Preparing for the Rule 5 Draft

It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.

Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.

The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.

The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.

Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).

That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.

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Mailbag: Garcia, Gardner, D-Rob, Pujols, CC

In this week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag, we’re going to focus on some future issues/hypotheticals, not necessarily things going on with the Yankees right now. If you want to send in a question, make sure you use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Brandon asks: With Freddy Garcia having a great season he has put himself in position to be a Type-B free agent, do you see the Yankees offering him arbitration?

Garcia currently projects as a Type-B free agent and is pretty safe, I think we’re too deep into the season for him to pitch his way out of that ranking. Although his base salary is just $1.5M, he’s got another $3.6M in incentives in his contract, which are based on the number of starts he makes. For the sake of argument, let’s just say he makes the 30 starts needed to earn all that cash (he’s got 19 starts right now) so his base salary going into a potential arbitration case would be $5.1M.

That’s nothing given Freddy’s performance, and I figure a winning arbitration case would net him a $8-9M or so salary next year. I’d rather give him another low base salary, incentive-laden deal, but I don’t think that salary is so outrageous that they can’t risk an arbitration offer. There’s always a possible handshake agreements as well, like we saw with Javy Vazquez last year. Gun to my head, yeah I think they’ll offer arbitration as long as he stays healthy.

Shaun asks: When is Brett Gardner arb eligible? What do you think he will get first time through? Same question for Robertson. Thanks!

Both guys are arbitration eligible for the first time after this season. I’ll do a more in-depth analysis during the offseason in my hilariously inaccurate Arbitration Case series, but neither guy will make big bucks next year. Brett Gardner’s primary value is his defense, which is still way undervalued in arbitration because no one’s going to bother explaining the advanced metrics to the arbiters. Robertson is just a non-closing reliever, which is about the worst demographic you can be in if you want to make big money as a big leaguer. I figure Gardner is in line for $2.5M or so (about what Michael Bourn got his first time through arbitration), Robertson about $1.5M (a notch below what Joba Chamberlain got, when he had a season as a starter under his belt), but those are just early estimations.

Planks asks: Not feasible for the Yankees considering Teixeira is at 1b for a long time, but if Pujols expresses strong interest in joining the Yankees this offseason, what contract would you offer? What do you think he will get from the Cards?

Well if he expressed a strong interest in coming to New York, I would assume he’d be amiable to a discount. The thing about Albert Pujols is that he’s having a down year by his standards, “just” a .370 wOBA when his career average is .431. That’s a significant drop-off, plus he is 31 (will be 32 by Opening Day 2012) and has had on-and-off elbow trouble for a few years. It’s going to take a huge commitment to sign him, so you have to at least consider the possibility that this year isn’t a fluke and the sign of decline. I don’t think that’s the case, but the possibly can’t be ignored.

Yankee Stadium is way more hitter friendly than Busch Stadium, though Pujols is one of those guys were park factors don’t matter too much. He’s a great hitter anywhere and has the power to hit the ball out of any park. Does six years and $183M sound reasonable? That’s $27M per season with a $5M signing bonus and a $10M buyout of a seventh year option worth whatever amount ($30M? $35M?). I’m sure Pujols and his agent are thinking Alex Rodriguez money, but the Yankees know the pitfalls of a contract that huge first hand. I’m sure St. Louis would top that offer with a smile on their face, but I wouldn’t offer more in my amateur opinion.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Sam asks: Should CC be getting MVP consideration? Where would be be without the big guy?

