For the teams themselves, the Rule Five Draft can have an incredible return on investment. For the media? Not so much. As a ratio of talent to the amount of time and work put into doing previews and trying to get scoops and all that good stuff, the Rule Five offers a ratio of talent to effort that is possibly unrivaled to any other event in professional sports. By that, I mean that we’re getting worked up about some pretty marginal talent. Still, some of this guys are going to stick, so let’s talk about who went where today.
1. Rays select RHP Tim Lahey from the Twins, and then trade him to the Cubs. Lahey was a star catcher at Princeton, but he only lasted one year behind the plate before being moved to the mound, as his tremendous power was rendered valueless by a complete inability to make contact. On the mound, it’s been a different story. Lahey is absolutely massive at 6’5″ and 250 pounds, and he get a good downward plane on his splitter, which is his primary offering and gives him an excellent ground-ball ratio.
Chances To Stick: It would have been better with the Rays, where nearly any carbon-based life form would have a chance to make the bullpen, but even with the Cubs he could mop up here and there and develop into a decent middle reliever, but little more.
2. Pirates select RHP Evan Meek from the Rays. I’m still getting used to them just being the Rays, without the Devil. That represents a big decrease in name quality for me, but for the record, people with the team get really annoyed when you use the old name. Now, to Meek. He was once a pretty hot young arm in the Minnesota system, but that was before he contracted a case of the yips, as he walked 76 in 46 innings in 2004 and 2005. The Twins gave up on him, but he velocity was still there, and the Padres gave him a shot based on a private workout in which his heat sat consistently in the upper 90s. San Diego worked hard on improving his mechanics and his confidence, and he pitched so-so in the California League, but good enough to be dealt to Tampa Bay at the end of 2006 for Russ Branyan. The Devil Rays did the right thing by moving him to the bullpen, where he profiles better. He still throws hard, still has control problems (but nothing like those dark years), and still needs better secondary pitches.
Chances To Stick: Meek might be the best chance of any pick to be lightning in a bottle, but those chances are still slim. He’ll probably stick, as a big guy who throws hard in a bad bullpen for a bad team.
3. Orioles select RHP Randor Bierd from the Tigers. Bierd is a classic sinker/slider pitcher who misses a lot of bats with both pitches when he’s not generating ground-ball outs with them. The concern scouts have with him is that his fastball has no more than average velocity, but it plays up due to excellent movement and location. His slider is a true plus pitch, but there are many minor league relievers who have combined average velocity with a plus breaking ball to put up big numbers, and their track record in the majors tends to be disappointing.
Chances To Stick: Pretty good. Bierd’s control will hopefully separate himself from the pack of generic relievers with his kind of arsenal.
4. Giants select LHP Jose Capellan from the Red Sox. Astute readers of BP already know a bit about Capellan, as I recently called him Boston’s sleeper prospect as part of my Red Sox prospect rankings after he compiled an impressive 71/11 strikeout ratio in 75 2/3 New York-Penn League innings. He’s a skinny lefty with an average fastball but solid secondary stuff and very good command.
Chances To Stick: Low. This is really a strange pick. I guess being left-handed helps, but it’s just too difficult to see a pitcher having any success in the majors when he’s never even pitched in a full-season league.
5. Marlins select RHP Carlos Guevara from the Reds, and traded him to the Padres. Guevera has been slow to develop, spending two years at Low-A, and the last two at Double-A, but he’s done well of late, striking out 176 batters over 132 1/3 innings with the Lookouts. He’s a short and squat right-hander, with a screwball that batters have no clue what to do with, but like Bierd, the question with him is to whether or not he has enough velocity to set the pitch up against more advanced hitters.
Chances To Stick: Below average. With three picks on Thursday, it will be quite the battle to make the roster.
