Rule 5 could uncover hidden gems

Rule 5 could uncover hidden gems

INDIANAPOLIS -- There were 21 players taken in the Major League phase of last year's Rule 5 Draft. Of those, six saw time in the big leagues during the 2009 season. Only three stuck with the teams that drafted or traded for them on Draft Day.

That, by and large, is a pretty good success rate, which gives a pretty strong idea of just how much of a crapshoot the Rule 5 Draft is.

Nevertheless, all 30 teams will come together here at the Winter Meetings to give it a shot. This year's Draft starts at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday. MLB.com will carry the audio portion of the event live from Indianapolis.

During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, eligible players left unprotected from their clubs' 40-man rosters may be selected for $50,000. A player selected must remain on his drafting team's active Major League roster during the following season or be sent back to the original club for $25,000.

The low cost makes it a worthwhile risk for many teams hoping to find that diamond in the rough. Buzz about this year's crop had been relatively low, though names were starting to circulate as Wednesday wore on.

The basic early response from frequent queries around the hotel has been some version of, "Haven't heard any names, have you?" The general consensus is that there were no names really jumping out, but there would undoubtedly be activity in the Major League phase. Some teams expressed initial doubt, but then seemed to come around as internal meetings turned to the Rule 5.

"There's a good chance we'll take somebody," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, whose club has the second pick.

That statement came just one day after Huntington stated, "I don't know that there is a guy that we felt as strongly about as we did last year and the year before on the board right now. But as we go through our process, we'll be sound and diligent in our thoughts."

WHERE THE 40-MAN STANDS
Below is the order of selection for the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday and where each team stands with its 40-man roster. A team must have fewer than 40 to make a selection in the Major League phase of the Draft.
Pick No. Team Roster size
1 Washington 40
2 Pittsburgh 38
3 Baltimore 39
4 Kansas City 40
5 Cleveland 39
6 Arizona 38
7 NY Mets 39
8 Houston 37
9 San Diego 39
10 Oakland 40
11 Toronto 38
12 Cincinnati 40
13 Chicago White Sox 39
14 Milwaukee 38
15 Chicago Cubs 38
16 Tampa Bay 39
17 Seattle 37
18 Detroit 39
19 Atlanta 40
20 Minnesota 40
21 Texas 38
22 Florida 39
23 San Francisco 39
24 St. Louis 35
25 Colorado 38
26 Philadelphia 33
27 LA Dodgers 33
28 Boston 32
29 LA Angels 38
30 NY Yankees 38

There have been similar years that have appeared quiet leading into the Draft. In 2006, there was buzz about Josh Hamilton, but it seemed more like a curiosity than anything else. Not only did Hamilton go on to become an All-Star with the Texas Rangers, but that "quiet" Draft also produced All-Star closer Joakim Soria as well as big league reliever Jared Burton and Nationals catcher Jesus Flores.

There was some intrigue heading into the start of this year's Draft with the top pick. Initially owned by the Washington Nationals (like with the June First-Year Player Draft, the selection order is based on the reverse order of the standings at the end of the season), the pick was sent to the Yankees in the Brian Bruney deal. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was unclear whether New York would keep the pick or try to deal it to another team for cash. The Yankees were leaning toward using the pick on Wednesday afternoon, but things can always change.

A couple of names were cropping up as potential high picks. Marlins outfielder John Raynor had a bit of a down year in Triple-A, but still has a career .299/.383/.452 line. D-backs pitcher Hector Ambriz was another one thought to be an early pick. The right-hander out of UCLA spent most of his time in Triple-A, and finished 2009 with a 12-11 record and 4.94 ERA.

Every year, there are a few strong-armed players who are lower down in the Minors who get taken in the hopes of catching lighting in the bottle, a la Soria. This year's version could be Arquimedes Caminero. The Marlins reliever pitched at a couple of lower levels in 2009, with 15 games at short-season Jamestown and Greensboro in the South Atlantic League. The 22-year-old did show arm strength, striking out 61 in 40 2/3 total innings.

Whatever happens on Thursday, it's not just about taking a player, of course. Ideally, the player sticks on the big league roster and the team gets a steal. With the names being mentioned not wowing anyone, the question remains just how many teams will take a chance at taking a player they're even less sure about being able to keep than in usual years.

"The challenge of carrying a Rule 5 player, as we experienced this year, is real," Huntington said. "It's not just selecting the player. It's the reality of being able to carry that player throughout the entire season. It's not just about Thursday."