I’m not one of those guys think that pitchers should be ineligible for the MVP just because they “have their own award” in the Cy Young, and in fact nothing in the MVP voting criteria explicitly says to omit pitchers. I’m also not one of those guys that thinks there’s a difference between “most valuable” and “best.” The best player in the league should win the MVP because he’s the most valuable to his team. Whether or not the team is in contention is irrelevant to me, Jose Bautista shouldn’t be punished because his teammates stink, which is something completely out of his control. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

I don’t like to look at WAR for MVP voting because a) I don’t love it for pitchers (especially relievers), and b) I don’t like the way a one-year sample of defensive numbers are used, so the fact that Sabathia is so high on the WAR leaderboard means little to me. Position players play every day and overall I think an elite position player contributes more to his team than an elite starting pitcher. Sabathia certainly deserves some MVP consideration, but I don’t think I’d have him among the ten names on my ballot. Among pitchers alone, I’d definitely have Justin Verlander ahead of him, and I’d probably have Jered Weaver ahead of him too. CC’s been phenomenal, no doubt about it, but I think some others are more deserving.

Jimmy asks: It’s been very quiet so far this season, but how long before the CC opt out debate becomes a huge story?

There’s not much of a debate, he’s going to opt-out because it’s the smart thing to do. It’ll be a huge story after the season once he actually says the magic words, but it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Everyone knows it’s coming and the Yankees will deal with it then. Nothing else they can do, and there’s no sense worrying about it.

Tyler asks: Which minor leaguers are Rule 5 eligible after this season? Who do you think will be added to the 40-man?

College players drafted in 2008 and high school players drafted in 2007 are the newly eligible players this year (I have no idea about international free agents), so that includes three important players for the Yankees: Austin Romine, D.J. Mitchell, and David Phelps. All three are no-brainers, they have to be protected. I’m not the biggest Mitchell fan, but he definitely has value and there’s no reason to give him away. George Kontos (a 2006 draftee) is probably worth protecting this time around as well.

David Adams is on the fence, but I think he’s worth protecting as long as his recovery from the foot/ankle injury continues to go well. True middle infielders that can hit are exactly the kinds of guys you keep. The interesting case will be Pat Venditte, though I think the Yankees will leave him off the 40-man roster and some team will grab him for a Spring Training look-see.

Johnny asks: Dante Jr. has been insanely hot with the bat lately. However, do you discount his stats because the GCL hardly has any 2011 draftees playing yet? The level of competition right now is way below where it will be in 2-3 weeks right? Or is it safe to get excited about Dante Jr?

The further you get away from the big leagues, the less the stats matter. Baseball history is littered with guys that tore up the GCL but didn’t hit anywhere else (check out Tony Blanco’s GCL numbers). That said, you’d much rather see a kid tear that league up than struggle, just for piece of mind. If Dante Bichette Jr. started his career hitting like, .200/.250/.350 with 75 strikeouts and ten walks in 50 games, then yeah that’s a reason to worry. Strong performance means less that poor performance, if that makes sense.

Full season leagues are the first big test, that’s when you can really begin to pay attention to performance. It’s the first time these kids are playing every single day for months on end, grinding through long bus trips and crummy hotels and nagging injuries. It’s a tough transition and you’d be surprised at how many players can’t handle it. Great GCL numbers are nice to see, but ultimately they shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion. I won’t rank Bichette any higher on my next prospect list because of what he’s done over the last few weeks. The scouting report always comes first.

Yankees get Kontos back from San Diego

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Yankees waved goodbye to their two Rule 5 Draft picks (Robert Fish and Daniel Turpen) over the weekend, but today they welcomed back one of their own. The Padres have announced that right-hander George Kontos has cleared waivers and been returned to New York. The Yankees must reimburse San Diego half of the original $50,000 Rule 5 Draft fee, and I believe he’ll be off the 40-man roster now.

You’ll be familiar with Kontos if you’ve been reading this site long enough. The 25-year-old was originally a fifth round pick back in 2006, though he missed the second half of 2009 and the first half of 2010 after having Tommy John surgery. The former starter shifted to the bullpen after returning, pitching to a 3.93 FIP in 57.2 IP (counting the Arizona Fall League). He owned a 3.54 FIP before going under the knife. Baseball America ranked Kontos as the Padres’ 27th best prospect in the latest edition of their Prospect Handbook, saying he projects out as a middle reliever.

