Relievers Dominate Thin Rule 5 Draft Field

See Also: Nine Players Selected in 2013 Rule 5 Draft

See Also: Brewers Snag Young Bucs Lefty

ORLANDO—In what turned out to be a very routine, very brief Rule 5 draft, the Rangers landed the best player during the minor league phase.

It's not often that an MVP candidate is available in the Rule 5 draft, and it's even less likely that he can be acquired for $12,000. Russell Wilson is an elite, top-of-the-charts talent. The only problem is that because he's busy leading the Seattle Seahawks on a potential Super Bowl run, he might not find much time to work on his offseason fielding and hitting drills.

Wilson, a $400,000 gamble by the Rockies as a fourth-round pick in 2010, spent two years with the club as a second baseman, making it to low Class A Asheville, before giving up baseball to focus on improving his NFL draft stock.

Patrick Schuster

Patrick Schuster (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Wilson's selection was one of the highlights of a Rule 5 draft with few standouts and even fewer selections in the major league phase. More than two-thirds of the teams looking at the available players decided that passing was preferable to picking. Just nine players were taken this year, the fewest since nine were taken in 1987.

The Astros, picking No. 1 in this year's draft, looked at the eligible players list and decided to shop the pick. More than most teams, Houston has made use of the Rule 5 to add depth to its system, taking and keeping righthanders Rhiner Cruz (2011), Josh Fields (2012) and Aneury Rodriguez (2010) and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez (2011).

Faced with unappealing options, the Astros worked out a trade with the Padres, a club that looked more favorably at the Rule 5 pickings. San Diego wanted to add a lefty reliever to help the big league club, and they also needed to clear a 40-man roster spot to be eligible to even make a Rule 5 pick. So on the day before the draft, the Padres traded righthander Anthony Bass to the Astros for a player to be named. That PTBN turned out to be Diamondbacks lefthander Patrick Schuster, whom the Astros drafted with the top pick and immediately dealt to the Padres.

"Historically, we've seen the top pick go for cash considerations only," Astros coordinator of pro scouting Kevin Goldstein said. "To get a player for a Rule 5 pick is very rare, and to get a player who has big league experience (Bass) who will hopefully be part of our bullpen or big league rotation is even rarer."

The Padres have a pretty good sense of what they are getting. General manager Josh Byrnes and numerous members of the Padres front office knew Schuster from their time in Arizona.

"He's a low-slot lefty who gives a tough look for lefthanders," Padres vice president of player development Randy Smith said. "We have a hole at the major league level in terms of lefthanded relief, so Schuster might fit a need for us. He held lefties to a (.187) average this year , with lots of strikeouts (20 in 88 plate appearances).

"The breaking ball is more fringe or average, but it's the tough look—the low slot—that makes him effective."

If Schuster sticks, and fewer than one-third of picks do, he will likely be a one-out lefty in the Padres bullpen. As is often the case, the majority of major league Rule 5 picks project to fill similar roles, and seven of the nine players taken project as relievers.

The Blue Jays went in a similar direction, drafting Mariners Triple-A lefty Brian Moran. The brother of Marlins third baseman Colin Moran, Brian survives with a below-average fastball because of a funky delivery. He handcuffs lefties (.591 OPS in 2013 at Triple-A), but struggles to retire righthanders (.894 OPS).

A trio of power righthanders also were selected. The Phillies drafted the Diamondbacks' Kevin Munson, the Rockies took the Yankees' Tommy Kahnle and the D-backs selected Marcos Mateo from the Cubs.

Marcos Mateo

Marcos Mateo (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Though he was taken last, Mateo may end up being the most interesting name of the trio. A former big leaguer with the Cubs, Mateo missed all of 2012 and much of 2013 with an elbow injury. He returned to the mound late this season, pitched well at Triple-A Iowa, then went to the Dominican League, where he has dominated this winter. Mateo was 3-0, 0.93 with nine saves. More importantly, he's doing it with dominating stuff, featuring a fastball that is 95-97 mph and a hard 86-90 slider. Over his final six appearances prior to the Rule 5, he struck out 12 and allowed no runs or walks in seven innings.

The Mets picked Phillies righthander Seth Rosin, a groundball-oriented starter with fringe-to-average stuff, then shipped him to the Dodgers for cash considerations.

The other major league picks were interesting for a variety of reasons. The White Sox looked at their thin catching corps and decided to draft Nationals catcher Adrian Nieto. He's the first catcher picked in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft since 2008. As the second player taken, he's the highest drafted catcher since Kelly Stinnett went second in the 1993 Rule 5.

A high school teammate of Eric Hosmer, Nieto was once a prominent prospect, though a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use in 2011 has dimmed his stock. Since returning, he played for Spain’s World Baseball Classic team, then performed adequately but unspectacularly in the high Class A Carolina League this year, where scouts generally pegged him as a potential fringe big leaguer in the future. He helped himself with a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League. Now he'll get a chance to try to jump from Class A to the big leagues, competing with young catchers Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley with the White Sox.

The Brewers took the biggest flier in the draft, selecting 21-year-old Pirates lefthander Wei-Chung Wang. Most teams had strong reports on Wang's stuff—he throws 92-94 mph with a potentially plus changeup—and he got results (42-4 SO/BB rate in 2013), but he'll be trying to make the jump from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to the majors. Signed out of Taiwan in October 2011, Wang's contract was voided and renegotiated because of an injury discovered during his team physical. He eventually had Tommy John surgery.

"(GM) Doug Melvin encourages us to be creative, so while Wang pitched this year in the GCL we feel like he's very poised," Brewers director of pro scouting Zack Minasian said. "Now whether that will play on the mound in a big league stadium remains to be seen,"

With 21 teams passing, and the first pick having been traded, it's hard not to view this as a thin Rule 5 class.

"You look at the list initially and sometimes a name or two stands out, but in the Rule 5 draft, it's all in the eye of the beholder," Rangers director of pro scouting Josh Boyd said. "We could have seen 20 players drafted. Teams could have had holes to fill, but I did think it was a light class."

Minor League Phase

The Rule 5 draft got much busier when it turned to the minor league portion. With a $12,000 drafting fee and no strings attached (players don't have to stick on any certain roster), clubs selected 34 players in the Triple-A phase and two more in the Double-A phase.

It's hard to argue with Wilson's decision to take up football—or the Rangers' decision to select him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5. In just two seasons, he's become one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks. But all that time, he's been sitting on the Rockies' restricted list. Now that the Rangers have taken him in the Rule 5 draft, he'll slide over to the Texas restricted list.

The Rangers knows that Wilson may never take an at-bat for the organization, but they won't rule out the possibility. Even if he doesn't, they hope that they can bring him in to talk to the system's minor leaguers, and the $12,000 could end up as some sort of speaker's fee.

"Special leaders and competitors, we're drawn to," Boyd said.  "I think he brings preparation, consistency, dominance. For us, that's where the upside comes into play.

"Whatever this turns out to be, we added a very special person to the organization. If it's one day or 10 minutes, he might have a chance to touch the career of a young player. That's a huge upside. It's a minimal investment. We definitely don't view it as a gimmick."

Additional reporting by Matt Eddy