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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Magnificent Twenty-Eight

Joe gives his impressions of this week’s Rule 5 draft.

I was at the Winter Meetings in Nashville this past weekend and it was truly amazing. I met some great people and had a lot of fun. One of the most rewarding experiences was being able to attend the Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 is often overlooked, but every once in awhile a diamond in the rough emerges, like Willie Upshaw in 1977 for the Blue Jays.

Upshaw is a perfect example of how the draft can work. Drafted by the Blue Jays heading into his age 21 season of 1978, they kept Upshaw on the roster and while he wasn’t great, they were able to suffer with him because they were such a terrible team. He bounced back and forth for a few years after that before exploding in 1983, not coincidentally the first winning season for the Jays.

Sometimes these guys take time, but there are usually a few guys that turn out to be pretty good players, if you are willing to wait. The key with Upshaw was that he as able to get 250 plate appearances in 1978 because the team was awful and his development wasn’t stunted.. Let’s take a look and see if we can separate any diamonds from the cubic zirconia for 2003.

From this article at Baseball America:

“One veteran executive said the Padres bagged the sleeper of the draft in Dodgers outfielder Shane Victorino. “I think his bat is going to play. He got a lot better during the Arizona Fall League.”

Victorino hit .258-4-34 with 45 stolen bases (in 61 attempts) and a .328 on-base percentage after jumping to Double-A Jacksonville in 2002.  You have to love those CF’s with .328 OBPs in AA. How anyone can think he will stick as anything more than a pinch runner is beyond me.

He did hit .330 in Arizona, with 11 BB over 109 AB, but we’re talking 120 PA. If his hitting is finally developing, spending the year on the bench in SD isn’t going to further that development. He’s another toolsy guy that has the scouts excited. I simply don’t see it and Rontrez Johnson would have been a much better choice.

The Padres also acquired Jose Flores in a trade for the 3rd pick, Buddy Hernandez. Flores will be 30 next year, but he did post a .397 OBP as a SS/OF for Sacramento (AAA) last year. He was also a very good 16 for 20 as a base stealer. He was useless to Oakland but he should be a nice fit in San Diego, where Mark Loretta and Ramon Vazquez are the only other middle infielders on the 40-man roster. He will still be a solid utility infielder, but I still see it as a bad trade for SD, they should have kept Hernandez for themselves.

This leads us to the team that cleaned up—Oakland (go figure). They grabbed Hernandez and Mike Nue, two righties dubbed “too short” by the scouts, but who have done nothing but get people out wherever they’ve played. They also grabbed outfielder Rontrez Johnson from Texas (he played for KC this season) and all he did was post a .397/.454 for Omaha this year to go with hitting .300 with 31 steals. He will be 26 this year, which is a little old for a prospect, but he should be a pretty good player.

Toronto picked up a couple of low 90s throwing relievers in Aquilino Lopez and Gary Majewski. Lopez aged from 22 to 27, but he whiffed 103 and walked just 27 in 109 1/3 IP for Tacoma, posting a 2.39 ERA and allowing just 4 HR. Majewski, who will be 23 next season, whiffed a batter an inning and allowed just 3 HR in 74 2/3 for Birmingham (AA) this year.

The Jays also took big Jason Dubois, a LF that tore up the Florida St. League. Dubois is listed at 6’ 5”, 225. On the down side, he was little old for A ball, 23 in 2002, but he hit .321/.422/.562, drawing 57 BB and hitting 20 HR in 363 AB (he was injured for several weeks). He stuck out 95 times so he could have trouble adjusting to the big leagues. His defense is also on the questionable side, but those are outstanding numbers and worth taking a flyer on, especially in a DH league.

I think Detroit found a steal in 3B Travis Chapman (acquired in a trade after being drafted by Cleveland), who hit .301/.388/.473 for Reading last year, he turns 24 in June. The power is developing too, he went from 22 2B and 5 HR in 351 AB in 2001 to 35 2B and 15 HR in 478 AB this year. For a team that’s rebuilding, he’s a nice guy to take a chance on, they won’t be contending next year anyway.

