For as humdrum as the Rule 5 draft was this year, there were a few interesting players who now find themselves under the pressure of staying on the big league roster all season. Only 12 players were chosen in the major league phase, with the Marlins taking advantage to further add pieces to their rebuilding process.
Florida took infielder Dan Uggla from the Diamondbacks with the eighth pick in the draft, then plucked lefthander Mike Megrew from the Dodgers with the only pick in the second round of the major league phase.
The Marlins were also active in the Triple-A portion of the minor league phase, netting infielder Agustin Septimo (Brewers), shortstop Jose Ronda (Reds), righthander Jarrod Farrell (Devil Rays) and righthander Christopher Young (Pirates).
Uggla was a no-brainer pick for several clubs coming into the draft. A versatile righthanded bat, Uggla can play second or third base, and could be a nice addition as the club goes through the transition. A lot of club officials liked Kevin Howard better than Uggla--for the lefthanded bat more than anything else--but the Marlins scouted Uggla heavily late in the Arizona Fall League, and liked how he responded down the stretch under the physical and mental strain of playing into November. Uggla, an 11th-round pick in 2001 out of Memphis, wound up batting .304-7-22 in 102 at-bats for the Peoria Javelinas in the fall.
"All our pro scouts saw him, and liked how well he finished there," Marlins scouting director Stan Meek said. "He's a guy that, through his versatility, our scouts liked to come in and possibly win a utility spot on the infield. He's a higher-level guy who competed well against better competition over the course of the fall and we felt he was worth the risk."
Megrew is a much greater risk to stick on the major league roster. A fifth-round pick in 2002 out of a Rhode Island high school, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound lefthander was well on his way to blossoming into a savvy lefty with a live arm before needing Tommy John surgery at the end of 2004. Some in the Dodgers organization thought he was rushed back to quickly after rehabbing the injury in 2005, but the club shut him down in instructional league in Septmber not because he was hurt; but in order to keep other clubs from getting a longer look at how he had rebounded.
Megrew's velocity wasn't close to what it was before surgery. His fastball was regularly in the 87-91mph range prior to Tommy John, and he was sitting in the low- to mid-80s when he returned to action at high Class A Vero Beach in late August. But he showed decent action on his slider, and his changeup had good fade.
Megrew made just two appearances in the Florida State League--but that was enough for the Marlins to take a chance on him.
"We liked him as an amateur, so he was a guy we definitely had targeted," Meek said. "We were getting good reports on him in the Gulf Coast League (where Megrew made a total of three appearances). And when he came back, he threw very little. His arm action was the same as it was (before surgery) and we had the roster space. With our situation now, it was worth the gamble to take a projectable, big lefthander."
Top Of The Class
The Royals took White Sox lefthander Fabio Castro with the first pick overall, then shipping him up and sending him to the Rangers for infielder Esteban German. Castro fits the profile of lefty specialist well, featuring a 92-93 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. He worked hard with high Class A Winston-Salem pitching coach Sean Snedeker in his approach to facing lefthanded hitters in 2005. Durable and resilient, Snedeker had Castro throw at least 10 pitches on the side every day to throw his breaking ball early in the count to work ahead against lefties.
All the work showed signs of paying off. Lefthanders batted .214 against him in the Carolina League, but Castro still has to polish his delivery slightly to have a chance of sticking in Texas' bullpen. A only 5-foot-10, the Dominican native tends to get low with his back leg--putting too much weight on his back side--which affects his arm angle. His stuff tends to flatten out as a result, and he needs to stay more upright in his delivery in order to effectively pound the zone.
But Castro has three quality pitches, with good life on his fastball down in the zone; tight, downward rotation on his curveball, and a changeup that acts as a splitter at times. He's a good athlete and controls the running game well.
"He's the type of guy that wants the ball every day, not matter what," Snedeker said. "He has that closer mentality. Not that he really fits that mold, but he's got that short memory whether he had success or not. It was one day at a time for him, which is rare for a kid who was 19 years old in the Carolina League."