It’s not terribly surprising that San Diego didn’t have room for Kontos; their bullpen is stacked top-to-bottom with quality arms for every role imaginable. He didn’t pitch well in limited Spring Training action (3.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K), so expendable he became. Kontos will join guys like Ryan Pope and Mark Prior as upper level bullpen fodder throughout the season. The Padres were unable to carry Ivan Nova as a Rule 5 guy a few years ago, and now he’s very much in the running for a Opening Day spot on the 25-man active roster.

As for Lance Pendleton, the other guy the Yankees lost in the Rule 5 Draft, he’s got a decent shot at making the Astros in some capacity, likely in middle relief or mop-up work. He hasn’t been great in camp (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 3 K), but Houston has some room to carry the local kid and would benefit from giving an extended look through at least April. If Pendleton does end up back with the Yankees, then great, it’s another arm for the stable.

Yanks gamble on two in Rule 5 Draft

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The Yankees selected two players in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft, taking lefty reliever Robert Fish from the Angels and righty reliever Daniel Turpen (above) from the Red Sox. Neither player cracked their former teams’ top 30 prospects list in the 2010 edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook, but that’s par for the course in the Rule 5. The Sox originally acquired Turpen from the Giants at this year’s trade deadline in exchange for former Yankee farmhand Ramon Ramirez, and his name also popped up in the Adrian Gonzalez talks, which is not terribly interesting or relevant.

Turpen is the more polished and lower ceilinged prospect of the two. The 24-year-old Oregon State product was an eighth round pick in 2010 after a three-year career as a swingman, squeezed out of the rotation by some of the higher upside arms the perennial College World Series contenders boasted. Turpen’s strikeout rate jumped in the pros, from 5.3 per nine in school to 7.5 as a paid player, somewhat surprising for a generic sinker-slider guy. The 6-foot-4, 230 pounder sits 92-94 from a low arm slot according to BA’s Jim Callis, making him a ground ball pitcher that’s tough against righties but suspect against lefties. Over the last two seasons, Turpen’s posted a 2.77 ERA (3.27 FIP) in 136.2 relief innings over the last two seasons.

Fish, 23 in January, is the more intriguing of the two. He was a sixth round pick out of a California high school back in 2006 and spent the next two-and-a-half years as a nondescript starter (4.76 ERA, 4.34 FIP in 300.2 IP). The Angels shifted him to the bullpen at the start of the 2010 season, and although his ERA (8.93) is ugly, the peripherals at the Double-A level were fine (10.2 K/9, 3.8 BB/9). Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted that Fish (listed at 6-foot-3, 225 lbs.) is a lefty that hits 95 and can miss bats, evidenced by his 9.1 K/9 in the minors. Back in May, Halos Heaven (ugh) noted that BA graded both his curveball and changeup as average pitches, though scouting reports change over time, so don’t take that to heart. Here’s some video from this past April…

The Yankees tried to trade up in the draft so they could take righty Elvin Rodriguez from the Mets, but they were unable to get it done and he landed with the Nationals. Both Fish and Turpen will compete for bullpen jobs in Spring Training, but it’s unlikely either will stick. They almost never do. Fish will battle minor league free agent pickups Andy Sisco and Neal Cotts for the second lefty job, but his chances of making the team go right out the window if the Yankees sign someone like Pedro Feliciano, Scott Downs, or (please please please) Randy Choate. Turpen will have to outperform players like Ryan Pope and Romulo Sanchez, who are long shots as it is.

I wouldn’t expect much out of the two newest Yankees, but there’s no harm in rolling the dice on some interesting arms and seeing what sticks. With teams paying close to $5M per WAR this offseason, the Yanks would need to get just one one-hundredth of a win out of each player to justify the $50,000 selection cost, and that’s basically one scoreless inning at the big league level. The rate of return is extremely high if a Rule 5 guy sticks, even if he’s nothing more than a specialist reliever like Fish and Turpen.