Dave Dombrowski also took two pitchers—A hard-throwing lefty, Wil Ledezma from Boston and former 1st round pick Matt Roney, from the Rockies. Ledezma is 21, and he threw gas in the Sally League, striking out 38 and walking 8 in 23 2/3 IP. He didn’t allow a HR either. However, he’s been injured for most of the last 2 1/2 seasons. He suffered a stress fracture in his elbow during the 2000 season and missed the entire 2001 campaign. He only made 5 starts this year. There’s no way he’s ready to be a major league starter. So he’ll probably hide in the back of the Tigers pen, and they’re terrible right now, so it won’t matter. Either that, or he’ll be heading back to Boston. I’d like him in my system, and I’d only draft him if I were in the Tigers situation, awful and willing to wait. For them, he’s probably worth taking a flyer on.

Roney has been a typical first round high school pitching prospect, both injured and disappointing. He pitched well in A ball this year (82 2/3 IP, 88 K, 25 BB, 7 HR, 3.48 ERA), and his peripheral stats weren’t bad in AA (70 2/3 IP, 61 K, 33 BB, 6 HR), despite a 6.11 ERA. He’s an interesting pick, although unlikely to stay, unless Detroit is committed to keeping him in the pen all year.

The Brewers grabbed Mets infielder Enrique Cruz with the first pick. He’ll be making the jump from A ball to the majors, but the Brewers aren’t contending anyway, so it’s worth a shot. He’ll be a utility IF for them if he sticks. He played mostly at 3B for St. Lucie last year (Jose Reyes was at SS half the year, and Danny Garcia spent some time there as well), where he was a decent hitter (.336/.383) for an A ball shortstop.  Being only 21 in 2003, there is certainly potential for a high upside, especially if he can handle SS. The key for him is that Brewers get him playing time while he’s still developing.

Milwaukee’s 2nd choice was Matt Ford, a 22-year old lefty who pitched pretty well (2.37 ERA, 85 K, 42 BB, 114 IP) in the Florida St. League. I don’t see how he’ll stick unless the Brewers are prepared to stick with him in the back of the pen for a year. They’re a bad team, so the difference between 65 and 66 wins shouldn’t make a difference if they think Ford is worth hanging on to.

The Rangers drafted Marshall McDougall, a 24-year old 2B/3B from Cleveland. McDougall had a pretty good year, posting a .374/.486 for Midland in half a season, but it was the Texas League, so you really don’t know. He’s a solid pickup, and the former FSU star will be a useful 5th infielder for the Rangers. He could even beat out Michael Young for the starting job.

In the 2nd round the Rangers took John Koronka from the Reds. Koronko pitched well in the California League (A) and terribly in the Southern Leaugue (AA). No chance he sticks.

Houston picked up Victor Hall (drafted by Colorado) in a trade for Nelson Cruz. Cruz, who is arbitration eligible would have likely been non-tendered anyway. As for Hall, he has no power, but he gets on base, posting a .373 OBP in the California League (high-A) this year before moving to AA. He wasn’t as successful there and while he did hit .286 in 161 AB, he only drew a miniscule 6 walks.  He’s only 22, and he’s fast (60 SB in 2001, 33 last year) so he should stick as a 4th or 5th OF, especially since a good defensive CF is one of the missing pieces in Houston. He’d be better served with a full season in AA and another in AAA, with a 2005 arrival, as a 24-year old Brett Butler type. Hopefully getting 150 AB and spending a lot of time on the bench for the Astros this year doesn’t stunt his development too much, because he’s got a chance to have a decent career.

The Devil Rays took an A-ball SS for the second year in a row. Last year it was Felix Escalona (actually SF drafted him and traded him to TB), this year it’s Hector Luna. Luna looks good, long term. He’s 21, has a good defensive reputation, hit .334/.404, hitting 11 HR and stealing 32 (11 CS), but he drew just 39 BB. Those are acceptable numbers (for a developing high-A league SS, not for a major leaguer) if he’s as good as they say with the glove.

