Astros, Marlins Select Pair Apiece in Rule 5
Righty Josh Fields goes with first selection
NASHVILLE—As the Astros compiled their board for the No. 1 pick of the 2012 Rule 5 draft, they had players recommended by their statistical profile from their analytics team, and players recommended by their scouting staff.
Josh Fields was at the top of both lists. As a result, the former Georgia Bulldogs closer and 2008 first-round pick of the Mariners became the No. 1 overall selection in the Rule 5 draft.
The first seven teams on the board made selections, and there were eight more over two rounds for a total of 15. The Astros made a pair of picks, adding Fields from the Red Sox and first baseman Nate Frieman from the Padres.
Fields, 27, had his best season as a pro, reaching Triple-A and tossing 13.2 scoreless innings there with 19 strikeouts and two walks. Overall for the season, Fields went 4-3, 2.01 with a 78-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 58 innings in his first season with the Red Sox. His fastball averaged 95 mph this season as he got better direction to the plate from his maximum-effort delivery, and his power curveball returned to his college form. Fields' command problems returned in the Dominican Winter League (seven walks in six innings), but the Astros were undeterred.
They also like Freiman, who starred for Israel in the World Baseball Classic, hitting four homers in three games. That followed a Double-A San Antonio season when he hit .298/.370/.502 with 24 homers. The 25-year-old 6-foot-7, 225-pounder also mashes lefthanded pitching (.348/.434/.643 with the Missions).
"He's 6-7 and has righthanded power, but not a lot of strikeouts," Houston's pro scouting coordinator Kevin Goldstein said, referencing Freiman's 95 whiffs in 516 at-bats. "It's impressive barrel control and a combination of power and contact that's rare."
The Marlins, selecting sixth overall, also took two players in outfielder Alfredo Silverio from the Dodgers and lefthander Braulio Lara from the Rays. Silverio, 25, was once one of the Dodgers' top prospects but missed 2012 after an offseason car accident left him with a concussion as well as back, shoulder, elbow and neck injuries. The elbow issue required Tommy John surgery. Silverio had a huge 2011 season at Double-A Chattanooga, however, hitting .306/.340/.542 with 42 doubles, 18 triples and 16 home runs.
Lara, 23, was one of the hardest throwers available, hitting 100 mph in the Dominican Winter League after struggling (6-10, 5.71) in the regular season at high Class A Charlotte.
The Cubs, picking second, selected 24-year-old righthander Hector Rondon of the Indians. The 6-foot-3 Venezuelan was a 2008 Futures Gamer had a breakout 2009, reaching Triple-A, but elbow injuries have sidetracked his career since then. He has had Tommy John surgery and a second cleanup procedure, limiting him to 42 innings the last three seasons. However, the Cubs have Franklin Font of their big league coaching staff, and he coaches with the Caracas Leones, where Rondon is pitching this winter. he's 2-1, 3.71 in 17 innings of relief work for the Leones, with 11 strikeouts and five walks.
"We've seen him quite a bit in winter ball and think he can compete for a major league job," assistant general manager Jason McLeod said. "We have a lot of information on him, a lot of video, and we've seen him throw well. The fastball velocity has been back up to 93-95 (mph) in Venezuela. He'll come in and get an opportunity to show what he can do."
The Astros and Cubs aren't expected to be contenders, but three American League playoff teams were active in the Rule 5. The Tigers traded for infielder Jeff Kobernus after the Red Sox selected him from the Nationals. The Orioles later selected lefthander T.J. McFarland from the Indians, while the Rangers took sidewinding righthander Coty Woods from the Rockies.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said the acquisition of Kobernus was part of the team's effort to add speed to the roster. Kobernus, 24, has had an injury-plagued career since being drafted in the third round in 2009 out of California, playing more than 100 games only once as a professional. He missed time in 2012 with a fractured rib, injured when he was hit by a pitch. He's also a .279/.316/.356 hitter but has stolen 95 bases (caught just 19 times) the last two seasons and has athleticism the Tigers are seeking for their bench.
He's played second base exclusively as a pro except for four games at shortstop in 2011, but Dombrowski said, "Positional versatility would be important for him, perhaps elsewhere in the infield, perhaps in the outfield as well."
Kobernus did play outfield and some third base at Cal and said he'd been working this offseason on preparing for the possibility of becoming a utility player.
"My agent Steve (Cantor) had called me and let me know it was a possibility (of getting picked), but I was trying not to think too much about it," he said. "When he called this morning, I was excited. I was lucky and happy to be part of the Nationals organization, but going to the Tigers, a team that's been waiting for years to win a World Series and that expects to win every year, I'm just excited to be a part of that."
McFarland, 23, tied for the minor league lead with 16 victories this season. Pitching at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, he used an 87-90 mph sinker and solid slider to get groundball outs. He also threw 163 innings, and Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette said the club liked his combination of polish and fit.
"He pitched well in August," Duquette said, citing McFarland's 4-1, 3.45 performance that month for Columbus. "He's been a winner at every stop. At the end of last season, the strength of our ballclub was our interior defense, with Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy, and this could play into the strength of our club."
The Rangers, whom the Orioles defeated in the American League wild-card game, took Woods to possibly follow in the footsteps of past Rangers low-slot relievers such as Cody Eppley and Darren O'Day. Pro scouting director Josh Boyd said the Rangers liked Woods' loose arm and athletic delivery. Woods, 24, went 4-4, 3.20 overall in 2012 with 27 saves, tied for fifth in the minor leagues.
"Our bullpen is wide open, so Coty has a chance to be a factor there" Boyd said. "Guys with lower slots can give a different look coming out of the bullpen. We saw Coty a lot, got a lot of looks in the Fall League and liked how he came back there (3.18 ERA) after struggling in Triple-A (7.40 ERA)."
Woods said he was disappointed to be left off the Rockies' 40-man roster, calling his selection "bittersweet" because of his strong feelings for the organization and good relationship with his signing scout, Scott Corman. "It's funny, he texted me saying he was mad because if you get a guy to the big leagues with the Rockies, you get a plaque," Woods said. "He said if I make it with the Rangers, I'll have to buy him a plaque. He doesn't get one if I make it with another club."
Woods at least knows the Rangers system a bit; he discussed the Rule 5 last week with former Walters State (Tenn.) JC teammate Chad Bell, a Rangers farmhand who was eligible but not selected in the Rule 5. One Rangers farmhand who was picked was first baseman Chris McGuiness, the MVP of the Arizona Fall League this year. He wasn't sure if manager Terry Francona had anything to do with the selection, but he had met Francona and played in front of him in spring training while both were in the Red Sox organization.
"I knew Texas was a tough 40-man roster to crack because of the strength of the major league team and having one of the best farm systems," McGuiness said. "I was hurt the year before, but I thought I put myself back on the map with a really good year. Then after the AFL, I thought if they ever were going to protect me, this would be the year.
"It didn't happen, but that's just the nature of the game. No hard feelings. Maybe Cleveland will be a better fit."
McGuiness posted an .838 OPS in the AFL after hitting 23 home runs with an .840 OPS in the regular season with Double-A Frisco. One of his competitors for the first-base job in Cleveland will be a fellow ex-Red Sox farmhand, Lars Anderson.
It's a new opportunity for players like Kobernus, McGuiness and Woods, an unusual way to fulfill their major league dream but one all three hope to embrace come spring training.