Here are some other names who have been mentioned as possible picks on draft day:

Aaron Breit, RHP, Padres: Breit's overall numbers haven't always been great, but his power stuff still looks enticing. He struck out 110 in 107 2/3 innings in the California League last year and was sharper in relief (3.07 ERA, .222 average against) than as a starter.

Bobby Cassevah, RHP, Angels: A 34th round pick out of high school back in the 2004 Draft, Cassevah was a Texas League All-Star this past year and finished with a 3.68 ERA in 57 relief outings. He held hitters to a .236 average and struck out 45 in 73 1/3 IP. Right-handed hitters fared much more poorly, with a .199 average against.

Koby Clemens, C, Astros: It's highly unlikely that Roger's son will get taken, being that he just played in the Class A Advanced California League. But given his name and the fact that he led the Minors with 123 RBIs makes him at least worth a mention.

Colin Curtis, OF, Yankees: Curtis could make for a solid backup outfielder type at the big league level. He hit just .250/.321/.364 during the year, but was impressive in the Arizona Fall League. Over 78 at-bats, he hit .398/.472/.731. Sure, small sample size, but you can bet people were watching.

Steve Clevenger, C, Cubs: The Cubs were preparing to possibly get hit a few times, with Clevenger perhaps the most likely to go. The converted backstop has earned raves for his work behind the plate. He also hit .290/.344/.378 in Double- and Triple-A in 2009.

Chris Hayes, RHP, Royals: The submariners don't often get a lot of love, but Hayes has put up solid numbers all the way up the Kansas City chain. He pitched in Double- and Triple-A, so it's not that big of a leap for the right-hander and a stat-minded team might like his really low walk and home-run rates.

Zach Kroenke, LHP, Yankees: If the name looks familiar, it's because he was taken a year ago, only to be returned to the Yankees. He's coming off a very solid Triple-A season, where he finished with a 1.99 ERA and .213 average against. Some scouts saw him throw well in the Arizona Fall League. During the regular season, lefties hit just .186 against him and lefty specialists are often in demand.

Chuck Lofgren, LHP, Indians: Speaking of possible lefty specialists, Lofgren might fit that bill even though he's spent most of his pro career as a starter. He pitched extremely well in Double-A to start the year, but scuffled a bit over 17 Triple-A starts. But the numbers that might stand out to a team are 19-for-106. That's what left-handed hitters managed against Lofgren, which translates to a .179 average.

Matt McBride, C, Indians: Teams like the bat, and for good reason. During the regular season, he hit .287/.340/.489, finishing with 18 homers and 99 RBIs between the Carolina and Eastern leagues. He then went on to hit a torrid .378/.511/.649 in the Arizona Fall League. The only question is about the defense. An American League team that could have him catch a little and DH some might take a shot.

Jean Machi, RHP, Pirates: Sometimes, a player's performance in winter ball leads to a Rule 5 selection. It's not that Machi was bad in 2009, finishing with a 2.09 ERA and 12 saves between Double-A Altoon and Triple-A Indianapolis while holding hitters to a .202 average. He's improved his stock with his work in the Venezuelan Winter League. The right-hander leads the league with 13 saves and has a 1.57 ERA in 24 games. Over 28 2/3 IP, he's allowed just 21 hits (.202 BAA) and four walks while striking out 21.

Yohan Pino, RHP, Indians: The 25-year-old had an extremely successful 2009 season across two levels and two organizations. He began the year in Double-A with the Twins, got promoted to Triple-A, then got dealt to the Indians in the Carl Pavano trade. Combined, he went 9-3 with a 2.83 ERA. Over 127 IP, he gave up 110 hits, walked just 29 and racked up 122 strikeouts. Teams have been able to follow his progress in Venezuela this winter and he's shown the ability to start and relieve.

Chad Thall, LHP, Orioles: Thall is a big lefty coming off a very solid season in Double-A. He finished with a 2.69 ERA in 53 games, holding hitters to a .214 batting average against and striking out 55 over 60 1/3 IP. And he was death to lefties, holding them to a .188 batting average against while striking out 36 in 28 1/3 innings.

Corey Wimberly, UTIL, A's: He's got a lot of what teams look for in a Rule 5 pick: speed to spare and the ability to play a number of positions. Think of a poor man's Chone Figgins.

Armando Zerpa, LHP, Red Sox: He's only 22 and he's left-handed. On top of that, he held hitters to a .172 average and struck out 78 in 74 2/3 innings across two levels of A-ball. He was even stingier against lefties, holding them to a .097 batting average (7-for-72). Command (35 walks) might be a bit of an issue.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.