2010 Rule 5 Draft Liveblog

The Rule 5 Draft is one of my favorite events of the year even though it’s one of the game’s most uneventful. Rarely does a selected player have any kind of impact at the big league level, nevermind sustained impact. Just three of the 17 players selected in last year’s Rule 5 stuck in the big leagues, the best of which was former Yankee prospect Carlos Monasterios. In 88.1 innings for the Dodgers, he put up a 4.38 ERA but 5.37 FIP and -0.6 fWAR. That gives you an idea of what happens here.

The Yankees reportedly have a list of five players they’re interested in, though they aren’t very optimistic that any of them will still be available when they pick. I’m not sure which teams have full 40-man rosters (you need to have at least one open spot to make a pick), though the Yankees can pick no later than 28th overall. I looked at some potential targets a week or two ago, and I also broke down which Yankee players were available last month.

The draft itself is scheduled to begin at 9am ET, and I’m going to liveblog this sucker pick-by-pick. Forgive the spelling, this thing usually moves pretty quickly.

Could the Yankees find a second LOOGY in the Rule 5 Draft?

We know that the Yankees are actively seeking a second left-handed reliever this offseason, but so far the only movement they’ve made on that front involves signing Andy Sisco and Neal Cotts to minor league contracts. They have expressed interest in Pedro Feliciano, but he’s not exactly the most desirable option. I’ll continue to dream of Randy Choate, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

We have to remember that free agency isn’t the only way to acquire players, however. It may be the most efficient given the team’s vast resources, but there are plenty of other ways of securing talent. In fact, both of the Yankees current lefty relievers (Damaso Marte and Boone Logan) were acquired via trade. In this post I want to look in another direction, the Rule 5 Draft. New York’s recent history in the Rule 5 isn’t great (Jamie Hoffman in 2010, Josh Phelps in 2007), but it’s a lot easier to hit on a relief specialist than a bench player. Let’s look at some available lefty arms, starting with a former big leaguer…

(AP Photo/Jeffery Washington)

Fu-Te Ni, Tigers

You’ve probably heard of Ni, who’s been up with Detroit in each of the last two seasons. They recently outrighted him off the 40-man roster, exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft. Ni’s a traditional LOOGY, with a funky low arm slot delivery and a big old breaking ball that’s allowed him to hold lefties to a .276 wOBA in the big leagues (.357 vs. RHB). There’s really not much to break down here, he is what he is, and that’s a recently turned 28-year-old that throws left-handed and has no fewer than four years of team control left. This is the kind of player the Rule 5 Draft was made for.

Scott Diamond, Braves

Diamond in an exhibition game against the Yankees in March 2009. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2007, the 24-year-old Diamond make a strong first impression in his first attempt as full season ball in 2008 by posting a 3.13 FIP in 152.2 innings. The success continued into 2009 (3.26 FIP in 131 IP), then again into 2010 (3.22 FIP in 158.2 IP). Atlanta has a strong farm system and a lot of players worth protecting, so Diamond was a 40-man roster crunch casualty and left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.

Diamond’s repertoire is suited for battling both left-handers and right-handers. He pounds the zone with three pitches: a low-90’s fastball backed by a curveball and changeup that qualify as no worse than average. He held both lefties and righties to a ~.250 average and ~.650 OPS against in 2010, and his strikeout numbers are solid (7.27 K/9 over the last two seasons). It’s not crazy to think that a shift to relief could add a few ticks to Diamond’s fastball and improve those strikeout numbers. Some team could pop him as a starter, but relief could be his ultimate role.

Jeremy Horst, Reds

A 21st round pick back in 2007, the 6-foot-4, 220 lb. Horst was outstanding during his first full season in Cincinnati’s system (2.48 FIP in 102 innings), but he struggled the next. After a 4.57 FIP in 162 innings last season, the Reds shifted Horst to the bullpen this spring and kept him there all season. The result was a career revival, more specifically a 2.30 FIP (9.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) and just two homers allowed in 72 innings across three levels. The Reds declined to add him to the 40-man roster after the season, so he’s available to any team willing to keep him on their 25-man roster for all of 2011.

