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2013 Rule 5 Draft Review

by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

2013 Major League Rule Five Draft Review

Perhaps only one true impact player has appeared in this draft since the 2006 rule change restricting the pool of eligible players, though even San Diego's 2008 selection of Everth Cabrera just began to realize significant value for the Padres in the last season or two. A few players still could emerge from the last draft or two, with guys like Ryan Flaherty, Nate Freiman, and Josh Fields set to emerge in more visible roles on their respective teams in 2014. Yet despite the meager gains achieved in recent years, plenty of opportunities remain, with both a few high-risk, high-upside players and a wealth of potential complementary options still seemingly available every draft.

As always, teams generally should target pitchers who spent 2013 no lower than high-A, then slot the youngsters in long relief, as lefty specialists, or even in middle or short relief if the pitcher's performance warrants. Selecting reasonably high-upside prospects adds even more value to such picks. Ideally, teams probably should select one backup position player at a position of need and then two pitchers, one right-hander and one southpaw, though I won't fault an organization for taking a flyer on a higher-upside prospect if a reasonable basis for that pick exists.

Forty percent (6/15) of last year's picks stuck in the majors, including the top two selections, Houston's Josh Fields and the Cubs' Hector Rondon, along with Ryan Pressley in Minnesota, T.J. McFarland in Baltimore, and Angel Sanchez on the south side of Chicago. Oakland also nabbed Nate Freiman off waivers from Houston, effectively replacing the traded Chris Carter with free talent from his new organization, and Miami managed to hold onto the injured Alfredo Silverio all year long before outrighting him in October.

That success rate matched well with the previous season's, when teams managed a 42% success rate with the 2011 Rule 5 class, easily the best rate in recent history and preceded by far less impressive marks that included the 26% success rate in 2010(5/19), 29% in 2009(5/17), 24% in 2008(5/21), and 28% in 2007(5/18).

Increased selectively appears the primary reason for the superior success rate, as teams have selected 28% few players in 2011 and 2012 compared to the previous four years.

Somewhat surprisingly, that trend rapidly accelerated this year, with teams choosing only nine players, the lowest total in the last fifteen seasons and a full twenty-five percent fewer selections than any year since 2000.

Perhaps the proliferation of relatively reliable veteran bench and bullpen help on the free agent market this winter, buoyed by some rather farcical non-tenders like John Axford, Ryan Webb, Wesley Wright, Garrett Jones, and future ESPN broadcaster extraordinaire Sam Fuld, led to this timidity. Yet I'm still stunned by teams' refusal on Astros' 23-year-old AAA catcher Carlos Perez or Royals' AA outfielder Brett Eibner. Both those merited more attention as former top ten prospects with a full year of experience in the upper minors, as well as MLE stats that indicate they could play effectively as backups or even platoon players right now. However, teams clearly preferred to gamble on immediate help over players with more upside, with the Astros' leadoff pick providing the best example of this.

Round One

1. Houston: Patrick Schuster LHP ARI Age: 23 B:R T:L
A+ (Cal) 0 1 0 45 18 3 30 44.1   1.83 2.42 0/55

Traded to San Diego as the PTBN for Anthony Bass and cash.
Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 90%.
Probable role if kept: Lefty specialist.

Houston effectively traded this choice to the Padres a day earlier for Anthony Bass, whose inconsistency last summer led to three demotions after spending the previous season as a fairly reliable swingman. Netting the 26-year-old Bass for the upside of this pick seems a somewhat precipitous move for the still-rebuilding Astros, especially given Schuster's potential to fill the void left by San Diego's deadline deal of Joe Thatcher. Though Schuster settled into the bullpen two years ago and repeated the Cal League in 2013, a high strikeout rate and strong groundball tendency make him an excellent fit for the Padres. While latent control issues could trouble him, Schuster seems likely to serve as the Padres' lefty specialist, and a minimal platoon split even suggests some potential for development into a more important cog in San Diego's relief corps. The Astros will regret passing on him unless Bass unexpectedly rebounds under tougher all-around conditions.

Fantasy Outlook: Schuster could prove surprisingly valuable in sim leagues, but a lack of innings should render him useless as anything more than roster filler in traditional roto.

2. Chicago (A): Adrian Nieto C WAS Age: 24 B:S T:R
A+ (Car) 390 111 11 53 68 4 53 82   .285 .373 .449

Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 70%.
Probable role if kept: Platoon catcher vs. RHP.

Nieto served a 50-game suspension for PEDs in 2011 and saw his name appear twice in small print in the Biogenesis docs, none of which should detract in any way from a very solid performance in his first year above A-ball. While he didn't match that output in the AFL, where he only managed a .271/.345/.333 campaign in 48 AB, he seems fully prepared to compete for playing time on the club with the weakest catching corps in the game. The White Sox currently field two extremely similar RH backstops with pop and little else in Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley. Although the latter's minor league numbers prompt visions of an All-Star berth, his faceplant in Chicago this year leaves open the door for Nieto to gain significant playing time with a good spring. Nieto's defensive limitations also don't seem an obvious liability given his competition. Most intriguingly, he hits much better against RH, leaving him well-positioned to gain a lion's share of playing time in Robin Ventura's lineup.

