The Rule V draft is one of baseball’s bastard children; the lesbian sister of the Rule IV draft (more commonly known as June’s first-year player draft). Even though it’s an avenue not many teams choose to travel, several big time players have been Rule V draftees. You probably know by now that Johan Santana and Dan Uggla were Rule V selections, but did you know that Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Christy Mathewson were Rule V’ers as well? One-time great Yankee John Wetteland is another Rule V alumni.
For the most part the rules are simple: if a player is signed at the age of 19 or older, spends four or more years in the minors and isn’t on the 40-man roster, he’s eligible for the Rule V draft. The same is true for players signed at age 18 or younger, except that they get to spend five years in the minors before having to be added to the 40-man. For years the criteria was three and four years, respectively, but the latest CBA stretched that out a bit, allowing teams to keep their best young prospects off the 40-man a little longer, thus sapping the Rule V talent pool. For all intents and purposes, high school draftees from 2003 and college draftees from 2004 are up for this year’s Rule V draft if they’re not on the 40-man.
If a team selects a player, they have to pay his previous team $50,000 and keep him on their 25-man major league roster all year, or offer him back to his original club for $25,000. If his original club doesn’t want him back, the player has to clear waivers before he can be shipped to the minors. Teams don’t have to make a selection, and the draft ends when each team declines to make a pick, which is usually after 2-3 rounds. There’s also a Triple-A and Double-A phase of the Rule V draft, but figuring out who’s eligible for that is a real pain in the ass. You probably remember the Josh Phelps experiment from last year, which ended with the Pirates claiming Phelps off waivers in June.
The deadline for teams to protect players on 40-man roster was this past Tuesday, and the Yanks choose to protect three players: C Frankie Cervelli, and RHPs Jeff Marquez & Steven White. The Yanks finagled the system a bit and had a few extra 40-man spots open because the A-Rod, Mo and Posada contracts have not yet been finalized. Once those are wrapped up, a couple guys will have to be cut to make room on the 40-man (i.e. Sean Henn, Brian Bruney & Mighty Matt DeSalvo). I’m sure Jesus Flores’ selection last year contributed to Cervelli’s inclusion this year, and the other two guys were understandably protected. Some of the guys the Yanks weren’t able to protect are righty relievers Mike Gardner & Steven Jackson, catcher PJ Pilittere, 3B Marcos Vechionacci and 1B Eric Duncan. The highest profile player available this year is the Royals’ Chris Lubanksi, who was the 5th overall pick in the 2003 draft.
The draft order is based on the reverse order of last year’s standings, so the Yanks get pick #28. If a team really wants a guy, and I mean really wants a guy, they’ll work out a deal with a club that has an earlier pick that’ll allow them to get that player. The Reds did this last year when they paid the Cubs $100,000 to select Josh Hamilton and trade him to Cincy because they feared the Marlins would take him before their pick rolled around. I imagine the Fish will try to get something figured out that’ll allow them to pickup Lubanski to fill their CF void.
I did a little digging and found five players that could interest the Yankees when the Rule V draft rolls around during the Winter Meetings in December. The Yanks bench is basically set with Jose Molina, Giambi/Damon/Matsui, Betemit and Shelley Duncan, plus Andy Phillips is waiting in the wings. The only place the Yanks would be able to realistically use a Rule V’er is in the bullpen as a lefty specialist and/or long man, and these are the kind of guys I’ve dug up. I listed them in order of how well I think they’d fit into the Yanks’ plans, as well as how useful they’d be.
Dan Smith, 24, LHP, Braves
Smith went undrafted out of Palm Springs (FL) High School in 2002, and he choose to sign with the Braves as an undrafted free agent instead of attending college. He backs his low-90’s heat with a great changeup, although he struggles to spin his breaking ball consistently. He comes over-the-top and uses a huge downhill plane, which makes him tough to hit (7.00 Hper9 career) and is the main reason he’s given up only 18 homers in 338 career innings.
Smith’s biggest pitfall is that his command comes and goes, as he’ll rack up big walk totals (4.36 BBper9) to go along with big strikeout totals (9.74 Kper9). He was lights out down the stretch during Triple-A Richmond’s run to the International League Championship, notching a pair of big strikeouts against Durham’s #2 and 3 hitters in the deciding game. Smith has had an impressive career, compiling a 25-19 record with a 2.96 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Even though he’s spent most of his career as a reliever, he’s also made 30 starts in the last two years, and should be able to go long if needed. No one took a chance on Smith in last year’s Rule V draft, but with a full season of Double-A and a half season of Triple-A now under his belt, the Braves won’t be that lucky this year.
