Rule 5 Preview, Part I
Analyzing the crop of eligible players
An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Josh Fields as eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Because he did not sign until 2009, even though he was a 2008 draft pick, he is not eligible.
The Giants placed two of the least-likely players on their 40-man roster this November, protecting them from the Rule 5 draft.
Most notable was first baseman Angel Villalona, the $2.5 million signee from 2006 who missed the last two seasons on the restricted list while fighting murder charges in his native Dominican Republic. (The charges were dropped when Villalona reached a financial settlement with the victim's family for nearly $140,000, but he still doesn't have a U.S. visa, complicating his status.).
The Giants also protected strike-throwing righthander Danny Otero, 26, for the first time. Otero once spent a week job-shadowing members of the Baseball America staff when he attended Duke, part of a group-study project that included a football player and several other Duke student-athletes. He later transferred to South Florida for his senior season and was a 21st-round pick in 2007. In his five seasons as a pro, he has a 1.90 ERA and 86 saves while walking 30 and striking out 189 in 213 innings.
Now he'll get an invitation to major league spring training, which means big league meal money and being treated like a major leaguer, as long as he's on the roster. It's a significant achievement for any player who makes a 40-man, especially one such as Otero.
So he's off the board, but here's a baker's dozen players on the board who could get selected in the Rule 5 draft, which will take place Dec. 8 during the Winter Meetings in Dallas, with the Astros picking first. As usual, the emphasis will be on pitching and up-the-middle position players.
Pitchers To Consider
Caleb Brewer, rhp, Braves
: Brewer won't get picked on performance, as he has a 4.71 career ERA and 170 walks in 269 innings. He has missed development time due to injury, with a hip problem that cost him all of 2008 and a right leg stress fracture that sidelined him for most of 2010. He walked 79 in 151 innings at two A-ball stops in 2011, but the Georgia prep product has a lively arm that any organization would covet. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph, and he has a hard slider that's a plus pitch at times, with sharp tilt and power in the low 80s. His changeup has its moments, and on a proper development path Brewer could still be a starter. He has control issues that would be better ironed out in high Class A in 2012, but his fastball, slider and power could make him a middle-relief target.
Justin Fitzgerald, rhp, Giants
: A closer at UC Davis, Fitzgerald has started as a pro the last two seasons. He offers a durable workhorse profile at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, throwing 146 innings each of the last two seasons. In that 292-inning span, he's given up just 18 home runs, including seven in 2011 at Double-A Richmond. He handles lefthanded hitters (.671 OPS, including just .328 slugging) thanks to cutting, sinking action on his 87-92 mph fastball, which touched 95 in college and 94 regularly in the Eastern League playoffs. His changeup has similar action, and his slider, thrown with some power in the 78-81 mph range, has its moments as well. His velocity could improve with a return to the pen.
Brett Lorin and Diego Moreno, rhp, Pirates
: The Pirates didn't protect either of these pitchers, who have disparate profiles. The 6-foot-7 Lorin is a command and control guy who pitches downhill with a fastball that has touched 94 mph but usually sits in the 87-91 range. A sinker/slider guy, Lorin has a long arm action but is a consistent strike-thrower, and a pause in his delivery gives him deception. He had hip surgery in 2010 but returned to throw 117 innings in 2011, and profiles as a fourth or fifth starter. Moreno, 25, hasn't thrown more than 50 innings in a season yet, but he has a fastball that sits in the upper 90s, earning some 80 grades from scouts. He uses a sinker/slider approach like Lorin, and at times his slider also is a plus pitch but with much more power. Durability concerns and inconsistent control left him unprotected.
T.J. McFarland, lhp, and Bryce Stowell, rhp, Indians
: A 2007 fourth-round pick, McFarland hasn't picked up velocity as a pro. He still touches the low 90s but mostly resides in the upper 80s with his sinker. He has a fringy slider and solid-average changeup that help him get groundballs (2.5 groundouts for every airout), and he gave up just nine home runs in 137 innings at Double-A Akron. He's a fifth-starter type or a lefty specialist, and lefthanded hitters posted a .624 OPS against him in the Eastern League. Stowell had an elbow injury in 2010 that lingered into 2011, and he pitched half a season, making 24 appearances. He finished in Double-A and struck out 57 in 39 innings overall. His fastball has hit 99 mph in the past, though his velocity was down this year to the low to mid-90s. His fastball tends to be fairly straight, and his slider and changeup are fringy, so he's more of a set-up type than a potential closer despite his power stuff.
