Rule 5 Gives Players New Starts
NASHVILLE—Sitting in a clubhouse at Durham Bulls Athletic Park at the end of a long season, Josh Fields got a rare treat for a minor leaguer. He got to meet face to face with officials from his front office, including farm director Ben Crockett.
In his first full season with the Red Sox, Fields had helped Triple-A Pawtucket win the International League championship, though the PawSox had just lost the Triple-A National Championship game in Durham to Reno. He'd completed his best season as a professional, tossing a career-high 58 innings and registering 12 saves. Those are modest totals for a 27-year-old who was drafted in the first round back in 2008, but they were career highs nonetheless and signs of progress.
Fields hoped the performance numbers—including 16 scoreless innings and 22 strikeouts with Pawtucket, including the playoffs—and the progress of his control and stuff would help him earn a spot on the 40-man roster for the first time, as well as a September callup for the last week of the season.
Crockett and the Red Sox delivered the message directly, though. Fields' season was over. Originally a Mariners draftee acquired by the Red Sox in a July 2011 three-team deal that also brought Erik Bedard briefly to Boston, Fields would be considered for a 40-man spot, but nothing was guaranteed. Mentally, Fields began preparing for the possibility that he wouldn't be protected and could be exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
"I tried not to take it personally," he said. "But at the time, it was a little disappointing. Communication is so huge, so I appreciate the Red Sox doing a good job with that. Seattle always shot me straight, and I appreciate that Boston didn't just tell me what I wanted to hear and didn't promise me anything."
Nearly three months later, Fields was sleeping at home in Hull, Ga., with his cell phone on silent. He knew the Rule 5 was being held during the Winter Meetings at the Opryland Resort, but in keeping with his attempts to control his controllables, he figured, "I'd find out when I found out."
He awoke to nine text messages and a barrage of missed phone calls to find out he'd been selected first overall by the Houston Astros.
"There is a a lot new about the Astros," Fields said. "New uniforms, moving to the American League, a lot of new players. It's a fresh start with an organization that's rebuilding. Hopefully, if I work hard, I can come in and find a spot on the team."
Fields will if he continues the progress he made in 2012, much of which he credited to Double-A Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper. Fields said Kipper's long experience in the game and ability to communicate it helped him focus better and improved his between-games routine, with emphasis on simplification. Fields also worked with Kipper to simplify his delivery. "Mine can get a little violent," Fields said, "so we tried to tone it down a little."
It's likely that a toned-down Fields will find a spot in Houston's wide-open bullpen, which lost Wilton Lopez during the Meetings when he was traded to the Rockies. Colorado also added a pitcher during the Rule 5 draft in lefthander Danny Rosenbaum, who sounded like the happiest pitcher ever headed to Coors Field since the Rockies handed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle more than $180 million to do so during the 2000 Winter Meetings.
"It's funny because I just got married a couple of weeks ago," Rosenbaum said, "and my wife and I were talking about where we'd want to live, if we ever wanted to move out of Cincinnati. And I talked about wanting to move to Denver. I've got a lot of family there, an uncle and cousins that I've been close to over the years, so I've been to Denver and always liked it.
"And now I get picked by the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft. I just can't stop smiling."
Rosenbaum, 25, was never a big prospect like Fields. He was a 22nd-round pick out of Xavier in 2009 but moved quickly through the minors, reaching Double-A Harrisburg in 2011 without dominating stuff. He's a classic command and control southpaw who was 18-14, 2.35 in his first 352 innings. Rockies pro scout Will George called to inform Rosenbaum he'd been picked and said he'd followed Rosenbaum for several years. "He said he liked how I throw strikes, get groundballs and compete," Rosenbaum said.
The 2012 season produced his first real adversity as he went 8-10, 3.94, including a rough second half that included getting hit by a line drive off the bat by Bowie's Manny Machado. When he had two short starts in August, Rosenbaum decided to try changing his routine and his luck, and decided not to wear a protective cup on the mound. He tossed seven shutout innings at Erie in his first exposed start, so he went for it again Aug. 24 against the BaySox. He was pitching well but ran into trouble in the sixth inning, then ran into another line drive.
"I'll never forget it—Ronnie Welty," Rosenbaum said of the hitter who smashed the line-drive comebacker. "It really hurt."
Rosenbaum's right testicle was damaged and he required surgery, but he says there was no permanent damage. The only permanent change appears to be that he will always wear a cup to the mound.
The Rockies may be a permanent change. It costs the Rockies $50,000 to draft him from the Nationals and bring his four-pitch mix, toughness and fringy velocity to Denver, and if he fails to make the big league roster, the Rockies get $25,000 back from the Nationals. In this day and age, that's a pittance to acquire a player, so even though the Rule 5 draft talent pool is fairly modest every year, teams still wade in, hoping to find another Dan Uggla, or Joakim Soria, or Johan Santana.
Fields and Rosenbaum sure sound willing enough to try to live up to that standard. They'll happily settle for having successful major league seasons.
"I love the Nationals; they've done so much for me and my career," Rosenbaum said. "But the Nats are stacked. This is a chance to pursue my dream. I can't wait for spring training."