Five names to watch in the Rule 5 Draft
By Sam Dykstra/MiLB.com
Wednesday was a big day in Minor League circles, and that was pretty evident on Twitter alone, as seen by the feeds of Adam Duvall, Stefen Romero and Tucker Barnhart. These were the reactions of players who had just been added to their parent club’s 40-man rosters before Wednesday’s deadline.
Of course, everyone didn’t enjoy the same fate, and for certain players (i.e. those who were signed when they were 19 or older and have been in pro ball for four years OR those who signed at 18 or under and have been in the game for five years), that means they’re eligible to be selected in next month’s Rule 5 Draft. You can read more about the Rule 5 Draft here, but these are the important points. Once a player is selected by another club in the Rule 5 Draft, they must stay on the team’s 25-man roster for the entire season. If he doesn’t (which is usually the case), he must be returned to his original organization.
In that vein, Rule 5 selections should be seen as second-chance tryouts with a different organization on the player side and low-risk, potentially high-reward moves on the team side.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players who weren’t placed on 40-man rosters Wednesday and are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
Andy Wilkins, first baseman, White Sox — Since being taken in the fifth round out of the University of Arkansas in 2010, Wilkins’ prospect stock has gone on a bit of a roller-coaster ride. He was ranked among the White Sox top 20 prospects following a solid campaign (.278/.349/.485, 23 homers) in 2011, only to drop out after last year (.239/.335/.425, 17 homers). He rebounded a bit in 2013, slashing .277/.353/.452 with 17 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He could provide a team with some decent left-handed power off the bench, and there’s a chance someone takes a flyer on him for that purpose. (Think Mike Carp Lite with the Red Sox this season.)
Brian Fletcher, outfielder, Royals — Like Wilkins, there’s lots of pop to Fletcher’s game that could catch a club’s eye. The 25-year-old left fielder battled injury issues last season but managed to hit 17 homers and put up a .505 slugging percentage in 78 games between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. The 2010 18th-rounder has hit 48 longballs in 305 Minor League games and owns a career .837 OPS. Considered a below-average defender, he spent a decent amount of time as a DH in 2013 and actually received most of his starts at first base at the Class A Advanced level in 2012 before the Royals decided to keep him in left. It’s likely that it’s his defense and low walk rates (5.4 percent in 2013) that kept the former Auburn slugger from being protected by the Royals, but another club might deem his big bat worthy of a look.
A.J. Schugel, right-handed pitcher, Angels — If you were to look at the back of Schugel’s baseball card, you probably wouldn’t like what you see from his time at Triple-A Salt Lake last season. A 4-6 record. A 7.05 ERA over 19 starts. A .324 batting average-against. That’s not particularly exciting. However, his peripherals look a little better. A 4.49 FIP. 7.66 K/9 (in line with career averages). 3.32 BB/9 (lowest for a full season in his career). And then there’s the .376 BABIP, which might suggest he wasn’t getting much help defensively. Since the college infielder made the move to the mound after being drafted in 2010, Schugel’s shown in flashes that he has dominant stuff, especially on the fastball side. That could be enough for a team to take him, although it’s likely that they’d do so with a relief role in mind.
Tommy Kahnle, right-handed pitcher, Yankees — This seems like a cut-and-dry pick here. Known as a high-velocity hurler, Kahnle has been known to rack up strikeouts by the handful. He finished with 74 strikeouts in 60 innings last season — a K/9 rate of 11.1 — to go with a 2.85 ERA for Double-A Trenton. A 6.75 BB/9 — a number that was raised when issued two or more free passes in five of his final six appearances — is cause for concern, but he’s shown the stuff to be more than effective in extended outings of the bullpen. That’s perfect Rule 5 bait.
Seth Blair, right-handed pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals — This might be the definition of a flyer, but hear me out on this one. Like Schugel, Blair’s numbers weren’t all that great in 2013 — 3-9, 5.07 ERA, 18 homers in 129 2/3 innings. That came at Double-A Springfield and followed a year after a tumor in his knuckle caused him to miss most of 2012. All that against him, scouts still seem to like him, and indeed he is currently ranked No. 12 among Cardinals prospects. His fastball is average, but his curveball projects to be a 60 on the 20-80 scale. Command issues were the biggest concern entering this year, and his walk rate dropped from 6.83 BB/9 in 2011 (his last full season) to 3.33 in 2013. The Cardinals would probably prefer that he iron out his other issues in their system, even if they didn’t add him to their 40-man roster. But another organization might be willing to give him a shot (and a new opportunity) as a long reliever/emergency starter.