Sean Thompson, 25, LHP, Rockies
Thompson appeared to be on the cusp of the big leagues after Spring Training, but he ended up pitching at two levels for three different organizations last year. He was with Double-A San Antonio until the Padres DFA’d in late June to make room for Milton Bradley. The Royals claimed him off waivers a week later and assigned him to Triple-A Omaha, where he managed to throw one whole inning before being DFA’d again a week later, this time to make room for Reggie Sanders coming off the 60-day DL. Five days later the Rockies scooped him up off waivers, and assigned him to Double-A Tulsa.
Thompson spent the rest of the year with Tulsa (he actually was DFA’d yet again to make room on the 40-man for top prospect Ian Stewart, but no one claimed him and he remained with the club), and managed to put together another solid season despite all the address changing. He gave up less than a hit per inning for the 5th time in his 6 pro seasons, and he again produced an above-average GB/FB ratio (1.41). Both his curveball and changeup are well-above-average pitches that ranked among the best in the Padres system at the start of the year. His fastball is fringy, sitting at 86-88, and the only thing that has held him back has been his inability to command it enough to consistently get ahead in the count.
Only 6 of his 135 career appearances have come in relief, and a full-time switch to the bullpen might be the best move for him, as it’ll allow him to work off his two best pitches. Could you imagine that, a curveball-changeup pitcher with a show-me fastball? He couldn’t he possibly be any worse than Myers, Hammond, Villone, Heredia et al, could he?
Jesse Ingram, 25, RHP, Rangers
Ingram set Cal Berkeley’s single season saves record with 10 in 2004, but he wasn’t a true shutdown, knockout reliever; it was more along the lines of “he’s the most experienced guy in the ‘pen, so he’s the closer.” Ingram missed most of 2005 with rotator cuff soreness, but he’s been nothing but healthy and dominant since coming back. In the two seasons since the injury, he’s thrown 140.1 IP between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco, and has given up only 96 hits and 55 walks against 187 strikeouts. Numbers like those probably make you think he’s a power arm with nasty stuff, but that isn’t the case.
Ingram relies on his impeccable command and control, working with a 90-92 mph fastball, a good slider and the occasional get-me-over changeup. He’s an equal opportunity pitcher, manhandling both lefty and righty batters. Ingram’s been a workhorse reliever despite the rotator cuff troubles, pitching back-to-back-to-back days on several occasions, and even working a 4-inning stint earlier in the year. Ingram will only go as far as his savvy and toughness will take him, but that should be good enough for a middle relief gig in The Show.
Carlos Guevara, 25, LHP, Reds
Guevara has flown under the radar a bit since the Reds took him 7th round of the 2003 draft out of St. Mary’s College. His numbers as a pro are mouth watering (297.2 IP, 252 hits allowed, 384-105 K/BB ratio), and he obliterated lefties to the tune of .167-.232-.298 last year as he was inexplicably forced to repeat the Double-A level. Part of the reason he’s gone unheralded is that he’s always been stuck on the same team as fellow southpaw Tyler Pelland, who is a much sexier prospect (and on the 40-man roster). The other reason is that he’s a one trick pony.
Guevara’s fastball is below average and sits in the mid-80’s at it’s best, but his out pitch – and calling card – is a screwball that, well, screws. Guys who rely on trick pitches never seem to get a fair shake, but Guevara has succeeded at Double-A for two full seasons now, and that’s the level that usually sorts out the suspects from the prospects. In a lefty specialist role where he faces one or two guys at a time (preventing him and his screwball from getting overexposed) Guevara could be a lethal force and a big time asset. Guevara’s a shoo-in to get picked.
Marino Salas, 26, RHP, Brewers
Salas was originally signed by the Orioles out of the Dominican way back in 1998 when he was only 16, but he didn’t make it to a full-season league until 2004. The Brewers claimed Salas off waivers last offseason after the O’s dropped him from the 40-man to make room for Jeremy Guthrie, who they had just plucked off waivers. Salas has never started a game in his career, and rarely works more than one inning at a time. He’s closed for his team each of the last 4 years.
Salas operates with two plus pitches: a mid-90’s fastball and a hard slider. He’s death to righties (.169-.271-.217 vs RHB in ’07) and has come a long way against lefties in the last two years (.224-.269-.306 vs LHB). Salas’ biggest downfall is that his delivery can get out of whack from time to time, which causes him to loose fastball command and subsequently give up homers in bunches (his career HRper9 is 0.81, which is still pretty decent). There isn’t much of a difference between the Marino Salases and Brian Bruneys of the world, which means he could have a good 2 or 3 months in him.
Hopefully the Yanks choose to go after one of these guys and this wasn’t a whole lotta work for nothing. Sometimes, I swear, I feel like I’m the fan of a small market team stuck in a Yankees’ fan body. I mean really, where’s the fun, where’s the creativity in buying free agent after free agent to plug holes? Actually, the fun is in all the winning.