Posted: Tuesday December 5, 2006 7:06PM; Updated: Tuesday December 5, 2006 7:06PM
By Bryan Smith, Special to SI.com
There are a few success stories in the history of the Rule 5 Draft (i.e. Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana and Dan Uggla). However, the annual preseason draft is more for roster-fillers than anything else. Look for this to become even more true in the future as a change in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement now allows for one more year of minor-league protection before players become eligible. This makes the 2006 crop one of the worst in recent memory. In other words, don't expect any Rookie of the Year candidates this time around.
The rules of the draft are simple: For $50,000, a team can draft an eligible player's rights away from a club that leaves the player unprotected. The player then must last the entire season on the major-league roster of his new organization or be offered back to his original club for $25,000. Most players drafted don't make it out of spring training, far fewer last the entire season. It appears most contending teams will pass on making any selections in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. However, rebuilding organizations looking for that 12th pitcher and fifth bench player might find a fit in Orlando.
Here are 10 names I would draft on Thursday:
Adam Boeve, 26, OF Organization:Pittsburgh Pirates 2006 Class, Stats: AA/AAA, .289/.361/.416
As far as bench players go, the former Northern Iowa outfielder has significant value. Blessed with a big arm, Boeve is a natural right fielder but has logged time in left field and could play center in a pinch. He is a good baserunner, swiping 27 bases on the year at an 80 percent success rate. Boeve can crush left-handed pitching, slugging .552 against southpaws in 230 at-bats the past two seasons. If a team can get over Boeve's long swing and high strikeout rates, they'll see a fourth outfielder worthy of being drafted.
It took Tyler Houston seven seasons to make the majors, where he parlayed his versatility into an eight-year career. A huge slugger at Wake Forest, D'Antona has hit well at every stop. A poor 2004 slowed D'Antona's development curve, but looking to turn his stock upward, Arizona gave him a chance at catching. D'Antona has only logged 12 games behind the plate (including in the Arizona Fall League), but if a team believes in his bat, they might give him a chance as a versatile pinch-hitter.
If strikeouts were the benchmark by which pitchers were judged, Garate would find himself somewhere on the prospect radar. Garate struggled with a 5.57 ERA in his American debut a year ago; however, he still struck out 53 hitters in 32.1 innings. Garate, still in short-season ball blossomed this season, overcoming control problems to post a sparkling ERA. The negatives surrounding Garate are plentiful: He doesn't have great velocity, lacks control and his 160-pound frame could be pushed over in the wind. However, left-handed hitters have just eight hits in 60 at-bats against him in the past two years, so taking a chance on the next potential Boone Logan story wouldn't hurt.
With the price of pitching at an all-time high, a usable player like Hoorelbeke shouldn't through the cracks. Since moving to the bullpen a year ago, Hoorelbeke has posted ERAs below 3.00 the past two seasons. He mixes deception with the ability to keep the ball low and trusts his defense enough to allow plays to happen behind him. The right-hander also has good durability, having proven dependable in two-inning outings. With 170 innings under his belt as a reliever, the 6-foot-8 Hoorelbeke has proven he's found the right role, but he's the most draftable player in this class.
No stadium in professional baseball wreaks havoc on pitchers like the home park of the High Desert Mavericks, whose pitching staff annually turns in an ERA above 5.00. At the very least, succeeding in the environment is a plus. Plummer, who was traded to the Royals from the Dodgers for Wilson Valdez in March, posted a remarkable 3.31 ERA at home this season. Plummer is another who has found a home in the bullpen, and he is versatile there, very capable of handling long relief duties. After a dynamite stint in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league, where he posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 34:2 in 23 innings, Plummer looks primed to head to his third organization in nine months.
Chad Spann, 23, 3B/1B Organization:Boston Red Sox 2006 Class, Stats: AA, .294/.361/.472
Legitimate offensive potential is a trait few Rule 5 eligibles have this season, but the former fifth-round pick leads the brigade. After showing promise in 2003, Spann's career halted before his big season in Double-A this year. Spann is hardly a gifted defender at third base, but he could stick there though he also added first base to his resume in the Arizona Fall League. His low walk and high strikeout rates are damning, as our Spann's career numbers, but a team with a limited number of corner bats (read: Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay) should give Spann a Grapefruit League trial.
A blue-chip amateur, Starling was high profile as both a hitter and a pitcher out of Houston in 2002. After drafting him in the fourth round, the Pirates kept his mid-90s fastball on the mound, where he had little success early on. This year, Starling found success as a groundball pitcher -- his 1.56 G/F ratio should begin to outweigh concerns about his low number of strikeouts. Those that don't believe in Starling's potential as a starter still wonder if he might return to his flame-throwing ways, while maintaining sink, in the bullpen. No matter the role, one lacking pitching staff should be able to find room.
A shortstop prior to 2006, Strop was converted to a pitcher after a poor 2005 dropped his career average to .212. Upon moving to the mound, Strop's fastball was hitting the mid-90s. His stuff is as electric as any in this draft; however, he is extremely crude. Strop allowed three home runs in his 11 appearances in full season ball, and despite a decent walk rate, command remains a problem. Strop's breaking ball has had some success, but he hangs the pitch too often, resulting in the home runs. One of the younger players eligible, Strop's ceiling could lend the first overall selection, but his lack of refinement could leave him undrafted.
Anthony Webster, 23, OF Organization:Texas Rangers 2006 Class, Stats: AA/AAA, .288/.339/.421
Traded to the Rangers for Carl Everett, Webster has not found a long-term home in Texas. Unfortunately, Webster is in danger of becoming the classic fringe player: not a defensive center fielder, not an offensive corner outfielder. However, Webster could succeed as a left-handed bat off the bench with the occasional stint in center. Offensively, Webster is a gifted contact hitter with enough power to keep the defense honest. He is a threat to steal a base, and plays the outfield corners admirably. The outfield-starved Florida Marlins seem to be a natural fit for Webster.
While lacking the stuff of most of the players on this list, Wells could be a replacement-level pitcher in the majors if given an opportunity. After a career at catching failed, Wells has proven to be a durable starter in the minors, but could slide into a middle relief role in the Major Leagues. His best asset is very good control of a 90 mph fastball, as Wells rarely beats himself on the mound. A new organization would have to make strides with Wells' secondary offerings in Spring Training, but potential for a change up and breaking ball is there.