’s a capsule of each of the 20 players drafted in the major league portion of the 2003 Rule 5:
Chris Shelton, util
The fact the Pirates were giving him extensive work at third base and in left field tells you a lot about his ability to catch. However, the Tigers can carry him as a third catcher and use his potent righthanded bat in a variety of roles off the bench. The question is how his bat will play in the majors. Shelton has strong plate discipline habits and makes solid contact with power, but has just 122 at-bats outside of high Class A.
Rich Thompson, of
Drafted by the Padres, he was sent to the Royals for righthander Jason Szuminski and cash. Thompson is a top of the scale runner who can play all three outfield positions. The Royals acquired him with every intention of allowing him to contribute this season. “He fits good for us,” Royals assistant GM Muzzy Jackson said. “If the bat comes along he can be a really good player. It’s tough for us to carry a player, he’s going to have to contribute. He’s going to get some AB’s and get a chance to develop. He’s got the package necessary to do it.”
Alec Zumwalt, rhp
A converted infielder, Zumwalt impressed Devil Rays scouts in the Arizona Fall League, where he allowed 26 hits in 20 innings. He shows a good feel for pitching despite making the transition from the outfield just two years ago. He hit .217 in 743 at-bats before moving to the bullpen. His 62 strikeouts in 64 innings and 1.98 ERA this season are a good indication of the progress he’s made. He throws 90-94 with an average slider and changeup.
Frank Brooks, lhp
While Brooks wasn’t considered a Grade A prospect, the Pirates deserve credit for snagging him from the Phillies this summer for Mike Williams. Brooks is tough on lefthanders with his 89-92 mph fastball and left-on-left slurvy breaking ball. After selecting him the Mets dealt him to the A’s, where he became their only lefty (though the Yankees are working on a deal that would send Chris Hammond to Oakland), for a player to be named. He has as good of a chance of sticking as any player drafted.
Jeff Bennett, rhp
Major league baseball’s Roy Krasik sounded like a broken record in the Grand Ballroom at the New Orleans Marriot repeating: “Selected from the Pirates Triple-A Nashville roster…” five times in the first six picks. The Brewers nabbed Bennett, the fourth Pirates minor leaguer to go, though there was some concern that he has been dealing with a sore shoulder. The righthander’s velocity jumped to 95 mph this season, but after a solid performance in Double-A Altoona (4-4, 2.72), he struggled with a move to Triple-A (1-3, 6.56).
Jose Bautista, 3b/of
A highly touted draft and follow signee in 2001, Bautista was rated as the Pirates No. 7 prospect prior to the 2003 season. He broke his hand punching a garbage can out of frustration and was limited to 165 at-bats in Lynchburg. He and outfielder Willy Taveras, drafted later by the Astros, have the most upside of any player drafted this year, but given Bautista’s lack of upper level experience, he could likely be one of the players the Pirates will get back next spring.
David Mattox, rhp
A converted infielder in college, Mattox didn’t have much mileage on his arm when the Mets originally drafted him out of Anderson (S.C.) College in the 11th round in 2001. He looks like a polished pitcher, though, as he operates with four quality pitches, including a low-90s fastball and a plus changeup, and command. “His arm works good, he has a good delivery and four pitches,” Mets scouting director Jack Bowen said. “On the right night, he has four average to above major league pitches and an outstanding change.”
Chris Mabeus, rhp
Another product of the 2003 Arizona Fall League, Mabeus’ stock has improved of late as his velocity has reached 95 mph. He’s a strike thrower who walked 15 and fanned 70 in 62 innings between Class A Modesto and Double-A Midland.
Matt White, lhp
Drafted in the Rule 5 a year ago by the Red Sox, White made his major league debut for Boston before being dealt to the Mariners. A minor injury cost him effectiveness and command and he was returned to the Indians after allowing 13 hits in 5 2/3. He was a good selection last year, though and he’s a good pick again this year because when he’s healthy, he’s tough on lefties and throws 90-93 mph with a good breaking ball.
Jason Szuminski, rhp
Selected by the Royals and dealt to the Padres with cash for Rich Thompson, Szuminski works with an 88-91 mph fastball. He relies on deception and movement, but has to refine his command and breaking ball. A groundball pitcher, he generates good sinking and running action on his fastball, which helps him keep the ball in the park (one home run allowed in 97 innings between three levels last year).
