Rule 5 Preview, Part II

The Role Players take over




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Our first Rule 5 Preview has had some time to marinate. Since then, we've had more time to digest the class of eligible players and gotten feedback on our first list. For Part II, we've divided the pool of attractive players into two categories: Lottery Ticket and Role Player.

Our first stab was tilted toward the Lottery Ticket end, but we're going to focus a bit more on the Role Player spectrum this time around. More teams are looking to the Rule 5 for low-cost big league reserves and relief pitchers, as was the case in 2010 selections Mike Martinez (Phillies) and Pedro Beato (Mets).

Drew Cumberland, ss/2b, Padres: Cumberland did not play in 2011 due to a condition called bilateral vestibulopathy, which affected his balance and vision. His agents revealed via Twitter that he's been medically cleared to return to the field, and the Padres didn't protect their 2007 supplemental first-round pick. The Padres' No. 9 prospect entering the 2011 season, he hit .316/.380/.430 in his first 233 professional games and has some defensive versatility thanks to his speed and athleticism. If he can stay healthy, he could fill a Martinez-like role and also could be stashed for part of the year on the disabled list due to his past condition. Cumberland could both be a role player in 2012 and then potentially return to the minors in 2013 and resume a path to being a future regular.

Jordan Danks, of, White Sox: The younger brother of big league lefty John Danks of the White Sox, Jordan Danks has extensive experience in the limelight and won't be awed by being a big leaguer. He starred at Texas and has played for USA Baseball's World Cup team, and he has an attractive profile as a fourth outfielder. He hits lefthanded, he runs (including 33 steals in 43 attempts the last two seasons at Triple-A) and he defends. Danks' defense is his best tool, as he fits in center field easily and has enough arm to fill in as a right fielder. His bat is the problem—he's a .258/.340/.408 career hitter, and he has 306 strikeouts in those two years at Triple-A. His defense and speed should make him a useful reserve.

Blaine Hardy and Brandon Sisk, lhps, Royals: The Royals offer a pair of lefty specialists up for bids. Sisk has better stuff, with a fastball and changeup that earn average grades from scouts to go with a fringy curveball. He finished 2011 on a roll, posting a 1.41 ERA and striking out 30 in 32 innings at Triple-A Omaha while giving up just 16 hits. Hardy, like Sisk, started the year at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and was better there before posting a 7.14 ERA at Omaha. Hardy relies more on deception with a short-arm delivery and has a better breaking ball in his average slider. He also throws a curve and a changeup.

Justin Henry, of/2b, Tigers: A utility player in the Martinez mold, Henry was raising his profile with a solid winter in Venezuela, batting .325/.400/.364 for Zulia through 40 games. He has 20 power, having his three home runs in 1,900 at-bats as a pro, but he has some Triple-A time the last two seasons and has a .373 career OBP in the minors. He's a good runner, grading a tick above-average, and can play all over the field despite fringy arm strength. In 2010 and 2011, he logged time in all three outfield spots and all four infield spots for Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.

Joe Ortiz, lhp, Rangers: The next Danny Ray Herrera? It's hard not to make that comparison with Ortiz, a 5-foot-7 lefthander who lacks Herrera's screwball but has three solid offerings. His fastball comes in flat with average velocity, at times reaching 92 mph, and his changeup has some fade to it. His slider is his best pitch, and he held A-ball lefthanded hitters to a .200/.243/.308 slash line. Ortiz has struggled in winter ball in his native Venezuela, posting a 5.27 ERA for La Guaira, but he's throwing strikes (2 BB, 10 SO in 14 IP) and is just 21.

Trevor Reckling, lhp, Angels: Reckling has lost velocity off his fastball the last couple of seasons, which is why the Angels didn't protect him. But he's a lefty that can spin a breaking ball, and the velocity was once in there, so he could fit as a lefty specialist. He has a deceptive, herky-jerky delivery that helps compensate for his below-average velo (usually in the 86-89 mph range), but his curve and changeup remain solid-average pitches, with the curve having flashes that are better. Thanks in part to his curve, Double-A lefthanded hitters hit only one home run off him in 108 at-bats in 2011.

Dae-Eun Rhee, rhp, Cubs: OK, Rhee should have gone in the Lottery Ticket preview, while Ryan Flaherty would have fit better here. It is what it is. Rhee is what he is—a talented South Korean who has had Tommy John surgery but still has good stuff, a four-pitch mix and age (he's 22) on his side. He improved in his second turn at high Class A Daytona, throwing a career-best 128 innings, posting strong strikeout (8.25) and walk (3.03) ratios, and touched 94 mph with his fastball. His changeup flashes above-average, as does his hard-biting curveball, which is more consistent, and he has a decent slider to mix in as well. All that said, Rhee has a 4.37 minor league ERA in 291 innings, most of them having come in the Florida State League.

Josh Smoker, lhp, Nationals: The 31st overall pick in the 2007 draft, Smoker had trouble staying healthy early in his career, and he's had consistent trouble throwing strikes as a pro. He owns a 4.94 walks per nine innings average. But in 2011, he stayed healthy and got his career going as a reliever, going 5-2, 2.31 at high Class A Potomac. He struck out 56 and walked 37 in 51 innings, giving up just 32 hits, and showcased power stuff from the left side. His fastball touched 98 at times and sat in the 91-94 mph range, and his curveball and changeup have their moments, with the curve flashing plus. He'll never throw a ton of quality strikes; as one scout put it this summer, "(The Nationals) have told him, 'To hell with teaching you to throw, just let it all hang out.' That's what he's doing."

Johan Yan, rhp, Rangers: Yan tried to hit for three seasons in the Rangers' system, batting .207 in 425 at-bats from 2006-2008, most of them in Rookie ball. He moved to the mound in 2009 and reached Double-A in 2011, wrapping up in the Arizona Fall League. In 68 innings between high Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco, he saved 12 games and struck out 66 while walking 22. Yan has a ceiling as a setup man, using a low arm slot—one Carolina League manager compared his delivery to that of Chad Bradford—to delivery 91-92 mph two-seam fastballs and a slider that buckled righthanded hitters when it was right. He hides the balls well and has the athleticism to field his position well.