Buckle your seatbelts. This year’s Rule 5 draft will likely be more exciting than 2006, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Included in the new CBA, which went into effect last October, was an alteration to the Rule 5, giving teams an extra year of protection to further aid the development process. Instead of clubs having three years (for players signed at age 19 or older) or four years (for players 18 and younger) to wait before adding players to the major league 40-man roster, they now have four and five years.
High school players drafted in 2003 and college players drafted in 2004 become eligible for the Rule 5 for the first time this year. International signees and all others signed before age 19 in the year 2003 also require protection.
While there likely won’t be the Josh Hamilton bomb the Reds dropped on the Rule 5 world last season, more clubs will be active among a much deeper pool of players available—more than 800 names are up for grabs in the major league phase of the draft.
“Even with the new CBA last year there were a few nifty picks,” said one front-office executive. “The Royals grabbing Joakim Soria, Reds nabbing Hamilton and Jared Burton . . . The Nationals taking Jesus Flores was creative. San Diego taking Kevin Cameron from the Twins and seeing him pitch late in the game in certain situations at Petco Park . . . The percentage of players sticking in the majors is not very good and the percentage shrinks on teams that are actually in contention. The draft still serves as a good barometer to make clubs correctly assess what they have in their own system and perhaps find another piece.
“Looking back on 2006, teams felt a little more secure in protecting their own because they had another full year to assess what they had in their own system.”
Machinations Of The Draft
The Rule 5 draft is split into two segments: In the major league phase, clubs draft eligible players off Triple-A reserve lists. Players selected in the major league phase of the draft cost $50,000 each and must remain on the selecting team’s big league roster for all of the 2008 season or be offered back to the player’s original team for $25,000.
The minor league phase is split into two sections—the Triple-A phase and the Double-A phase. In the Triple-A phase, clubs draft players off Double-A reserve lists for $12,000 apiece; in the Double-A phase, clubs draft players off Class A reserve lists for $4,000 each. In neither case do players drafted have to be returned to their original team.
Roughly 400 players are eligible to be drafted in the minor league phase, and clubs had targeted several players. And just like the major league portion, expect teams to focus on trying to beef up their systems on the mound and behind the plate.
“It’s a cheap and easy way to improve the depth of your farm system,” a scout from an American League club said. “It’s rare to get a position player (in the minor league phase) who becomes an impact player, but you’ll see clubs trying to buy arms in bulk and hoping to find more depth at catcher.”
While it is rare to strike gold in the minor league phase, the most recent success story is Giants infielder Eugenio Velez, who was selected from the Blue Jays in 2005 and has a chance to stick with the big league club in 2008.
Position players on the minor league side that were garnering interest early this season were catchers Korey Feiner (Twins), Morgan Clendenin (Orioles), Mario Mercedes (Cubs), and utilityman Jesus Soto (Royals).
But let’s focus on the major league phase for now. Here are some players to keep an eye on, in order of their Rule 5 helium:
Randor Bierd, rhp, Tigers
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, Bierd was mediocre for his first two seasons in the States and then needed Tommy John surgery midway through 2005. After pitching at short-season Oneonta in 2006, Bierd took a major step this past season, jumping to Double-A Erie where he finished 3-2, 3.35 with 52 strikeouts in 45 innings. While Bierd has a swing-and-miss 90-93 mph sinking fastball, his solid-average slider also gets a lot of ground balls. And he has the makings of a third pitch with an average changeup.
Brian Barton, of, Indians
Ever the enigma, Barton went undrafted in 2004 after clubs were scared off by his aerospace engineering major at Miami. The Indians signed him for $100,000 and an additional $100,000 in college funds after a brief showing in the Cape Cod League and Barton has not looked back. A five-tool player who can play all three outfield spots, Barton has been hampered by a lingering knee injury since his breakout year in 2006 when he hit .322 with 19 homers and swiped 41 bags in 49 attempts. Even with the knee problem, Barton still turned in a .305/.402/.420 season in 2007, finishing the year in Triple-A. Quiet and leading through example through his 2006 season, some scouts expressed concerns about Barton’s demeanor. “I loved him that first year in Double-A,” one scout from a National League club said. “But this past year, it was almost like he’d earned this elite status and you saw him have this lackadaisical approach to the game that wasn’t there before. Where he was playing with chips on both shoulders with something to prove initially, that part of his game was replaced by some sort of false bravado. He’s really tough to get a handle on, but the tools are very real.”