Andy Fox, utility
The Expos drafted the player with the most major league experience of this year’s crop, and this has been a successful practice, though uncommon in Rule 5 history. Fox, who hit .194 in 70 at-bats for the Marlins last year, will serve as Montreal’s utility infielder. He is a good character role player who offers versatility and solid baseball instincts.
Talley Haines, rhp
For the third straight year in J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure as GM, the Blue Jays have drafted and carried a righthander from the Rule 5 draft. Two years ago Corey Thurman turned in a solid rookie performance and last year Aquilino Lopez emerged as the closer. Though not as well known as his two predecessors, Haines has the ability to land a spot in the bullpen. He was 5-3, 2.53 for Triple-A Durham, striking out 64 against 11 walks in 68 innings. Haines offers two important ingredients for Rule 5 success: command and one potential out pitch (a splitter). His fastball is just average, though.
Jason Grilli, rhp
A first-round pick (drafted fourth overall out of Seton Hall) by the Giants in 1997, Grilli enjoyed a quick rise to the majors, making his debut for the Marlins in 2000. Despite injuries that have limited him over the last two seasons, the White Sox drafted him as reports that his stuff is back. Grilli went 6-2, 3.38 in Triple-A Albuquerque after rehabbing in Class A Jupiter.
Hector Luna, ss
Luna, like Matt White, was drafted from the Indians organization for the second straight year. Last year he was impressive in spring training for the Devil Rays, but didn’t make the cut. The Cardinals’ project this time around, Luna can declare free agency if he’s outrighted for a second time. He has an intriguing tools package though, and might stick as a utility infielder. Cleveland, whose roster was full at 40, opted to protect Class A shortstop Ivan Ochoa over Luna because of Ochoa’s superior defense. “Luna has greater overall strength right now, but Ochoa has more defensive consistency,” Indians farm director John Farrell said. Luna hit .297-2-38 for Double-A Akron, though he got off to a sluggish start after returning to the Indians organization. “Any time a player gets drafted twice in the Rule 5, obviously he’s a player who is liked by teams,” Farrell said. “Being selected has an impact on a guy who comes back, negatively. He questions the direction he’s going in, he questions [how much] his original team wants him if they didn’t protect him. It’s a very unsettling time for these guys.”
Lenny Dinardo, lhp
Dinardo’s impressive AFL campaign certainly didn’t hurt his chances of being selected this year. While he allowed 22 hits in 18 innings, he mowed down hitters by keeping them off balance and he struck out 27 and walked just three. He faces a significant challenge in sticking on the Red Sox roster, however, because his fastball is timed at just 83-87 mph with good cutting movement. Dinardo touched 90 mph regularly in college, but scouts believe he became so reliant upon his cutter that it cost him velocity and arm strength.
Willy Taveras, of
The Indians had high hopes for Taveras, who has outstanding raw tools and athleticism. Like Rich Thompson, Taveras can be an effective fifth outfielder as a rookie because he is a plus runner with an above-average arm and center field range. With so little experience, it will be difficult for him to earn the consistent playing time he needs to develop as a hitter.
Michael Bumatay, lhp
An astute pick by the Rockies in the minor league phase of the 2002 Rule 5 draft, Bumatay has a good chance of landing a lefty specialist job in the Tigers pen this year. His fastball is just around average at 88 mph, but his three-quarters breaking ball gives lefthanders fits (they managed a meager .138 average against him last year between Class A Visalia and Double-A Tulsa).
Luis Gonzalez, util
The Rockies appreciate statistical analysis more and more, and Gonzalez has always displayed good patience and strike zone control. A .290 hitter in seven minor league seasons, he doesn’t have overwhelming tools, but he makes consistent contact (46 walks, 41 strikeouts last year in Double-A Akron) and can play anywhere in the infield and has some experience in the outfield.
Colter Bean, rhp
Despite his imposing frame (6-foot-6, 255 pounds), Bean is not overpowering. He relies on deception, command and movement, which he creates with a low arm slot. In going 4-2, 2.87 for Triple-A Columbus, Bean limited righties to a .177 average.
Lino Urdaneta, rhp
Recently signed by the Indians as a six-year minor league free agent, Urdaneta has been dialing his fastball up to 98 mph in Venezuela this winter. He has emerged as the closer for Caracas after going 0-8, 4.29 at Double-A Jacksonville in the Dodgers system last year. Repeating command and consistency is the key for Urdaneta, who is somewhat of a long shot to stick even in Detroit.