I rank a lot of prospects for Baseball America, and I can't remember the last time I created as much furor as I seem to have created by putting Nick Hagadone at No. 3 on our Red Sox Top 10 Prospects list.
Hagadone pitched just 10 innings this year before blowing out his elbow throwing a changeup, resulting in Tommy John surgery. Several fans have wondered how I could even rank Hagadone on the Top 10, let alone at No. 3. Their reasoning is that other Boston prospects have proven more at higher levels, and that Hagadone won't be at 100 percent in 2009.
When we're ranking players, it comes down to balancing two factors: how good a player can become and how likely it is that he'll reach that potential. How good the player is going to be in the immediate future doesn't matter, except maybe in trying to separate players who are close.
After the Red Sox made some tweaks with Hagadone's delivery, he showed a mid-90s fastball, a power slider and a promising changeup. Did I mention that he's lefthanded? Some club officials told me that they thought he might have reached Boston by the end of 2008 had he not been injured. His rehab is going extremely well, to the point that he could open 2009 with a full-season club. While he won't get all of his stuff back next season, optimism surrounds his long-term prognosis.
First baseman Lars Anderson was an easy pick as Boston's No. 1 prospect. Hagadone has a higher ceiling than righthander Michael Bowden, but Bowden is big league-ready and eventually can become a No. 3 starter, so I put Bowden No. 2.
I don't see anyone else I'd rather have right now than Hagadone. Righthander Daniel Bard had a breakout season in 2008, but I see him as a setup man. At worst, Hagadone will be a setup man and he'd make a better one than Bard.
Outfielder Josh Reddick can really hit and does a little of everything, but he also struggled mightily against Double-A pitching. I think he'll solve Double-A with more experience and I think he can become a solid regular—but Hagadone can become more that.
After Bard and Reddick come a slew of high-ceiling players who have a lot of developing to do in their own right: righthander/shortstop Casey Kelly, outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, third baseman Michael Almanzar and so on.
Will some of these players probably pass Hagadone in 2009, when he'll be at less than his best? Sure. But right now, I'll bet on Hagadone for the long term.
As much as the Cardinals need pitching, I can't see them doing this trade. Rasmus has a lot more upside than any of the pitchers the Rays would be giving up, and as Michael mentioned, he's going to be relatively cheap for a number of years. Sonnanstine and Jackson are No. 4 starters in my mind, and Niemann is a potential No. 3 but hasn't gotten there yet, while Rasmus is a potential all-star.
A deal that both teams might go for would be a big league starter and Niemann for Rick Ankiel or Ryan Ludwick. Both players are eligible for arbitration (and Ankiel can become a free agent after 2009), but Tampa Bay has room to add payroll. St. Louis wants to trade an outfielder to create an opening for Rasmus. My guess is the Rays would prefer to part with Jackson and get Ankiel, while the Cardinals would rather obtain Sonnanstine and deal Ludwick.
Lefthanders who can throw in the high 90s don't often last 25 picks in the draft, but that's what happened with Poreda in 2007, precisely because of concern about his secondary pitches. The White Sox have helped him improve his slider to the point where it shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch, but his changeup is still very much a work in progress.
Poreda is one of the organization's best prospects, coming in at No. 2 behind Gordon Beckham on our soon-to-be-unveiled White Sox Top 10 Prospects list. I'd handle him the same way Chicago has, giving him every opportunity to become a starter. At the same time, he has one plus pitch right now and even that fastball can get straight and hittable at times.
In some ways, Poreda reminds me of Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija, who has an electric arm yet couldn't always overmatch hitters with it. A starter in the minors, Samardzija was a weapon for the Cubs out of the bullpen this summer. He may get a chance to make the big league rotation, but I think Samardzija is better suited for relief. That's my gut feel on Poreda, too. There's a good chance you'll see him pitching for the White Sox this year, most likely in the second half and out of the bullpen.
The Rule 5 draft applies to all types of players in the same way. If they're eligible for selection—everyone after their fifth year in pro ball, and anyone after their fourth year who was 19 or older on June 5 of the year they signed—and they're not on a 40-man roster, then they're fair game.
If a minor league free agent signs with an organization and isn't on the 40-man roster, then he can be taken in the Rule 5 draft. If he still hasn't found a home by the time the draft is held at the Winter Meetings, then he's still a free agent and not subject to the draft.