The dozen players taken in the Major League phase on Thursday represented the fewest number of players selected since 12 were taken in 2005.
It started with the Houston Astros, who named their new general manager, Jeff Luhnow, late Wednesday night. Houston took Mets right-handed reliever Rhiner Cruz, who spent most of 2011 in Double-A. The 25-year-old likely moved into Rule 5 candidacy with his performance in the Dominican this winter, where he reportedly was reaching 100 mph on the radar gun.
"It was expected, yeah," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of Cruz's selection. "I was in the Dominican Republic late in November, and there was a certain amount of buzz about Cruz. We did expect that he probably would be taken. He's got a very good arm. He hasn't had great command during his Minor League career. We had more first-time Rule 5 eligible players in our organization than any organization in baseball. So given our roster situation, we just couldn't protect everybody, and in some ways it's an indication of at least the depth of the talent that we have. So from that standpoint, [Cruz's selection was] unfortunate but anticipated."
Cruz turned out to be one of eight pitchers taken in the Major League phase of the Draft, with three lefties being selected. Two of those pitchers had also been taken in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft before being returned to their original teams. But both Cesar Cabral of the Red Sox and Robert Fish of the Angels showed enough in 2011 to warrant re-selection here. Cabral, taken by the Royals, was traded to the Yankees for cash considerations, while Fish was taken by the Atlanta Braves.
"Our scouts saw him this summer and said he has outstanding stuff," Braves GM Frank Wren said of Fish. "He's got a power breaking ball and he's up to 95 [mph]. They felt he could very easily fit as a piece of a Major League bullpen."
Cabral wasn't the only Rule 5 player dealt on Thursday. The Boston Red Sox took Cubs infielder Marwin Gonzalez, but Boston then sent him to the Houston Astros, who many expected to make two selections here. In return, the Astros gave the Red Sox their top pick in the Triple-A phase -- right-handed pitcher Marco Duarte -- and cash.
Another Cubs infielder, Ryan Flaherty, was the first position player taken when the Orioles selected him at No. 4. Flaherty played at two levels for the Cubs in 2011, finishing with 41 games in Triple-A. The '08 supplemental first-round pick is a left-handed hitter who played every position but catcher and center field this past season.
While the Cubs lost a pair of players, they also got one back, taking Lendy Castillo from the Phillies with the sixth pick in the Major League phase. Castillo is a converted infielder who began pitching in 2010. He spent the 2011 season in Class A Lakewood and struck out a batter per inning.
"Obviously, [Castillo is] a long way away or [the Phillies] would've protected him, but we like him as a prospect and thought it was a worthwhile gamble taking him," said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who thinks Castillo can be a starter long term but would work out of the bullpen in 2012 if he sticks in Chicago. "We're hopeful it works out."
There were some interesting names taken in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft as well. Left-handed pitcher Aaron Poreda was a first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2007 and was traded to the San Diego Padres as one of the key components of the Jake Peavy deal. The southpaw has lost his way in recent years in terms of command, walking 8.1 per nine innings as a Triple-A reliever this past season. But he also struck out 10.2 per nine, showing the pure stuff is still there, so the Pirates took a shot in the Triple-A phase.
"Obviously, he has had some issues control wise," Pirates director of player personnel Tyrone Brooks said. "He has a pedigree in regards to being a former first-round pick. We have a long history of scouting him. It's a low-risk move for us and a chance to see if we can get something. There is still value. It's a big frame. There is arm strength there. There is still a workable breaking ball that we can do some things with. It's more just making things right with his body and from his delivery standpoint to get him going in the right direction for us."
At the end of the Triple-A phase, another former high pick was taken. The Cardinals took Shooter Hunt, a right-hander out of Tulane who had been drafted in the 2008 supplemental first-round by the Minnesota Twins. Hunt hasn't been able to get out of Class A, having spent the past two seasons in the Florida State League. Now a reliever, he's walked 11 batters per nine innings while striking out 10.2.