Prospect Pulse: Dec. 1

Don't expect much from this year's Rule 5 Draft




It wasn't supposed to be this way.

At the beginning of the Arizona Fall League in October, scouts were licking their chops doing advance work in anticipation of the Rule 5 draft two months later. After all, roughly a third of the players in the league were holding an open audition for the 29 other clubs.

But that audition lasted roughly two weeks until Major League Baseball and the union negotiated fundamental changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement in a five-year pact agreed upon in late October.

Included in the new CBA was an alteration to the Rule 5, giving teams an extra year of protection to further aid the development process. Instead of clubs having three years (for players signed at age 19 or older) or four years (for players 18 and younger) to wait before adding players to the major league 40-man roster, they now have four and five years.

While this change should help clubs in the long run, players who would have been Rule 5 eligible this year have to wait another year. That means this year's draft will be significantly thinner in talent, particularly in the minor league phase.

"I don't anticipate a lot of movement in any phase of it," said a general manager from a National League club. "This is a very light year, and I think you're going to see a lot of clubs pass when their turn rolls around. In our situation, we felt like we didn't have a lot of tough decisions to make because of the extra year. And I really don't think we'll have a lot of interest (in this year's draft). Frankly, there isn't a lot to be interested in."

While this year's talent level is down, it sets up next season for perhaps the best crop of players in years, according to one American League executive.

"Because of the recent changes in protection qualifications, this looks like the weakest year in a very long time," he said. "You never know what will happen, but we don't expect much activity at all. But those changes are setting up 2007 in what could be the mother lode of Rule 5 selections."

Machinations Of The Rule 5 Draft

The Rule 5 draft is split into two segments: In the major league phase, clubs draft eligible players off Triple-A reserve lists. Players selected in the major league phase of the draft cost $50,000 each and must remain on the selecting team's big league roster for all of the 2007 season or be offered back to the player's original team for $25,000.

The minor league phase is split into two sections--the Triple-A phase and the Double-A phase. In the Triple-A phase, clubs draft players off Double-A reserve lists for $12,000 apiece; in the Double-A phase, clubs draft players off Class A reserve lists for $4,000 each. In neither case do players drafted have to be returned to their original team.

The problem is that while the talent level isn't there in the minor league portion, neither are the sheer numbers. Roughly 400 players are eligible to be drafted in the minor league phase.

"Unless you're desperate, I really can't see it," said another scouting director. "There isn't much to invest in. You're better off waiting a year when teams will really be faced with very difficult roster decisions and guys will be more likely to slip through the cracks."

But heading into this year's draft, several names were garnering attention regardless of the overall talent level being down. Here are six names to keep an eye on, in order of their Rule 5 helium:

Pedro Strop, rhp, Rockies

Signed as an infielder out of the Dominican in 2002, Strop was converted to the mound in 2006 and went a combined 3-1, 3.42 with a 35-7 strikeout-walk ratio in 26 innings between Rookie-level Casper and low Class A Asheville. The 21-year-old has power stuff, hitting 93-95 mph consistently with his fastball, and flashed a plus slider. Strop has a good feel for pitching despite the limited experience, and projects as a power reliever.

Jason Motte, rhp, Cardinals

Another converted position player, Motte never hit as a catcher, but was a plus defender behind the plate. A 19th-round pick in 2003, Motte was moved to the mound for the first time in 2006 and went 2-3, 3.69 in 37 innings between short-season State College and low Class A Quad Cities. Motte showed good command of his 92-94 mph fastball, but his secondary pitches are still works in progress.

David Shinskie, rhp, Twins

One of the best athletes available, Shinskie pitches with his fastball in the 90-92 mph range, topping out at 94. His fastball features good late sink, and he also flashed a plus slider in the mid-80s. Command problems with his fastball have been an issue at times, and he tends to get around on his slider. But the former high school quarterback has the athleticism to repeat his delivery.

Jim Ed Warden, rhp, Indians

A sixth-round pick in 2001, Warden was a starter over his first three seasons in the system until the Indians changed his arm angle to low three-quarters in 2004. He responded with his best season at Double-A Akron in 2006, going 5-2, 2.90 with 47 strikeouts in 59 innings. The 26-year-old features a 90-93 mph fastball, average slider and plus, grounder-producing changeup that gives him a viable weapon versus lefthanded batters.

Casey Hoorelbeke, rhp, Dodgers

Signed as a nondrafted free agent in 2003 out of Lewis-Clark State (Idaho), Hoorelbeke has been a reliable bullpen arm in each of his three pro seasons. He spent all of 2006 at Double-A Jacksonville, going 2-2, 2.63 in 72 innings and followed that up with 1-0, 2.84 numbers in 19 innings in the AFL. Hoorelbeke also started his pro career throwing from a high three-quarters arm angle, but the Dodgers dropped it down slightly before last season. He has average stuff across the board, with an 87-89 mph fastball, 82-84 mph slider with good late life and an 80 mph changeup.

Nick DeBarr, rhp, Devil Rays

DeBarr missed all of 2005 after Tommy John surgery, but bounced back well last season. Though he didn't throw on consecutive days while working as a reliever, he went 4-3, 2.70 in 69 innings at high Class A Visalia. A 2002 14th-round pick, DeBarr ranges from 89-93 mph with his fastball, sitting at 91 consistently. He also features an average slider, but he struggled to command it in the California League. DeBarr has been working on a splitter as well, but it's behind his other two pitches.



RULE 5 DREAMS

The page count of eligible players was down to 60 compared with 71 pages last year, but here are 10 more names teams might consider adding to their 25-man rosters:

Jamie D'Antona, 1b/3b/c, Diamondbacks

Not many position players in this draft, but D'Antona brings versatility defensively--even behind the plate

John Jaso, c, Devil Rays

Injuries have slowed Jaso's development, but he's an excellent contact hitter with above-average power from the left side

Ryan Basner, rhp, Braves

A seventh-rounder in 2003, Basner still has power stuff, topping out at 94 mph with his fastball

Bob McCrory, rhp, Orioles

Another arm with some medical in his background, McCrory's fastball was up to 96 mph at short-season Aberdeen in 2006 and he showed a power slider

Ferdin Tejeda, rhp, Yankees

Converted shortstop with big time velocity, but Tejeda pitched just seven innings in the GCL and is a Tommy John survivor

Gregorio Petit, 2b/ss, Athletics

Slick-fielding middle infielder with speed, Petit could be the second coming of Hector Luna in the Rule 5

Victor Garate, lhp, Astros

Based solely on the numbers, Garate stands a good chance to be taken; excellent deception with a plus breaking ball

Sendy Vasquez, rhp, Tigers

Vasquez finished second in the system in wins, features a mid-90s fastball and above-average changeup

Erick Abreu, rhp, Yankees

Abreu was dominant at low Class A Charleston in 2006 and was off to a good start in winter ball; lives off his mid-to-upper 80s cutter and eats up lefthanded hitters

Rafael Lluveres, lhp, Brewers

Lefty with power stuff, Lluveres logged a career-high 114 innings at low Class A West Virginia in 2006; tends to leave pitches up in the zone, leading to high home run totals