He’s at least 2 years from the being major league ready (mid-2005 maybe), but Tampa is going to suck it up for a year and let him play. Last year they did the same with the aforementioned Escalona and pitchers Steve Kent and Jorge Sosa. It’ll be awhile before we know if this strategy works out.

The Twins took a similar player, SS Jose Morban. Well, not all that similar because the two extra years he has on Luna is a pretty big deal at this level of development.  Morban hit .326/.414 for Charlotte. I doubt he sticks.

The Dodgers were able to get a decent lefty from the Indians system (in a trade with the Cubs), Derek Thompson. He missed almost all of 2001 because of a knee injury but came back in 2002, striking out 91 and walking 59 in 148 IP in A-ball (split the year between high and low-A). Nothing special there, but he allowed just 4 HR, so despite giving up 143 H he had an ERA of 3.65. He’s unlikely to stick on the Dodgers, because they can’t afford to give him a roster spot, being that they are in contention.

The Expos took Luis Ayala back from Arizona, where he signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason. Ayala is 24, and is a sidearmer who pitched very well for Saltillo, one of the best teams in the Mexican League this year. He’s a longshot, but again, as with so many of these pitchers, he can possibly latch onto a role in the back of the bullpen, the Expos obviously know him and thought it was worth $50K to take a look.

The Braves took Chris Spurling, Nashville’s 2002 closer. Spurling put together a great season, walking just 12 batters in 70 IP, fanning 60 and allowing just 54 hits. He did allow 8 HR though. He turns 26 in June, and he’d have a chance to stick with a bad team, but I don’t see the big righthander cracking Atlanta’s staff, even with the losses of Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond.

The Royals took righty DJ Carrasco, another A ball reliever, but one who had a heck of a season, striking out 83 and walking just 18 in 72 2/3 IP for Lynchburg last year. He allowed just a single home run. They should be able to carry the 26-year old reliever in the back of their pen for the season.

Kansas City’s second pick was Ronny Paulino, another Lynchburg Hillcat. This one will be a 22-year old catcher next season. He’s got a little pop, hitting 12 HR and 26 2B in 119 games. But he only posted a .321 OBP in A-ball, there’s no way he’ll be a productive catcher in the majors next year. What he really needs is the time to play and develop. If he sticks, he won’t play much behind Brent Mayne, and if he does play, the offense won’t be pretty. The Royals won’t contend, but 2000 2nd rounder Mike Tonis, who missed most of 2002, is the catcher of the future. He’s got a really solid glove and may hit a little. So maybe the plan is to keep Paulino as the backup while Tonis develops in AAA.

Luke Prokopec was taken by Reds. He’s out for the year most likely, so he’ll cost $350K (minimum salary, plus the $50K Toronto picked up) for nothing. I don’t think he’s worth that, especially as an unknown quantity in 2004. His service time in 2003 will make him arbitration eligible for 2004, so he will get at least a small raise, which could be problematic for the budget-conscious Reds.

The other two players taken by the Reds were also pitchers. Blake Williams went in the 2nd round. He’s a big righty who pitched very well in 2000 and 2001, but is coming off Tommy John surgery. The other was Jerome Gamble a 22-year old righty. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery himself (do you see a pattern here?), but pitched great in 14 starts in the Sally League,  49 1/3 IP, 42 K, 22 BB, 2 HR, 1.82 ERA. He was a little hit lucky, allowing just 34 hits, but he looks like he’s got really good stuff, throwing 91-93 MPH this year.

However, he’s nowhere near being ready to pitch in Cincinnati. Boone may be able to hide him in the back of the bullpen for the season, but he’s a starter, and there’s no way he fits into their rotation.. So he either becomes a reliever and loses out on a year of development (some may say abuse) as a starter or he goes back to the Red Sox. I like the player but don’t like the pick unless they can trade something back to Boston so they can keep him and let him pitch in AA, where he belongs next year.