Garrett Guzman, of, Twins
Guzman missed the entire 2005 season after breaking his neck in a car accident just days before leaving for spring training that year. Now 25, the undersized lefthanded hitter profiles as arguably the best fourth outfielder candidate on the Rule 5 eligible list, drawing comparisons to Orlando Palmeiro. While Palmeiro was a bit better runner and defender, Guzman offers more power and offensive upside. Guzman, who batted .312/.359/.453 at Double-A New Britain in 2007, has solid gap power and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield, though he profiles best in left. “He probably doesn’t run as well (as Palmeiro) but they’re very similar players who can do a lot of things for you,” said one National League scout.
Carlos Guevara, rhp, Reds
A 2003 seventh-round pick out of St. Mary’s (Texas) University, Guevara repeated at Double-A Chattanooga despite an impressive season with 89 in 77 innings in 2006. Guevara was just as good if not better in 2007, averaging 12.63 K/9, and should be an easy Rule 5 decision for a club searching for middle relief. Guevara has one plus pitch, but it’s the niche of that pitch being a screwball that helps spike his value, and explain why he’s available, as some scouts dismiss him as a trick-pitch artist. The rest of Guevara’s stuff is fringe-average, but he could be a solid addition for clubs in need of bullpen arms.
Samuel Deduno, rhp, Rockies
The Rockies signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, and he was the Rookie-level Pioneer League pitcher of the year two years later in his U.S. debut. Effectively wild, Deduno doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but misses a lot of bats with average command of his 91-92 mph fastball and a 70 curveball, all on the 20-80 scouting scale. After leading the minors with 34 wild pitches in 2006, Deduno lowered that number to 13 this year. He can lose his release point very easily at times. Deduno was shut down in winter ball with elbow soreness, but several clubs were still expressing interest in the 24-year-old. He went 6-9, 5.53 with 8.6 K/9 in 2007.
The following players were receiving strong consideration for the Rule 5 draft in December:
Kyle Aselton, lhp, Twins
Overlooked in Twins system; arm strength with low 90s heat
Jesus Castillo, rhp, Dodgers
Fastball command to both sides; up to 94 mph in winter ball
Jamie D’Antona, 3b/c, Diamondbacks
Second straight year left unprotected, can play 1b, 3b or c
Jose de la Cruz, rhp, Mariners
Six-foot-6 righthander with power sinker and added a split
Diory Hernandez, ss, Braves
Plus runner with easy actions; uses the whole field
Fernando Hernandez, rhp, White Sox
Matt Guerrier-type righthander with plus moxie
Dusty Hughes, lhp, Royals
Strong Arizona Fall League effort boosts short guy’s stock
Steven Jackson, rhp, Yankees
Strong, physical presence and has yet to reach his ceiling
Preston Larrison, rhp, Tigers
Very heavy lower half, but can be effective out of the pen
Shane Lindsay, rhp, Rockies
Health is a major issue, but showed power stuff in Hawaii
Yohan Pino, rhp, Twins
Great feel to pitch with a four fringe-average pitches
Tony Richie, c, Cubs
Solid catch-and-throw guy who hits a little bit
Kyle Schmidt, rhp, Orioles
Medical baggage, but bounced back with 145 whiffs in 131 IP
Leyson Septimo, lhp, Diamondbacks
Converted outfielder reportedly hit triple-digits this fall
Brett Smith, rhp, Yankees
Solid-average stuff, doesn’t pitch with his fastball enough
Von Stertzbach, rhp, Angels
Profiles as a solid bullpen guy with above-average slider
Chris Stewart, c, Rangers
Solid defender with the big leagues already on his resume
Luis Valbuena, 2b, Mariners
Outstanding defender with interesting lefty bat
Marwin Vega, rhp, Mariners
Three average pitches with a lively 91-93 mph fastball
Matt Whitney, 1b, Indians
Blasting 32 homers might be enough to get Whitney noticed