Fantasy Outlook: With a good spring, Nieto not only should make the White Sox but easily could emerge on the better half of a platoon, making him a fantastic late-round gamble in any standard league. While his BA might hurt you, he also could hit a dozen homers, a useful contribution from any second catcher who shouldn't cost more than a buck or two.

3. Philadelphia: Kevin Munson RHP ARI Age: 24 B:R T:R
SL (AA) 2 2 13 39 15 5 17 31.2   3.41 .96 0/29
PCL (AAA) 0 2 1 27 7 1 25 23.0   5.09 1.69 0/24

Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 65%.
Probable role if kept: Middle relief.

Chicago gave this pick to the Phillies to resolve a grievance regarding 2011 selection Lendy Castillo's uncertain roster status due to his injuries. Instead of the Cubs landing another cog to help their rebuilding, Philadelphia instead grabbed this former college catcher. While he continues to experience bouts of control troubles, with a career strikeout rate of 11.1 K/9, he also merits a very long look this spring. Arizona's failure to protect him just ranks as yet another item on the long list of the Snakes' baffling moves over the last twelve months. In fact, Munson seems surprisingly prepared for the majors despite his walk rate, especially with at least one opening definitely available in the Phillies' unimpressive bullpen (and perhaps more if the club succeeds in trading Jon Papelbon).

Fantasy Outlook: In that latter scenario, Munson might even emerge as a useful late-inning option, though given his overall background, he seems best suited for no more than a setup role. Unless you see Ryne Sandberg discussing him as a viable closing option at some point, Munson will possess far more values to the Phillies than in any fantasy league, where he'll probably spend 2014 on the free agent wire for the vast majority of the season.

4. Colorado: Tommy Kahnle RHP NYY Age: 24 B:R T:R
EL (AA) 1 3 15 74 45 4 38 60.0   2.85 .75 0/46

Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 30%.
Probable role if kept: Middle relief.

With only one bullpen job apparently available in Colorado after the free agent signings of LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan, as well as the club's history of employing at least one of their excess rotation candidates out of the pen, Kahnle will have to wow in camp even to have a chance at winning a spot. Possessing an impressive fastball but no other notable skill, he seems far more likely to land somewhere else via waivers, though I won't be surprised if he just winds up back with the Yankees.

Fantasy Outlook: In Colorado, Kahnle merits zero fantasy attention. If a waiver claim moves him into a far more unsettled bullpen situation, he still will need to demonstrate unexpected improvement in his command before you even should consider him as roster filler.

5. Toronto: Brian Moran LHP SEA Age: 25 B:L T:L
PCL (AAA) 2 5 4 85 20 4 70 62.2   3.45 .63 0/48

Traded to the Angels for an international bonus slot.
Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 90%.
Probable role if kept: Lefty specialist.

None of the pitchers auditioned by the Angels in the fall to replace the traded Scott Downs as the bullpen's second left-hander impressed the club, opening the door for Moran to slide right into the LOOGY role. The older brother of Miami 2013 first rounder Colin, the lefty thrives on deception. With career marks that include a 10.6 K/9 and 4.3 K:BB, Moran seems more likely to succeed in 2014 than Lucas Luetge, taken by the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft two years ago but not ideally suited to replace the departed Oliver Perez as Seattle's lefty specialist. By all appearances, the Angels snatched a valuable little asset from a division rival here at the cost of only a mid-round international bonus slot.

Fantasy Outlook: While Moran's unimpressive stuff might continue to limit his upside in the majors, he also could flourish in front of the Angels' strong defense, making him an intriguing late-round sleeper in sim leagues and a definite possibility as low-risk roster filler in traditional roto.

6. New York (N): Seth Rosin RHP PHI Age: 25 B:R T:R
EL (AA) 9 6 0 96 35 13 120 126.2   4.33 .80 23/26

Sold to the Dodgers.
Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 10%.
Probable role if kept: Long relief.

Perhaps the most baffling Rule 5 transaction, the Mets' selection of Rosin initially looked like a nice pilferage of a division rival, but unless the Dodgers plan on fielding a second club, he faces nearly insurmountable odds in LA. Even ignoring the rumors of additional signings to augment their loaded staff, the Dodgers' 40-man roster already includes at least eight superior candidates to start and about another dozen relief options. Yet LA didn't even wait for their turn to grab Rosin, which indicates surprising interest for the throw-in from the Hunter Pence deal in 2012. Rosin certainly might flourish if left in relief. His minor league numbers suggest he also could help fill out a rotation. Yet on a team with the Dodgers' resources, nothing about this pick makes much sense to me, other than viewing the move as a pure talent grab.

Fantasy Outlook: I just can't see Rosin breaking camp in LA barring a horrific run of injuries, though a strong spring could attract other attention. Regardless of where he opens the year, wait until you see him succeeding in his given role for a few weeks before considering him in any league.