Since we’re talking about a potential lefty specialist, we need to dig a little deeper, and therein lies the problem. Lefties hit .302/.342/.715 (!!!) off of him last season, righties .231/.282/.478. Why? Because he’s a changeup pitcher without much else, so there’s no weapon to consistently combat same-side batters. When Horst missed spots with his change, he’s paid dearly as those slugging percentages suggest. While it would be nice to bring in a second lefty capable of facing right-handed batters as well, the equipment isn’t there for Horst to get the job done at the major league level just yet. For shame.

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I suspect the Yanks are looking for someone more established to serve as their second lefty since it’s entirely possible that Logan’s second half success was a mirage. The Rule 5 Draft might not be the avenue they want to travel, but it’s virtually harmless. The worst that could happen is that the player stinks in Spring Training and is lost on waivers at the end of March, in which case they’re out $50,000. Big whoop. If they do decide to take someone in the Rule 5 for the second straight year, they likely won’t get a chance at Diamond. He’s prime Rule 5 Draft bait and is likely to come off the board early, though Ni could still available and I’d absolutely give him a chance. Horst, eh.

The Yankees could always surprise everyone and take one of their own players, namely Wilkins Arias. The 30-year-old has done fine work (3.42 FIP) with Double-A Trenton over the last three years, but I would certainly bet against this. If they wanted to keep him, they’d have protected him. They have plenty of open 40-man spots. Filling one of those spots with a cheap, young lefty specialist next week just might be the best way to go.

The Yankees and the Rule 5 Draft

One of my favorite events of the baseball year is the annual Rule 5 Draft, which takes place during the Winter Meetings in December (apparently it’s going to be earlier than that this year) and is designed to help advance the careers of players stuck in the minors. The rules are pretty simple; any player selected has to stick on his new team’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to his old club for half the original $50,000 claiming fee. The Yankees have lost a few players to the Rule 5 gods over the years, most notably Kanekoa Teixeira (Mariners) and Zach Kroenke (Diamondbacks) last season.

Last year the Yankees traded Brian Bruney to the Nationals for the player to be named later, though they worked out a deal with Washington that gave them the first overall pick in the R5D. They drafted outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, gave him a look in Spring Training, and ultimately decided to return him to the Dodgers. A few years before that they rolled the dice with Josh Phelps. Rule 5 picks rarely stick and when they do they’re often spare parts like middle relievers or bench players. Every once in a while there will be a Dan Uggla or Johan Santana or Joakim Soria or Josh Hamilton though, which is what makes it so interesting.

For all intents and purposes, high school players drafted in 2006 and college players drafted in 2007 (or earlier, of course) are eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Through the miracle of the internet, Donnie Collins provided us with a full list of Yankee farmhands – confirmed by VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman – eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. For prospect nerds like me, it’s pretty much a gold mine. Jesus Montero, despite signing as a 16 year old in 2006, is not eligible this year. Don’t ask me how, I don’t completely understand the eligibility rules, but all I know is that the team confirmed he isn’t eligible.

There are currently 43 players on the Yanks’ 40-man roster since Al Aceves, Damaso Marte, and Nick Johnson are sitting on the 60-day DL. Johnson, Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, Chad Moeller, Marcus Thames, Javy Vazquez, and Kerry Wood all go away once free agency starts next week. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte will come off the 40-man as well, but they’re coming back or will be replaced by someone. That puts the Yanks at 36 players, and you have to assume they’ll sign a few free agents, so let’s call it an even 40. Cut candidates include Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, and Chad Gaudin, but let’s play it safe and say that two of them will be back. Reegie Corona and Royce Ring can go, ditto Steve Garrison.

