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The Rule V draft is essentially a legal lottery that baseball GMs play.
They get to buy a ticket (i.e., a player) in each round, and each ticket
has roughly a one in a million shot of turning out to be worth its cost
(i.e., a lost spot on the 25-man roster for a year). While articles on
the Rule V draft typically fawn over such successful draftees as George
Bell
, Bip Roberts, and Jon Nunnally, these successes are dwarfed by the
hundreds of selections who haven’t worked out, or the dozens who’ve
spent a season rotting on a major-league bench, losing development time.


Yet the anachronism continues unabated. Teams continue to select
marginal talents from the class-A teams of rival organizations, then
express surprise when these players inevitably fail at the major-league
level. Sure, there are valuable players waiting to be plucked from
major-league farm systems; 1997 selection Emil Brown, now with the
Pirates, was a solid prospect inexplicably left off the A’s protected
list. For the Pirates, a franchise in the midst of a rebuilding process
that could afford to use its 25th roster slot on a prospect for a
season, the move made sense. But why would teams like the Dodgers or
Blue Jays, publicly avowing their intent to contend this year, bother
with the Rule V draft in the first place?


Some teams have begun to use the Rule V draft as a means to acquire
borderline major-leaguers to fill the end of their bench or the back of
their bullpen. While there is some logic to this – plenty of worthy
players rot in AAA for want of a vote of confidence from the
major-league affiliate – this doesn’t explain why valuable players like
Bob Hamelin or Jeff Patzke aren’t selected.


This year’s Rule V draft featured a typically faceless bunch, mostly
pitchers (11 of the 13 major-league picks) with low ceilings whose
organizations had good reason to leave them off the 40-man roster.


The A’s used the first pick on occasionally hard-throwing righty
Javier Martinez, a former Cub farmhand. Martinez has had a solid showing
in Puerto Rico this winter, although his K/BB ratio of 26/14 is
unimpressive. The A’s promptly sold him to Pittsburgh.


The Phillies used the second pick on Hector Mercado, a Marlin pitching
prospect who blossomed this year in AA after five futile seasons in the
Astro chain. Mercado fanned 125 in 129.2 innings in AA Portland (a
decent hitter’s park) while walking 54. Hazard signs: 129 hits allowed
and 16 wild pitches. Mercado, immediately traded to the Mets for Mike
Welch
, will probably get cuffed around a bit in the majors, but he could
hang on as a #2 lefty reliever.


The Cubs, fresh off their inane loss of 1997 rule V pick LHP Ramon
Tatis
in the expansion draft, used the third pick on Twins’ LHP Alan
Mahaffey
. Mahaffey had a very good first half in his first fast-A
exposure, and was more than adequate at AA, fanning 84 total in 71
innings at the two levels, with a mere 18 walks. It’s not likely that
he’ll carry that success to the majors in 1998, but he could easily do
what Tatis did if used carefully.


This is where it gets silly: The Blue Jays, who claim they’re thinking
playoffs for ’98, selected a 21-year-old outfielder from the Midwest
League named Luis Saturria from St. Louis. Saturria pulled a
.274/.340/.413 in the Midwest League, which translates to a
.235/.288/.334 in the majors. Perhaps Gord Ash has begun to practice
Saturria, because it would take a lot of black magic to make this guy
look like a prospect.


Among other notables: The Mariners took Jeff Huson – yes, that one –
from the Rockies. Wasting a pick on Jeff Huson is insane enough; what’s
worse is that Huson just signed with Colorado as a free agent. I’m sure
he’s thrilled. The Pirates, looking to double their pleasure, used
their pick on RH reliever Melvin Brazoban, who pitched only in the
rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year. Yes, he pitched well, but a
year sitting on the 3RS turf will not help his professional development.
The Tigers took pitcher Sean Runyan from San Diego because he’s big,
left-handed, and because Randy Smith simply can’t get enough ex-Padres.
The Braves took RH reliever Brian Edmondson from the Mets. Edmondson had
his best season as a professional in ’97 when he switched to the pen
full-time, and could be a decent 11th man on the Braves’ staff. The
Dodgers, who need pitching like Al Gore needs Valium, selected two
pitchers: soft-tosser Frank Lankford from the Yanks, and Marc Deschenes,
a minor-league closer from Cleveland’s system who was virtually
unhittable in two stops at the A-level last year.


The minor-league portions of the draft featured a few names to raise
the eyebrows. Florida selected David Pyc from LA. Pyc isn’t
overpowering, but has excellent control, and pitched acceptably at San
Antonio last year – one of the worst places in the known universe to
pitch in. Pyc’s selection is relevant because he could wind up in
Florida’s rotation this season, and could even surprise a few people by
being at or slightly below league-average.


Other notables selected in the AAA and AA rounds: former Dodger
pubescent-prospect Kym Ashworth, who lost the 1997 season to (surprise!)
injury, selected by Detroit; Roosevelt Brown, the bounty Florida got for
Terry Pendleton in ’96, by the Cubs; and onetime Brave prospect
(Ra)Chaad Stewart, whose promising career was derailed by injuries and
control problems, probably from overuse in his last season in the
Orioles’ chain (1995, when he faces 635 batters at age 20), by
Baltimore.

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