I'm just back from the Winter Meetings and probably the least-rousing Rule 5 Draft I've ever attended. Teams selected just nine players in the Major League phase from a crop that no one seemed very enthused about.That said, it wouldn't surprise me if two-thirds of the picks stuck in the big leagues next year, and one in particular intrigues me.
While clubs rarely pluck a Rule 5 player from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, left-hander Wei-Chung Wang could prove a worthwhile selection for the Brewers. He originally signed with the Pirates for $350,000 out of Taiwan in 2011, and ordinarily he wouldn't have required protection on the 40-man roster until '15. But a post-signing physical revealed an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, so Pittsburgh voided his contract and re-signed him for $60,000, which made him Rule 5-eligible.
Have a question about prospects?
E-mail your query to MLBPipeline.com reporters Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Wang didn't make his pro debut until 2013 and it came in the GCL, which is seven levels below the Majors on the baseball ladder. His fastball reached 95 mph, he showed the makings of a solid curveball and changeup, and he also displayed fine control with a 42/4 K/BB ratio in 47 1/3 innings.
The Pirates gambled that Wang was so far away from the big leagues that they wouldn't have to protect him, but the Brewers (who credit area scout Charlie Sullivan for making the initial push) pounced. Wang will be 22 next season, and it's likely Milwaukee will use him in a bullpen role if it keeps him on its 25-man roster.
To send Wang to the Minors, the Brewers would have to pass him through waivers and then offer him back to the Pirates for half his $50,000 Rule 5 Draft price. His upside makes holding onto him a worthwhile investment of a big league roster spot.
Do you believe the Mariners can acquire David Price from the Rays without giving up Taijuan Walker? If so, what package would you suggest?
-- J.P.S., Springfield, Ill.
If I were running the Rays and felt like I had to trade Price for budgetary reasons, I'd insist on getting the other team's top prospect in return. With the Mariners, that would mean Walker, whom I consider the second-best pitching prospect in baseball (trailing only Archie Bradley of the D-backs).
I'd want to get a potential frontline starting pitcher reasonably close to the Majors, and if Walker is off limits, I'm not sure whom Seattle could give me. Left-hander Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall Draft pick in 2011, had shoulder surgery in October and will miss all of next season. Lefty James Paxton and righty Brandon Maurer project more as mid-rotation starters, so I wouldn't build a deal around them.
But let's say that I were determined to trade Price, determined to deal him to the Mariners and resigned to the fact that I can't have Walker (which is not how any team would operate). I'd insist that the package include big leaguers Mike Zunino and Brad Miller, and I'd want corner infielder D.J. Peterson and left-hander Luiz Gohara as well. Peterson officially can't be traded until the one-year anniversary of his signing on June 12, which would further complicate matters.
Which 2013 draftee has the best chance to make it to the Majors this year?
-- Thomas B., Sioux Falls, S.D.
The easy answer would be one of the three players who were the consensus best prospects and went in the first three Draft picks in 2013: Astros right-hander Mark Appel, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Rockies righty Jonathan Gray. But none of those teams is likely to contend next season, giving them less incentive to rush them to the big leagues. We may see them in the Majors by September, but I think two relievers could beat them there.
Tigers righty Corey Knebel, a supplemental first-rounder out of the University of Texas, recorded a 0.87 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in low Class A during his pro debut, then accelerated his development with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He has a pair of pitches that grade as well above average at times, a fastball that reaches 98 mph and a hard curveball. His deceptive delivery makes him harder to hit, and Detroit needs bullpen help.
Indians lefty Kyle Crockett, a fourth-rounder from the University of Virginia, posted even gaudier numbers in his pro debut. He had a 0.36 ERA and a 32/5 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 innings, including nine scoreless outings in Double-A. Cleveland could use some lefty depth in its bullpen, and Crockett's low-90s fastball, sharp slider and outstanding control make him a prime candidate.
With the free-agent signings of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, the Yankees will lose three Draft picks. But they also lost qualifying free agents Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, so they'll get two picks back. How will all of his shake out?
-- Ben E., Conway, Ark.
The Yankees entered the offseason with the 18th overall pick in the first round. Because they made qualifying offers to Cano and Granderson, they'll receive compensation choices for them at the end of the first round. However, New York signed three qualifying free agents in Beltran, Ellsbury and McCann, so the rules dictate that it forfeit its three highest selections (unless any of them fell in the top 10 choices or were compensation for unsigned players in the 2013 Draft).
Once the Beltran deal becomes official, the Yankees will have lost the No. 18 pick as well as their two free-agent compensation choices. Their first 2014 Draft selection will come in the second round, in the 55-60 range.
The exact pick won't be finalized until all of the qualifying free agents have signed. We'll continue to update the order here every time a free agent comes to terms.
What's the word on Trevor Bauer? If he doesn't straighten himself out in terms of his control issues and his alleged unwillingness to be coached, does he have any Major League future at all?
-- Joe M., Toronto
When Bauer was the No. 3 overall Draft pick in 2011, he had a variety of weapons: a 91-96 mph fastball, a sharp curveball that was well above average at its best, a plus changeup, a splitter, a slider and even a reverse slider. He got to the big leagues with the D-backs a year after they drafted him, though they surprisingly traded him to the Indians last winter in a three-team deal to get Didi Gregorius from the Reds.
Bauer's stock took a huge hit in 2013. Cleveland hoped he would make a major contribution to its Major League rotation but wound up trusting him for just four starts. In the last one, he pitched solely out of the stretch against the White Sox in late June and surrendered five runs while getting two outs.
Bauer went 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA with the Indians and 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA in Triple-A, battling his command at both stops. His stuff regressed, as he lost some velocity on his fastball and his breaking pitches weren't as sharp. He also didn't shed a reputation for being headstrong, frustrating the Indians with his inability and unwillingness to make adjustments.
Bauer still has the potential to be a quality starting pitcher, but he'll need to change his approach. Striking batters out and making them look silly isn't as important as just getting outs. He'd be better off cutting down on his repertoire and focusing on being more efficient.
I want the Phillies to draft Georgia high school outfielder Michael Gettys with their first-round pick next June, but they could use some pitching. As of right now, Jesse Biddle is their top pitching prospect and that's not good enough. What should Philadelphia do, and are there any good arms after the first round?
-- Brandon F., Philadelphia
In the first round, and especially if they're picking early like the Phillies are at No. 7, teams shouldn't outsmart themselves. Rather than worrying about a particular position, or getting caught up in the needless college versus high school debate, take the best available prospect.
Last week, Jonathan Mayo and I each took a crack at predicting how the top 10 picks might unfold. In both cases, we thought Philadelphia's best option could be a position player, with Jonathan tabbing Gettys and me going with California prep shortstop Jacob Gatewood.
The good news in this scenario is that the 2014 Draft is deepest in pitching. If the Phillies do opt for a position player at No. 7, there still should be quality arms available for their second choice at No. 45 or so. And if they do want a pitcher in the first round, it's conceivable that they could have their pick of any of them besides North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon and East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman -- the consensus top two prospects available.