That gives the Yankees four 40-man roster spots to use for protecting prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird are absolute no-brainers, so we’re already down to just a pair of spots. I see four realistic candidates for these spots: George Kontos, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, and Craig Heyer. Almost everyone else on the list can be left unprotected for obvious reasons, and I don’t believe Melky Mesa and Bradley Suttle are advanced enough to stick on a big league 25-man roster all season. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of them being returned at some point should they get picked.

Let’s break down the cases for Kontos, Pendleton, Pope, and Heyer…

George Kontos
The Greek God of Pitching returned from Tommy John surgery this June and transitioned from starter to reliever. Kontos pitched well after coming back from surgery (3.37 FIP in 45 IP) and is currently getting his brains beat in (8 IP, 20 baserunners, 13 runs) like every other pitcher in the Arizona Fall League. The 25-year-old righty has firm stuff (low-90’s heat, good slider, eh change) tailored for a relief role, which is realistically the only spot he’d fill for the Yanks. His minor league strikeout rate at and above Double-A is very good (8.6 K/9), but the walks are a touch high (3.5 BB/9) and he’s always been homer prone (one longball for every eleven innings pitched as a pro). The equipment is there for Kontos to be a serviceable reliever.

Lance Pendleton
The Yanks’ fourth round pick in 2005, Pendleton missed the entire 2006 season due to Tommy John surgery (damn Rice pitchers). He’s been an absolute workhorse ever since, throwing a total of 445.1 innings (3.28 FIP) in the last three years, including 154.2 this year. The elder statesmen of this group, Pendleton is already 27, so his solid but not overwhelming rates (8.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.9 HR9) have to be taken with grain of salt since he’s always been older than the competition. I’m not sure if and how much the scouting report has changed through the years, but he was a low-90’s fastball guy with a curve and change back when he was drafted. It’s enough that he can start, and frankly he’s probably no worse than Moseley. At the very least he’s cheaper.

Ryan Pope
Pope’s always been an interesting case just because he the second player ever drafted out of the Savannah College of Art and Design. A year ago we wouldn’t have even been having this conversation, but the 24-year-old righty put himself on the map this summer after shifting into a relief role. He went from a fringy guy without swing-and-miss stuff (6.9 K/9 before 2010) to a dominant reliever, striking out 9.7 batters per nine while walking just 1.8 unintentionally. The homers are a bit of an issue (0.9 HR/9 as a reliever), but that’s life. We have to be careful with the sample (just 59 IP as a reliever), but Pope’s definitely put himself into the mix as a bullpen prospect.

Craig Heyer
Heyer’s been sneaky good since signing as a 22nd round pick back in 2007, earning the praise of Keith Law recently. Still just 24 years old, his walk (just 14 unintentional walks the last two seasons, or 0.8 BB/9) and homer (0.3 HR/9 career) rates are the stuff of legend, but the problem is that he doesn’t miss many bats (5.1 K/9). Heyer also has yet to pitch above High-A. The Yankees sent him (and Pope) to the AzFL to get a longer look, so you know he’s at least on their minds. The stuff is fine (click the link above for a scouting report), but the experience isn’t.

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Of those four, I’m taking Kontos and Pope. Pendleton will almost definitely be selected since cheap spot starters/long men are always in demand around the league, but that’s the cost of doing business. Heyer might get picked, but chances are he’ll be offered back at some point. Kontos and Pope have by far the best chance of being impact players for the Yankees in 2011, and more importantly have a better chance of sticking on another club’s 25-man roster next year. The Yanks need to keep replenishing their pipeline of young and cheap strikeout relievers, and these two are next in line. If they somehow clear up a fifth 40-man spot, I’d go with Pendleton over Heyer given how much closer he is.

If you’re losing players in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s a good sign, not necessarily a bad thing. It means you have players in your system other teams covet, which is one of the caveats of a deep farm system. The Yanks have some tough decisions to make this year and well definitely lose a player or three, but that’s life. the important thing is that they keep the right ones.

Hoffmann, Kontos photos both courtesy of the AP.