7. Milwaukee: Wei-Chung Wang LHP PIT Age: 21 B:L T:L
R (GCL) 1 3 0 42 4 2 37 47.1   3.23 1.40 11/12

Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 25%.
Probable role if kept: Middle relief.

The Pirates voided Wang's initial contract in 2011 due to injury issues that required Tommy John surgery, thus making him eligible for the Rule 5. Easily the most unexpected pick of the draft, he admittedly impressed this summer, but with no professional experience above Rookie-ball, nothing here suggests that Wang belongs even in the upper minors, forget about the Brewers' bullpen. However, with only two other southpaws on the 40-man roster, and only three relievers seemingly guaranteed to break camp in the majors, a good Spring could result in a shocking ascent for this Taiwanese lefty.

Fantasy Outlook: Of course, with 21-year-old pitchers rather risky under the best circumstances, you probably should stay far away from Wang in every format unless he somehow unexpectedly echoes Paco Rodriguez's performance for the Dodgers over the past fifteen months.

8. Arizona: Marcos Mateo RHP CHC Age: 29 B:R T:R
AZL (R) 1 0 0 8 2 0 3 6.0   0.00 2.67 2/5
SL (AA) 1 0 0 7 7 0 6 8.2   1.04 .46 0/6
PCL (AAA) 0 0 1 15 4 0 15 16.1   2.76 .62 0/13

Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 30%.
Probable role if kept: Middle relief.

The recipient of a lot of last-minute helium at the winter meetings thanks to an early dominant performance in the Domincan Winter League, Mateo unexpectedly landed with the Diamondbacks, who could have just kept the younger and healthier Kevin Munson in the first place. Now, where they could have just optioned Munson, thanks to a relief corps that already features five relievers with 2013 ERAs no higher than 3.20, erstwhile closer David Hernandez, and new closer Addison Reed, Arizona will struggle to find room for Mateo. Perhaps a trade will clear this logjam and give Mateo the opportunity he probably deserves, but I both fail to understand why a club like the Astros didn't take him and how he fits in the Diamondbacks' bullpen.

Of course, 2013 also marks the sixth straight year in which Arizona made a Rule 5 selection, and while only Joe Paterson and Zach Kroenke stuck that first year, Mateo seems as good a gamble as anyone if the club's determined to make a pick. If he continues to impress in the spring, they probably at least can flip him for a lower-level prospect.

Fantasy Outlook: At least four Arizona relievers currently possess better claims to the closing job than Mateo, so even if he somehow makes the team, he won't belong on your fantasy roster. Now if he instead gets waived and ends up back with the Cubs or another team with a similarly uncertain bullpen, he just might merit a good deal of fantasy attention by the second half of 2014.

9. Baltimore: Michael Almanzar 3B CIN Age: 23 B:R T:R
EL (AA) 507 136 16 81 67 13 42 100   .268 .328 .432

Chance of remaining on 25-man roster/DL throughout 2014: 80%.
Probable role if kept: Platoon DH and backup cornerman.

Another club with a fairly long history of Rule 5 success, Baltimore landed T.J. McFarland last year and Ryan Flaherty two years ago, both of whom should spend much of next year in the majors, as well as guys like Jay Gibbons in 2000 and Jose Bautista in 2003 (though they failed to keep the latter). The Orioles' plan doesn't always work, but I remain intrigued by their moving pieces. Adding Almanzar, already old for AA but also the son of former reliever Carlos Almanzar, provided a comparable 3B/1B/DH replacement for Danny Valencia, traded by the club today to Kansas City for David Lough, who'll fill Nate McLouth's role in the outfield. No one expects Almanzar to replicate Valencia's out-of-nowhere .888 OPS, but as the platoon partner to Flaherty at DH or even as a short-term filler for the injured Manny Machado, Almanzar could surprise.

Fantasy Outlook: If Machado's slow to return this spring and Almanzar impresses in camp, an end-round gamble could yield pleasant results here. However, most owners should wait until he claims a regular role in Buck Showalter's lineup before considering him for a fantasy roster.

Today's Fantasy Rx: A fairly clear division emerged between selections that obviously fit on their new clubs (Schuster, Nieto, Moran, Almanzar), and those that don't (Kahnle, Rosin, Wang, and Mateo), with Munson probably only needing a strong spring to win a job. Rosin and Mateo perhaps could claim spots on other clubs, and Wang may somehow make the jump from Rookie-ball, or Kahnle's fastball could overwhelm his lack of secondary skills.

At this time, given the historical likelihood of only 5-6 guys claiming jobs, Nieto and Almanzar seem the obvious favorites considering they fill necessary roles on their new rosters, with Schuster and Moran also nicely fitting as likely LOOGYs. Of the rest, Mateo actually seems the best bet to spend the year in the majors, albeit most likely not with Arizona.

In spring drafts, Nieto appear the obvious target, particularly in leagues with two active catchers per team. Schuster and Moran also should emerge as low-risk options in sim leagues, though no one else likely will merit rostering until they both earn a big league job and start producing decent numbers in April.

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