Nobody is moving up draft boards faster right now than Lipscomb lefthander Rex Brothers. Ranked No. 77 on our preseason College Top 100 Prospects list , he put on a show when 15 scouting directors came to see him face off against Kennesaw State's Kyle Heckathorn two weeks ago. Brothers sat at 94 mph and touched 96 in his final inning with his fastball, and he backed it up with a filthy 85-86 mph slider. He didn't give up an earned run or a walk while striking out 12 in an eight-inning complete game, but nevertheless was saddled with a 2-1 loss.
In his most recent start last Friday vs. North Florida, Brothers struck out a career-high 14 while pitching a complete-game two-hitter, yet took another defeat, this time 1-0. For the season, he's 4-3, 2.34 in eight starts, with an 85-24 strikeout-walk ratio and a .175 opponent batting average in 58 innings. If the draft were held today, he'd probably go between the 15th and 25th pick.
Wallace isn't projected as a star? I have to disagree with that. Baseball America ranked him No. 40 on the 2009 Top 100 Prospects list, and I put him 24th on my personal Top 50 in the 2009 Prospect Handbook. When you go 12th overall in the draft as a bat-only player, that's an indication that your bat is pretty special.
After opening his Arizona State career as a first baseman, Wallace moved to the hot corner as a junior last spring. I asked several scouts about his defense at third base, and the initial response usually was, "He's better than you'd think." Then I'd ask, "But how good is he?" and the answer would range from adequate to below average.
A player can improve defensively at third base through sheer hard work. Wade Boggs and Robin Ventura are two examples of substandard third basemen who turned themselves into Gold Glovers. But Wallace is going to be limited. He has an average arm and he moves pretty well for a 6-foot-1, 245-pounder—but he's still a 6-foot-1, 245-pounder. He's not going to have much lateral range and he's not going to be adept at charging rollers.
Wallace can be a steady defender who makes plays on those balls he can reach. If he does that, he's going to have no problem hitting enough to be a mainstay for the Cardinals. Ideally, he'd play first base, but Pujols isn't going anywhere. Wallace wouldn't cover enough ground to play left field, so he's going to have to stay at third base.
I felt I was being a little aggressive by putting Stanton at No. 21, so I wouldn't move him up yet. He's a tremendous athlete who ranked second in the minors in homers (39) and total bases (286) last year as an 18-year-old in low Class A, but Greensboro is also a very hospitable hitting environment. To be fair, Stanton put up big numbers on the road as well. He also struck out 153 times, and he's going to have to solve much better pitching as he moves up the ladder.
I'm excited about Stanton, though I also want to see how he fares this season in high Class A. He's off to a 2-for-11 start with five strikeouts, though it's silly to read much into three games. It won't be any surprise if I run him way up my list after the 2009 season, but No. 21 is also a lofty ranking for a player with just one full pro season in low Class A under his belt.
I looked at every major league Rule 5 pick back to 1960, and I couldn't find a single example of a player who was given back to his former team who became an all-star for that club.
The closest was Bobby Bonilla, whom the Pirates declined to protect on their 40-man roster after he missed most of the 1985 season with a broken leg. The White Sox plucked him in the Rule 5 draft and made him their everyday outfielder/first baseman in 1986 before trading him back to Pittsburgh for Jose DeLeon in late July. DeLeon was one of the big league's best strikeout pitchers over the next five seasons, so Bonilla's return didn't come cheap, but the slugger did make four all-star teams for the Pirates and two more for the Mets.
Four other players became all-stars after getting returned as a Rule 5 pick, but none with the club that took them back. The most recent was Fernando Vina, whom the Mariners drafted from the Mets in 1992. He stuck with Seattle for two months in 1993 before going back to New York, but his career didn't take off until the Mets sent him to the Brewers in a deal for Doug Henry in December 1994.
The Tigers couldn't find room for John Wetteland on their major league roster in 1988, and he had only sporadic success in three seasons after rejoining the Dodgers. He saved 37 games in his first season in Montreal after getting traded twice after the 1990 season (first to the Reds in a package for Eric Davis, then to the Expos in a five-player deal that brought Willie Greene to Cincinnati), and later became an all-star with the Yankees and Rangers.
Likewise, the Cardinals decided they couldn't keep Cecil Cooper on their big league team after drafting him in the winter of 1970. He spent most of 1971-73 in the minors for the Red Sox before turning in three solid years in Boston, then became a perennial MVP candidate after getting traded to the Brewers for George Scott and Bernie Carbo.
Before the creation of the amateur draft, players signed from 1959-65 were exposed to a first-year draft, which was part of the Rule 5 proceedings. Willie Montanez signed with the Cardinals in March 1965 and hit .235 in Rookie Ball, but the Angels saw enough to draft him that November and keep him on their big league club to open 1966. Montanez struck out in his only two bats before going back to St. Louis in May. Montanez never played for the Cardinals, and he was one of the players who replaced Curt Flood in a blockbuster trade with the Phillies after Flood refused to report to Philadelphia. Montanez had a journeyman career, but he was an all-star with the Braves, his fifth big league organization, in 1977.
The highlight of my search through old Sporting News Guides came in the 1961 edition. At the end of the report on the 1960 Rule 5 draft was this nugget:
"For the first time since 1955, a minor league umpire won promotion through the draft. He was Douglas Harvey, who was selected by the Pacific Coast League from the California loop."
Who knew umpires could be Rule 5ed? I certainly didn't. And that wasn't just any umpire, as Harvey likely will be the next arbiter inducted into the Hall of Fame. He missed by one Veterans Committee vote in 2008.