Courtesy of James Garner, MILB.com
It doesn't happen every year, but from time to time a player taken in the Rule 5 draft can turn into a superstar in Major League Baseball. This year's draft takes place on Thursday at the Grand Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., site of the Winter Meetings.
Over the last few years, the Rule 5 draft has not produced as many hidden gems due to new rules put in place by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Since players can now spend four or five years in the minors before teams have to protect them, there aren't as many undiscovered prospects.
In the past, players only had three or four years with a team before a decision had to be made about protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. That left a window for players to be chosen in the Rule 5 draft hit their stride in another organization.
The most recent big-name players to come out of the Rule 5 draft were Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton and Dan Uggla. Santana was taken by Houston in the 1999 Rule 5 draft, then traded to Minnesota on the same day. Uggla went from Arizona to Florida in 2005.
Hamilton was taken by the Cubs in 2006, then traded to Cincinnati the same day. Players can still be found. It is just a matter of timing on the team's part and talent on the player's part.
As draft day approaches, here are the top five players available in this class.
2012 Stats at High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron
127 G, .280/.372/.461, 15 HR, 58 BB, 115 K
Aguilar is a mountain of a man. He is listed at 6'3", 257 pounds. Having stood next to him at the Futures Game, I can say those measurements need to be updated. He is not in any way fat. He just has a large frame and carries it well.
Given his size and lack of athleticism, Aguilar is probably best suited for designated hitter, though he can play first base if absolutely necessary.
Aguilar has raw power that shows up in games. He slugged .506 in 2011 and .461 in 2012. He also has a pretty good eye at the plate and is capable of drawing walks. Advanced pitching will be the big test for him, as he has only played 20 games at the Double-A level.
At just 22 years old, Aguilar still has some upside, though it is limited because of his body and bat-only profile. He has to hit and hit a lot to be a big leaguer.
Will Aguilar Be Taken?
It would be a surprise to see Aguilar taken in the draft. He certainly has some skills that can eventually play at the big league level. But as mentioned before, he has only played 20 games at Double-A.
A team might be willing to take him and see what he can do in spring training. But when they see that he isn't ready to play at the big league level, they will either have to offer him back to Cleveland or negotiate some kind of deal to keep him and let him develop in the minors.
2012 Stats at High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola
8-8, 4.25 ERA, 144 IP, 127 Hits, 14 HR, 81 BB, 153 K
Most of the players you will see taken in the Rule 5 draft are failed starting pitchers who have good stuff and just haven't put it all together, or are capable of making an impact out of the bullpen.
Crabbe fits into the latter category. He has never had the control necessary to remain a starting pitcher at the big league level. He has walked 216 hitters in 412 innings pitched.
Of course, Crabbe's strikeout rate has always been his saving grace. He has 430 strikeouts in his minor league career. Some might say he is effectively wild, though some of his success missing bats can be attributed to being drafted as a college pitcher and being more advanced than most hitters at the lower levels of the minors.
According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, Crabbe's arsenal includes a low-90s fastball, plus changeup and OK slider. All of his pitches have deception thanks to a delivery that allows him to hide the ball well. His fastball explodes on the hitter.
Will Crabbe Be Taken?
I will say yes, but I don't feel confident about it. I like that Crabbe has missed bats throughout his career. I don't like that he started the 2012 season as a 24-year-old in Double-A, walked 66 hitters in 86.1 innings and had to be sent back down to High-A to find himself.
Given that Crabbe has two pitches that should play at the big league level, some team could be willing to give him a shot as a reliever.
With the price of relievers always going up, a cost-effective player like Crabbe could be appealing to a rebuilding team that needs arms to eat up innings
2012 Stats at High-A Carolina
7-9, 4.68 ERA, 134.2 IP, 129 H, 18 HR, 44 BB, 93 K
Given his rather pedestrian performance in the minors, Celestino might seem like a long shot to be a big-leaguer. Odds are good he won't turn into anything, but there are some physical signs he could take a big leap forward.
First, at 6'6", 205 pounds, Celestino has a great pitcher's frame. He also pitched the 2012 season at the age of 22.
Celestino is also a ground-ball machine, posting a 1.71 groundout-to-flyout ratio last season (via MILB.com). His fastball has good movement, but he doesn't have another pitch to complement it right now.
Perhaps a change of scenery and new pitching coach will be able to help Celestino find a decent offspeed pitch to help his power fastball play up.
Will Celestino Be Taken?
I am a sucker for ground-ball pitchers, so if I had the choice to bring him to my team, I would do it in a heartbeat.
However, Celestino needs a lot of work and refinement, particularly with his changeup and curveball. It doesn't help his case that he has not played above the High-A level.
Ultimately, I don't see a team grabbing Celestino this year. With another season of experience and a step forward with his stuff, he could be very attractive in 2013.
2012 Stats at Double-A Frisco
123 G, .268/.366/.474, 122 H, 23 HR, 69 BB, 107 K
McGuiness had a terrific 2012 season that culminated with the 2012 Arizona Fall League MVP award. He has battled injuries throughout his minor league career, only playing in more than 100 games twice in four years.
As a first baseman or outfielder, McGuiness' bat is going to have to produce big numbers for him to have a career. He has been very good in the minor leagues, posting three seasons with an on-base percentage of at least .366 and showing power in 2010 and 2012.
Health is the biggest obstacle standing in his way, as he shows good tools when he is on the field. He likely won't hit for a high average, but he can drive the ball and understands the strike zone well.
Will McGuiness Be Taken?
Position players tend to get overlooked in the Rule 5 draft, but I can see a team giving McGuiness a shot. He may not have an ideal profile for first base, as his power is still developing and his health has never been good. But give him a chance and he could turn into a decent big leaguer.
Even if McGuiness turns into a patience-first hitter, he will still have some value for a team heading into 2013. Someone should take a chance on him in a low-risk setting like this.
2012 Stats at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket
42 G, 2.01 ERA 58.1 IP, 38 Hits, 4 HR, 18 BB, 78 K
If you are looking for the prototypical Rule 5 draft pick as it is currently constructed, Fields would be your man. He looked like a failed reliever for the last three years before re-inventing himself in 2012.
In particular, Fields was able to find the strike zone with a lot more consistency. He walked 82 hitters in 118.1 innings over the first three years of his career. In 2012, something finally clicked, as Fields walked just 18 in 58.1 innings.
Being wild had always been part of Fields' success, as he did manage 128 strikeouts from 2009-11. The good news is, Fields didn't sacrifice any stuff to find the strike zone in 2012. In addition to cutting down his walk rate, he struck out 78 hitters.
At 27 years old, Fields is one of the oldest prospects available in the Rule 5 draft. That is a negative because he doesn't have any upside left. But given his experience and performance at Triple-A, he is more ready for the big leagues than most players on this list.
Will Fields Be Taken?
Given how impressive Fields looked in 2012, not to mention that teams always need relief pitching, it would be a surprise to see him make it out of the Rule 5 draft without finding a new home.
In fact, given how close he is to being major league-ready, Fields could end up being one of the first players taken on Thursday. He is ready to contribute, as long as his control issues remain are a thing of the past.