Despite losing Gamble and Ledezma, the Red Sox did well. They snagged Adrian Brown, the ideal 4th OF in the third round. The also grabbed a nice LOOGY in Javier Lopez. Lopez pitched 46 1/3 innings for El Paso, striking out 47 and walking just 16. He allowed just 34 hits and had a 2.72 ERA. I’m not as high on Matt White, who was drafted from Cleveland. White struck out 63 and walked 39 in 89 1/3 IP for Akron (AA). He also tossed 17 innings in Buffalo (AAA), striking out 12 and walking 6.

The Sox also lucked out in grabbing Chris Coste, a catcher that hit .377/.439 for Buffalo, and was passed over by everyone. I’m guessing he’d be a better choice than the current catcher for at least 10-12 of the 30 teams out there right now. So Boston (who signed the former Northern League star to a minor league deal earlier in the offseason) gets to keep him, where he’ll likely get significant PT next year, especially if they part with Jason Varitek. Varitek may be traded as he made $3.5 million in 2002 and his performance has never matched his hype. Coste will provide the same, if not better offense, and cost a little more than 1/12 of that. Theo Epstein definitely knows what he’s doing. Coste, who is solid defensively and Mirabelli will give the Sox one of the better situations in baseball behind the plate.

Houston was able to hold onto 3B Jason Alfaro, who had a heck of a season in AA. He came out of nowhere to hit .393/.508 for Round Rock. He had a better year than several major league 3B. He’ll be 25 for 2003, and he’d be a nice player for a team with a 3B problem to take a chance on for $50K. It was his first good season in the minors, so we’re not really sure how good he is, but it really was a helluva year. He’s probably a better hitter than Geoff Blum, if nothing else, the MLE for his season was .368/.470.

At the draft, I overheard a well-known former manager say, “over/under on how many of these guys stick?” as he was walking by. He kept walking, and held 3 fingers behind his head and then said, “I’ll take the under.”

Proof that the concept of freely available talent is still lost on many a major league executive. I’ll bet at least twice that many stick, maybe more. Most of the teams doing the drafting can afford to keep the cheap player and hope he develops. As Bob Dylan said, “the times, they are, a changin’.”


JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 18, 2002 at 05:00 AM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Walt in Maryland Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607665)
Nice analysis, but a correction is in order on Jason Varitek's status with Boston. He's not arbitration-eligible, but is signed through 2004 at a combined $11.4 million.

So even though Coste might be a better choice, Varitek won't be non-tendered.
   2. Dan Szymborski Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607666)
I don't think it's out of the question that Varitek will be trade however, along with Hillenbrand.
   3. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607667)
Thanks Walt.

I thought he was year to year. I was looking at his 2002 salary, I've got to get a better fact checker :-).

I imagine they will try to deal him instead. I doubt he'll be in Boston past July of next year.

   4. Aaron Gleeman Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607668)
Great article Joe.
I was thinking about doing a similar one for my blog but since you were actually at the meetings and you did such a good job, I am just gonna plug yours.

Anyway, I had two questions about Sir Beane's team:

1) How good is Rontrez Johnson as a center fielder?
I know people are saying he won't have any problems playing everyday there, but is he more than "average" defensively?

2) Does Terrence Long have some pictures of Beane and farm animals or something? Or is it just impossible to unload his contract on another team?
His defense is awful in CF, but his offense will be really awful for LF.
Signing him to a long term deal was a mistake and now it just seems like the A's are willing to live with the mistake (and maybe make it worse by moving him to a more offensive position).

Any thoughts?
   5. Geoff Young Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607669)
Buddy Hernandez is intriguing, but the Padres have tons of options out of the bullpen and few in the middle infield. Plus they can send Flores to the minors if needed, which wouldn't have been possible with Hernandez. I actually think this deal helps both clubs.
   6. User unknown in local recipient table (Craig B) Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607675)
Where's the analysis for Marshall McDougall, Ronny Paulino, and John Koronka?

FJ, we all agreed that you would do that... and we're still waiting.
   7. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607677)
The comments are written, somehow we had a goof between my email last night and the article today. There were multiple versions of the article, must have been missed. I'll let you know when they are up . . . the article will just be reposted.

