Rule 5 Recap

There was plenty of business as usual in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, as many teams focused on generic relief prospects who might fill out the back of a bullpen. For fans of most teams, more excitement stemmed from the post-draft transactions than the selections themselves: five of the first seven players drafted were immediately traded to another organization. Eleven of the 19 picks were pitchers (only two of them lefties); the rest consisted of three catchers, two middle infielders, two outfielders, and one first baseman/designated hitter. A few of the righty hurlers have some potential, but it’s the rest of the crop that interests me more. Here are my five draftees to watch in 2007.

1. Ryan Goleski, Oakland A’s

Billy Beane wanted the first pick; this is why. With Jay Payton likely headed elsewhere and Cliff Floyd perhaps too expensive for a flyer, there’s an open spot in the Oakland outfield. Goleski registered on prospect radar screens after his first two seasons in the Indians organization, but faltered in his first exposure to the Carolina League. That’s not a good sign for a 23-year-old, but he redeemed himself last year, combining for a .306/.392/.557 line between Kinston (A+) and Akron (AA).

Goleski is reputed to have a good arm; in addition, Range suggests he is at least credible afield, at three plays above average between left and right field last year. In ’05, he played right for all but one game, ending up six plays below average. It’s hard to imagine him as more than a fifth outfielder in 2007, but he was one of the few available players with substantial long-term potential.

2. Jay Marshall, Oakland A’s

Marshall learned how to pitch sidearm in 2006, but Carolina League lefties did not learn how to hit him. If you’re going to pick a minor leaguer as a potential LOOGY, you might as well choose one with a track record of success: last year, lefties hit .096/.113/.115 in 32.7 innings against Marshall—that’s 12 base runners, none of them walks. The AL East has its fair share of menacing left-handed batters, so Joe Maddon should have plenty of opportunities to put Marshall to the test.

Editor’s note: it has been widely reported that the Devil Rays traded for Marshall in the deal that sent Goleski to Oakland. However, a source in the Devil Rays front office assures us that this is not the case.

3. Josh Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

There aren’t many prospects in baseball history who serve as good comparisons for Hamilton at this point. He was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, played in the 2000 futures game, and has spent much of his time since 2002 suspended for substance abuse. There’s no question he’s got the tools, but his most recent success was a .303/.359/.507 line in the California League…in 2002. He’s a long shot at this point, but if you’re going to stash someone on your bench, you could take worse gambles.

4. Josh Phelps, New York Yankees

A couple of months ago, the Yankees could have had Phelps for free. Perhaps they underestimated the cost of filling their need at first base with a mediocrity such as Rich Aurilia or Shea Hillenbrand. His park-adjusted line last year in Toledo (AAA) was .330/.390/.567; anybody who can do that at age 28 deserves at least one more crack at the majors.

5. Edward Campusano, Detroit Tigers

Unlike Marshall, the other lefty taken in the draft, Campusano has proven he can get minor league righties out, as well. In fact, despite a higher walk rate, he was more successful against RHBs than LHBs. Then again, that’s just quibbling: we’re talking about an OPS allowed of .590 instead of .523. The downside is that he put up half of those numbers at low-A Peoria; while he also had some success in the Southern League, the majors would be a massive leap for him.

Despite that jump, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection for him is extremely positive: 52 K’s in 57 innings along with a 4.11 ERA. He’s 24, so if Jim Leyland can figure out a way to continue his development on the Tigers staff, he could end up as a useful cog in future bullpens.

And one interesting strategy

It’s not unheard of for a catcher to be taken in the Rule 5 draft (Chris Shelton was a part-time backstop in the minors, to take one example) but it is unusual. The Phillies went even further: they took two, Adam Donachie and Ryan Budde. Neither one is likely to turn into more than a backup catcher, but that’s exactly what the Phillies need. They are likely to start the year with Carlos Ruiz as their primary catcher and Chris Coste on the roster as a utility guy, but could carry another defensive-minded backup.

Enough teams sufficiently value experience that the going rate for Paul Bako is nearly a million bucks; unless Pat Gillick wants to spring for Rod Barajas, his options on the free-agent market are the likes of Doug Mirabelli and John Flaherty. For a third catcher, why not bring in a couple of the best available defensive receivers and let them battle it out? It’s not the sort of move that will keep Omar Minaya up at night, but if it works out, the Phils will come out of it with a decent backup catcher for a few years.

The Nationals also drafted a catcher, Jesus Flores. Flores played in the high-A Florida State League last year, putting together a respectable .267/.335/.491. That translates to a major league line of approximately .230/.280/.390, which isn’t much worse than Brandon Harper‘s translated Triple-A numbers. If Flores is kept around, he might have to be stashed as a third catcher, but keep in mind that this is the team that held on to Tony Blanco for an entire season. Flores has a higher ceiling than either Budde or Donachie; if the Nats are punting the 2007 season, he could turn out to be an excellent use of their 25th roster spot.

References & Resources
Baseball America’s recap of the draft came in handy, as did Dan Szymborski’s projections and The Baseball Cube‘s historical minor league stats.

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