Five Sluggers That Could Make The Rule 5 Draft Actually Matter
The annual Rule 5 Draft will wrap up this week’s Winter Meetings on Thursday (audio-only on MLB.com). For details on how the Draft works, consult MiLB.com’s handy how-to.
I sort of chuckle about this time every year. After three days of discussing five-team trades and multi-million-dollar signings, a fourth is focused on a bunch of discarded Minor Leaguers switching organizations for $50,000 pittances. And let’s not fool ourselves — that is what this is. Consider that you have to go all the way back to the 2006 Rule 5 Draft to find a player who made a significant impact on the team that drafted him. (Yes, R.A. Dickey was plucked by the Mariners in the 2007 Draft, but something tells me he’s better known as a Met.) Amazingly, right-handed pitcher Joakim Soria (Royals) was drafted second overall in ’06, one spot ahead of Josh Hamilton (Cubs, before he was sold to the Reds and eventually traded to the Rangers). And, coincidentally, Soria signed a two-year free agent contract Wednesday with the Rangers, who are also seeking a cost-effective reunion with Hamilton.
From what I can tell, there are no Dickeys, Sorias or Hamiltons in this year’s crop of available discards. But that, too, is part of the humor of the Rule 5 Draft and why it happens at all. A Major League organization’s baseball operations staff has drafted a player out of school, has developed him on the farm and, four to six years later, has decided he is not worth a treasured 40-man roster spot. Then said player proves very worthy of another club’s 40-man. That’s the way it works — when it works at all.
It should also be said that because a Rule 5 Major League phase draftee has to be “protected” on the 25-man roster throughout the season, it is far easier for a club to “hide” an inexperienced pitcher in its bullpen (as the Twins did with one Johan Santana in 2000) than an inexperienced position player on the bench. (Most clubs construct their clubs with seven-man ‘pens and four/five-man benches.) That explains why 13 of MLB.com’s Top 20 Rule 5 candidates are hurlers. (Not among those 13 is Astros’ Double-A right-hander Jason Stoffel, who in my opinion could be best prepared to pitch in Major League middle relief next summer.)
But I can’t help not notice a trend of available “prospects” in the pool of players this time around. Three on MLB.com’s list posted an OPS of .800-plus this past season; a fourth nearly reached the mark and plays the premium position of catcher; and a fifth isn’t on the list at all. And if you hadn’t noticed, we live in a post-Moneyball era that places increased value (and, therefore, dollars) on getting on base and hitting home runs. So what I see are five potential sluggers and power-starving teams willing to take a five-figure flier on them.
1. Nate Freiman: The right-handed-hitting first baseman registered a .298/.370/.502 slash line at Double-A San Antonio (Padres) this season. He will be 26 on Opening Day and has little defensive versatility but his home run totals (22 in 2011 and 24 in ’12) and relatively low strikeout totals suggest he could fare well against even greater competition. His back-to-back multi-homer games for Team Israel in WBC qualifying competition in September only helped his case.
2. Chris McGuiness: The lefty-hitting first baseman registered a .268/.366/.474 slash line at Double-A Frisco (Rangers). He is two years younger than Freiman but has been a less consistent performer in the Minor Leagues. Was his 27-RBI, MVP run in the Arizona Fall League a mirage?
3. Jeremy Hazelbaker: The lefty-hitting corner outfielder registered a .273/.335/.472 slash line between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox). He might be the best pure hitter among Draft-eligible Minor Leaguers. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts going forward, but his 19 home runs and 36 stolen bases demonstrate his varied offensive talents.
4. Jason Hagerty: The switch-hitting catcher registered a .248/.354/.389 slash line in a clipped season at Double-A San Antonio (Pads). He is also a solid receiver behind home plate but would be chosen here if a team believes his once-promising bat can improve.
5. Jesus Aguilar: The right-hitting first baseman registered a .280/.372/.461 slash line at Class A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Akron (Indians). He is just 22 and could really use a full season at the Triple-A level. With back-to-back 100-strikeouts seasons in the Minors, it’s hard to believe he would be able to contribute right away in the Majors.