Sorry . . . I'm not at a computer where I can post the analysis in this space.
   8. True Blue n/k/a "DeJesusFreak" Posted: December 18, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607680)
Joe --

Just curious for the ill- (or non-) informed masses like me: What's it like to attend the Rule 5 draft? Obviously, it's not exactly like the NFL or NBA draft, but how is it done? Is it telephonic, like the June draft? Do they sit in a conference room and throw out names? Does a Selig minion announce the picks? How much time do they allow between picks? How many media/spectators attend?

Inquiring minds want to know. :-)

P.S. I'm sure similar questions could be good fodder for an article on the Winter Meetings in general, if you were so inclined.
   9. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 19, 2002 at 01:11 AM (#607690)
The additional comments are posted now . . .

Dave, the Red Sox signed Chris Coste as a minor league free agent last month, but he was still eligible for the Rule 5, since he wasn't placed on their 40-man roster. I tried to make that clear in the article, but I guess I didn't. I really like him, he's a .360/.390 guy at the major league level, which is good for a catcher that'll be hitting 7th or 8th, maybe 9th in that lineup. Mike Stanley wasn't a regular until he was 30 either. Coste doesn't have that kind of power, but he can get on base.

Aaron - I hear Johnson is pretty good with the leather, but he isn't Darren Erstad either, he can play the position though. The A's have a pretty good tendency to admit a mistake and move on, if he's better than Long, he'll play. But Long's got to be on the roster, and if Johnson's better in CF and Long's the best option in left, that's where he'll play. If he has another year like last year though, he'll ride the pine.

They can't just release him. It was a mistake, but I honestly thought it wasn't a terrible deal at the time, and it's not a ton of money. If he reverts back to .335/.410 he can pass for a LF, he'll be one of the worst in the league, but every team has a hole somewhere. Really last year all of his peripherals are the same, he just lost .040 off his AVG, for whatever reason. He still had his usual number of 2B, HR, BB, etc. Just lost about 20 singles, maybe he was just unlucky? If he's their number 8 hitter it's not the end of the world. A platoon is likely, since Johnson is a righty (and he's got decent power vs. lefties) and Long is a lefty.

True Blue - It was in a huge ballroom, I stood all the way in the back of the room. Up front was a podium and a stage, where the people announcing the picks were. Each team had a long table, that stat 4 or 5 people, with a microphone. One person from each team would stand up and announce the pick.

Dress was business casual for the draft (and all weekend really), though you can usually recognize the GMs, because they are the only people wearing sport jackets, they are generally the best dressed people at the meetings (although some just wear jeans and a sweater or oxford type shirt). A lot of the young GMs are short (JP Ricciardi, Brian Cashman and Dan Evans are all 5' 7" or shorter) which surprised me, and led to one of our running jokes, "he could be a GM," whenever we saw a short guy. The group I was hanging out with (as well as myself) was predominantly short guys, so it was more like a pride thing than making fun.

It wasn't like a fantasy draft either, teams had their pick ready to go. The entire major league phase took all of 30 minutes. Even the AAA phase went quickly. When a pick was announced, after about 5 seconds, his name would flash up on the big screen (they had a Power Point type thing going), with the team selecting, the team he was taken from, and stats (of course for batters, BB, OBP and SLG were missing).

Behind the team tables, there were probably 3 sets of 15 rows of chairs, maybe 12 chairs across in each set (for media and people associated with the teams that weren't at the tables), and while it was a packed room, there were a lot of people standing, and you could get a seat and not have to sit next to anyone if you didn't want to. I'm pretty sure the scouting directors and people like were actually at the team tables, because the GMs, Assistant GMs and managers that I recognized were milling about, it was obvious their decisions had been made already and they were just going down a list.

I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get in. I didn't have a press pass, and there were two old guy security guards outside the ballroom. But I noticed an Assistant GM walk in without a badge, and I saw them search his bag, so I realized they were just there to search bags. I walked up, they looked in my bag, didn't find any explosives, and I walked right in.

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