6. Reds select RHP Sergio Valenzeula from the Braves. This pick is a joke right? Valenzuela pitched 72 innings this year, split between Atlanta’s Low- and High-A teams. In those 72 innings, he gave up 102 hits while nearly walking (37) as many as he struck out (38). Sure, he’s got plus velocity, but he’s not fooling teams that have maybe, maybe three or future big leaguers on them, so what makes you think he’s going to suddenly have any chance in hell of getting an entire lineup full of big leaguers out?
Chances To Stick: Seriously, they really took Sergio Valenzuela?
7. Nationals select 1B-R Matt Whitney from the Indians. Whitney was a first-round pick-five years ago. After a nice pro debut, he blew out his knee playing a pickup basketball game, missed all of the 2003 season, and seemingly never recovered. If there was a comeback player of the year award in the minors, Whitney would have been a good candidate in 2007, as he smacked 32 home run for Cleveland’s two A-ball teams.
Chances To Stick: Low. He’s a great story, but going into spring training he’ll be a 24-year-old who has yet to play Double-A, is limited to first base, and even with his breakout season, he had a strikeout rate far too high to expect any sort of immediate big league success.
8. Astros select LHP Wesley Wright from the Dodgers. Wright began the year at Triple-A, where he was beyond awful, putting up a 9.18 ERA in 16 2/3 innings while allowing 47 baserunners. The good news is that when he went back to Double-A, he was pretty good, with a 2.49 ERA in 30 games and more than a strikeout per inning. He’s a small lefty with average velocity and a solid curve, but his funky mechanics make it hard to pick up the ball out of his hand.
Chances To Stick: Average. He’s a left-hander, he does have a decent track record (other than the Triple-A stint), and his stuff isn’t bad. He doesn’t really have the extreme platoon splits to be a LOOGY, but the Astros had just one southpaw in the bullpen before this pick.
9. Athletics select RHP Fernandez Hernandez from the White Sox. Hernandez was considered the big name in the draft for many, so it was a surprise to see him fall this far. He had a good year at Double-A, as threw especially good for scouts in the Arizona Fall League, as he allowed just five hits in 12 2/3 AFL innings. Like many pitchers already discussed here, Hernandez is another one of those good breaking ball/average fastball relievers, though he does have some polish.
Chances To Stick: Good. The A’s has a tendency to keep their Rule Five pitchers, although they’ve rarely worked out for them on a long-term basis. Hernandez has a better chance to do that as opposed to Mike Neu or Jay Marshall.
10. Cardinals select OF-R Brian Barton from the Indians. Some people saw Barton as a possible number one pick, but he does have some health concerns, as there are whispers that a recent knee surgery was not entirely successful, and that he might be permanently affected by the injury. Unsigned out of college-most expected him to take a high-paying job at Boeing with his aerospace engineering degree-Barton is a career .317/.417/.476 hitter who does many things well, but few things very well.
Chances To Stick: Excellent. Provided he’s healthy, Barton has everything it takes to be a solid fourth outfielder immediately. If it doesn’t work out, you can always hire him to work in the front office, as he’s pretty much the smartest player on every team he’s ever been on.
11. Blue Jays select RHP Randy Wells from the Cubs. Wells has been stuck in the upper part of the Cubs system for nearly three years, but it’s hard to figure out what separates him from the hundreds of other pitchers who were on the board. My only guess is that his 101 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings made him attractive to a statistically-oriented team like the Jays. He’s a big right-hander who depends more on his size and angles than stuff, as his fastball rarely gets out of the 80s, and his slider and changeup are no more than average.
Chances To Stick: Average. The Jays need some bullpen help, Wells is strangely effective against left-handers, so maybe there’s some sort of usefulness here as a reverse righty.