Ryan Searle, rhp, Cubs
: Searle shined at the 2011 World Cup for Australia, winning both of his starts, including a shutout of Canada. Searle struck out nine and walked three in 12 innings in Panama after going 6-5, 3.03 in 2011 between high Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. He has command issues, walking 43 in 85 Double-A innings this season, but he hit 94 mph with his fastball and has both a hard curveball and a hard slider, both with solid-average potential. He's matured but doesn't win points for mound presence or for his demeanor. His changeup lags behind and he's had less success against lefthanded batters.
Abraham Almonte and Eduardo Sosa, of, Yankees
: At 22, Almonte has spent the last four years in A-ball with one injury year mixed in. The switch-hitter is a switch-hitting speedster with defensive versatility. He's primarily a center fielder but has played second base in the past as well. He finished 2011 with a 34-game hitting streak at high Class A Tampa that ended on the season's second-to-last day. He's not just a tools guy, though he does have above-average speed and defensive ability in center. He has solid instincts, making him an ideal reserve. He may be costing himself a Rule 5 spot, though, by struggling in winter ball in his native Dominican. Sosa, 20, hasn't played above low Class A, where he batted .255/.303/.342 with 14 stolen bases in 79 games this season, when he was hampered by hamstring issues. When healthy, he's an above-average runner and defender who could put those tools to use in a reserve role, then go back to the minors in 2013.
Ryan Flaherty, if/of, Cubs
: The Cubs have several prospects such as D.J. LeMahieu, Junior Lake and Josh Vitters who all profile best at third base. Flaherty also fits that description but the others are on the 40-man, and Flaherty isn't. He's the only one of that group that bats lefthanded, and his best-case scenario appears to be as a lefty-batting Mark DeRosa, though he's less athletic and therefore less skilled defensively. Flaherty has played a lot of second base in the minors but played short, third base and both outfield corners as well. He has solid-average power and a career .809 OPS in the minors, including a .280/.347/.478 line between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011. He's as safe a bet as any Rule 5 player available to stick because of his lefthanded bat, defensive versatility, good performance track record and solid makeup.
Jiwan James, of, Phillies
: The highest-profile prospect available could be James, who lost two years of development time after being drafted as a pitcher. Shoulder problems prompted him to switch to hitting, where he has shown plus raw tools without adequate hitting skills. The Phillies' No. 9 prospect has hit .268/.325/.365 and is 64-for-100 stealing bases in his two full seasons. He also struck out 252 times in 1,082 at-bats. His plus tools, including speed and center-field defense, could still land him a spot on a big league roster with a deep bench.
Beamer Weems, ss, Padres
: Teams that need a middle infielder who can defend at shortstop could do much worse than Weems, the Baylor product who missed time in 2011 after being hit by a pitch in the face. Managers and scouts in the Double-A Texas League called him a major league defender at the position with an excellent arm that's accurate and good hands. He has a long swing but has some power when he runs into one, hitting nine home runs in '11 with San Antonio while batting .246/.331/.415 overall. He's a righthanded hitter with fringy speed, which makes it harder to carry him as a reserve.
Twenty Other Possibilities
: Andrew Albers, lhp, Twins; Nick Barnese, rhp, Rays; Blaine Hardy, lhp, Royals; Brad Holt, rhp, Mets; David Kopp, rhp, Cardinals; Andrew Lambo, of, Pirates; Brad Meyers, rhp, Nationals; Greg Miclat, 2b/ss, Orioles; Angel Morales, of, Twins; Eric Niesen, lhp, Mets; Cody Puckett, 2b/of, Reds; Trevor Reckling, lhp, Angels; B.J. Rosenberg, rhp, Phillies; Brandon Short, of, White Sox; Brandon Sisk, lhp, Royals; Tom Stuifbergen, rhp, Twins; Mark Thomas, c, Rays; Philippe Valiquette, lhp, Mariners; Pat Venditte, lhp/rhp, Yankees; Marcus Walden, rhp, Blue Jays.