On The Move
It's easy to see how Dodgers lefthander Luis Gonzalez was overlooked on a prospect-laden club at Double-A Jacksonville. It's also easy to see why he was the second pick in the draft.
"He was throwing 94 or 95 (mph) out of the pen and he still wasn't the guy that caught your eye," one scout from a National League club said. "(Greg) Miller, (Edwin) Jackson, (Jonathan) Broxton all threw harder than him on that team. But anyone who didn't notice Gonzalez, they missed the boat."
Gonzalez, an 11th-round pick in 2001 out of Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla., is a converted outfielder who played on the same high school team as Brewers prospect Prince Fielder. Since moving to the mound as a pro, Gonzalez's fastball sits consistently sits in the 91-94 mph range, topping out at 95. He has a sturdy, durable frame and a simple delivery with some deception. He spots his fastball well to all parts of the zone, and has a solid-average 79-81 mph slider that is effective against lefthanders. Over the last two seasons, Gonzalez has developed a slightly above-average changeup that has good fade against righthanders.
The Puerto Rico native moved to Hawaii after the 2005 season to be with his wife Sacheo, who is in the United States Air Force and was recently stationed at Hickam Air Force Base after the two were married in June. Being four hours behind the Winter Meetings in Dallas, Gonzalez didn't find out he was drafted until later that afternoon.
"My wife sets up my alarm on my cell phone every morning, since she wakes up at 5 a.m. every day," Gonzalez said. "My alarm had to be going off for a long time, because when I woke up, I had 11 voicemails. One was from my agent, who told me I was a Rockie. I just couldn't believe I was the second pick. But that's what happens. I worked really hard at Jacksonville to get noticed."
And get noticed he did--even though it was the most frustrating season of his career. Most times, Gonzalez found himself competing not to move forward in the Dodgers' organization, but for scouts who might see him.
"Even though I was part of the team and supposedly I was one of the prospects, I felt like I was put on the side a lot of times," Gonzalez said. "Like my innings really didn't matter very much. I like a lot of guys in the organization--I spent five years there. But it was tough to stay focused because I didn't feel like I was wanted a lot of times. So I just went out there with the mentality that I was playing for 29 other teams and maybe one would like me. I just did the best I could every time out whenever I got the opportunity."
It turned out more than one team was interested. After the Rockies selected Gonzalez, he remained with Colorado for a little over a week before they sold him to the Mariners for the $50,000 draft price.
His new organization wanted him to go to play winter ball in Puerto Rico, but Gonzalez was content to continue working out in Honolulu and get ready for his first spring training in big league camp. Until then, he'll have to deal with living in a tourist haven.
"Hawaii is a nice place to come and visit, but living here is overrated," he said. "Everything is so expensive here and the traffic is so bad that it's not worth it. Not to mention I'm like the only Latin guy I know here. I'm just ready for pitchers and catchers to report."
• Rockies righthander Shane Lindsay, who emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in the system last summer at short-season Tri-City, has what is believed to be a torn labrum, which would sideline the Australian native for the 2006 season. The Rockies had a MRI shipped from Australia and plan to bring Lindsay to Denver the week after New Year's to be examined by team doctors. Featuring a fastball that has hit 97 mph and a hard curveball, Lindsay went 6-1, 1.89 with 107 strikeouts in 67 innings.• Marlins lefthander Taylor Tankersley got off to a rough start in the Arizona Fall League in 2005, but finished strong in his final three outings--not allowing a hit or run over five innings. Tankersley, a first-rounder in 2004, struggled in a starting role in his first full season, going 3-7, 4.70 in 90 innings. He pitched exclusively out of the pen in Arizona and appears to be headed there permanently for 2006. "He always had that bullpen mentality as a starter," Meek said. "He never really took to the starting role, and with a lot of the other lefthanders in the system, we feel like that's the quickest way for him to move."