12. Mariners take RHP R.A. Dickey from the Twins. Chances are good that you’ve heard of Dickey, as he pitched for the Rangers in parts of five major league seasons, and at 33, he’s by far the oldest player selected. He gets by on moxie and his rebirth as a knuckleballer, but he’s also one of the best stories in draft history. A first-round pick by Texas in 1996 out of Tennessee, during his post-selection physical, the Rangers found a problem with Dickey’s ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm-namely, that he didn’t have one. He was either born without it, or with a malformed one that atrophied away in infancy, and doctors were puzzled as to how he could even pick up a ball and throw it, not to mention do it so well. And yet, here he is.
Chances To Stick: Good. While every team in the Winter Meetings is scrambling to find extra arms, so many teams ignore the fact that a ton of them are available every year at a cheap price with this process. I like this pick, like this strategy, and I’m surprised that more teams don’t do it.
13. Mets select RHP Steven Register from the Rockies. A third-round pick out of Auburn in 2004, Register never did much as a starter, so the Rockies made him a closer in 2007, a role that he performed well in at Auburn as an amateur. While he amassed 37 saves for Double-A Tulsa, his peripherals were not nearly as impressive, as he allowed 63 hits in 58 innings while striking out 48. He certainly doesn’t have closer stuff, as his fastball sits in the 88-92 range and his slider is average.
Chances To Stick: Low. It’s hard to figure out what separated Register from the other arms available. Maybe it was just a scout seeing him while going good a few times, and convincing the club to take an inexpensive shot at him. It’s hard to envision Register making any kind of impact.
14. Padres select RHP Michael Gardner from the Yankees. Gardner had his best year as a pro in 2007, with a 2.88 ERA in 44 games for Double-A Trenton, while limiting opposing batters to a .235 batting average. Coming at hitters with a low three-quarters arm slot, he works primarily off an average-velocity sinker and sweeping slider, and his angles make him very effective against righties, but susceptible against the other side. He turns 27 next May, so there’s no projection in him.
Chances To Stick: Average. Gardner could be a solid situational reliever, provided that the situations in which he is used are carefully considered.
15. Phillies select LHP Travis Blackley from the Giants. Blackley was once one of the top prospects in the Mariners system. Signed out of Australia in 2000, he was the Texas League’s pitcher of the year in 2003, going 17-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 27 starts. His career was derailed by shoulder surgery soon thereafter-hey, he was in the Mariners system-but he made something of a comeback in 2007, as much as one can call a 4.66 Triple-A ERA with decent enough peripherals a comeback.
Chances To Stick: Not awful. Another ‘extra arm’ pick, there’s nothing wrong with a small spend to see if he can take another step forward and turn into a fifth starter.
16. Nationals select OF-L Garrett Guzman from the Twins. Nothing to necessarily dislike here. Guzman swings from the left side and makes consistent hard contact with gap power. He’s small and the bat is the only plus tool; additionally, his below-average range and arm limit him to left field.
Chances To Stick: Decent. As a lefty bench outfielder, Guzman is a good choice, but greater defensive versatility would help his chances.
17. Padres select UT-S Callix Crabbe from the Brewers. I like this pick quite a bit. At 5-foot-7, Crabbe has never endeared himself to scouts, and he’ll never be more than what he is now, but he can hit a little, draws walks, runs well, and can play second base, third base, and all three outfield positions. How can that not be useful?
Chances To Stick: Good. There are many utility players in the big leagues right now with less versatility and less talent than Callix Crabbe. Plus, his name is awesome.
18. Phillies select RHP Lincoln Holdzkom from the Red Sox. Maybe the second time will be a charm for Holdzkom, who was selected last year by the Astros, but returned to the Cubs in spring training. The Cubs took him off the 40-man roster and the Red Sox claimed him, after which he pitched fairly well, with a 2.97 ERA in 42 games split between Double- and Triple-A. He’s always had a great fastball, but has always had issues with command, as well as some off-field behavior problems.
Chances To Stick: Below Average. The Phillies followed the basic rule of Rule Five picks by selecting the big guy who throws hard, but when that guy is pitching for the first time in front of new decision makers and he can’t find the strike zone, that guy is usually sent back quickly.
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