Value is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the Rule 5 draft, with each team hoping to find a potential hidden gem amongst a seemingly endless list of eligible players.
There isn’t a proven formula for landing a sure-fire major league player through the draft, as it usually has as much do with luck as it does scouting. And because any player selected in the major league phase of the draft has to be viewed as a potential addition to the 25-man roster—and a $50,000 investment—teams tend to target players based on specific organizational needs.
Specifically, teams typically prefer power arms—especially left-handed ones—with a plus fastball and history of missing bats in the minor leagues, as well as up-the-middle players with speed and strong defensive profiles, displaced power hitters that play a corner position and pitchability left-handers.
Nine players were selected in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, as 21 teams ultimately passed on making a first-round selection.
While time will determine whether a team struck gold with their selection(s), here are my very early thoughts on the winners and losers of Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.
Even though the Diamondbacks lost a pair of relievers in Thursday’s draft, they ultimately made up for it by selecting the most experienced arm on the board in right-hander Marcos Mateo.
After six years in the minor leagues, Mateo pitched in the major leagues with the Cubs during parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, registering a 5.04 ERA and 10.9 K/9 while appearing in 44 games.
However, an elbow injury cost the right-hander his entire 2012 season and limited him to only 31 total innings in the minors this past season.
Now 29 years old, Mateo still boasts an electric arm with a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, and he complements it with a power slider in upper 80s that has swing-and-miss, wipeout break.
Arizona probably wasn’t expecting Mateo to fall to them in the draft, so the fact that they landed the only player with major league experience is a win in itself.
They lost left-hander Patrick Schuster (drafted by Houston and then traded to San Diego) and right-hander Kevin Munson (drafted by Philadelphia) on Thursday, however neither reliever was expected to be an impact arm in the major leagues. So, in theory, they replaced both players with Mateo, a legitimate big league reliever who should earn a spot on Arizona’s Opening Day roster.
Chicago’s selection of catcher Adrian Nieto with the second pick in the Rule 5 draft was unexpected. According to J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, Nieto is the first catcher picked in the major league portion of the draft since 2008 as well as the highest drafted backstop since Kelly Stinnett was selected second overall in 1993.
A highly regarded prep prospect back in 2009, Nieto’s professional career has been marred by an assortment of injuries, as well as a 50-game PED suspension in 2011. As a result, the 24-year-old has played in only 357 games in six minor league seasons and is yet to reach Double-A.
However, Nieto showed signs of turning the developmental corner last year in his first season at the High-A level. Playing in a career-high 110 games—his previous high was 78 games—the switch-hitting backstop batted .285/.373/.449 with 41 extra-base hits (11 home runs) and a 82-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 452 plate appearances.
With his selection in the Rule 5 draft, Nieto will enter spring training next season as one of four catchers—the others being Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley and Hector Gimenez—vying for two spots on Chicago’s Opening Day roster.
While he’s the least experienced of the four players (and by a lot), the 24-year-old could be a potentially cheap backup catcher should he make the team. Such a scenario is a long shot, though, as it would mean Nieto jumps directly from High-A to the major leagues. However, with his selection in the Rule 5 draft, it’s obvious the White Sox at least believe he’ll provide healthy internal competition next spring.
The Brewers win this year’s award for the most creative Rule 5 draft pick after selecting Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Chung Wang from the Pirates’ system.
Originally signed in 2011, the 21-year-old was made eligible for the draft on a technicality when the Pirates voided his contract after learning he needed Tommy John surgery.
Making his professional debut this past season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Wang posted a 3.23 ERA and stellar 42-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47.1 innings (11 starts). He also received positive reviews for his aggressive approach and overall poise on the mound.
The 6’1”, 160-pound left-hander showcases promising stuff, with a fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range and bumps 95, as well as a changeup that flashes plus potential at maturity.
Wang’s extreme lack of professional experience makes him a long shot to make the team next season, as he’ll be making the largest possible jump going from the GCL to the major leagues. However, if his fastball-curveball combination plays against big league hitters next spring, the Brewers potentially could stash him in the bullpen as their second left-handed reliever.
Milwaukee also added two former prospects in the draft’s minor league segment, selecting outfielder Kevin Mattison (from the Marlins) and third baseman Vinnie Catricala (from the A’s) in the Triple-A phase.
Mattison, 28, spent the last six seasons in the Marlins system and received a cup of coffee as a 26-year-old in 2012. However, the outfielder’s production tailed off over the last two seasons at Triple-A New Orleans, as he batted only .230 with 283 strikeouts in 920 plate appearances.
The 25-year-old Catricala, a ninth-round draft pick of the Mariners in 2009, appeared to be on the fast track to the major leagues early in his professional career. In 2011, he was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year after posting a 1.021 OPS with 77 extra-base hits (25 home runs) and 106 RBI in 600 plate appearances between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
Since then, however, Catricala has regressed at an alarming rate. After posting a disappointing .630 OPS with 10 home runs in 2012 at Triple-A Tacoma (in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League nonetheless), the Mariners demoted him to Double-A for the 2013 season.
Back at the level he destroyed in 2011, Catricala’s struggles at the plate intensified with a .669 OPS in 48 games and ultimately prompted his trade to Oakland for cash considerations in early June. Things only worsened for him after joining the A’s Double-A affiliate in the Texas League, as the once-promising hitter produced a .585 OPS and struck out 56 times in 254 plate appearances.
While Catricala and Mattison are unlikely to contribute at the major league level, both players are solid additions for a system that lacks serviceable position players in the high minors.
Mattison has the potential to serve as a fourth or fifth outfielder next season thanks to his speed and above-average defensive profile. On the other hand, the Brewers addition of Catricala is a great low-risk gamble based the off chance he rediscovers the hitting ability he showcased in 2011. If that’s not the case, he’ll still provide organizational depth for Milwaukee next season at Triple-A Nashville.
The Yankees lost a pair of notable prospects in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. However, it could have been worse.
In the major league phase, right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle was selected by the Colorado Rockies with the fourth-overall pick. The Yankees decision not to add the 24-year-old to the 40-man roster after the 2013 season was surprising considering their big league bullpen needs restructuring in the wake of Mariano Rivera's retirement.
While Kahnle lacks the control to be an effective closer at the highest level, his mid-90s fastball and above-average changeup suggests a future as a seventh- or eighth-inning arm.
The Yankees were lucky not to lose two more relievers, right-hander Danny Burawa and left-hander Freddy Lewis, from the upper levels of their farm system.
The 24-year-old Burawa spent the entire 2013 season in Double-A and struck out exactly a batter per inning. However, his fringy command presumably was the reason teams passed him over on Thursday. Similarly, Lewis, 26, also performed well at Double-A last season, posting a 2.28 ERA in 20 games including five starts.
The Yankees also lost outfield prospect Ravel Santana after he was selected by the Astros with the first-overall pick of the minor league phase of the draft.
It wasn’t long ago that Santana was viewed as one of New York’s more promising position prospects. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Santana posted impressive numbers during his stateside debut in 2011. Playing in the complex-level Gulf Coast League, the then-19-year-old batted .296/.361/.568 with nine home runs in 185 plate appearances.
Since then, however, Santana’s career has been derailed by freak injuries. In 2011 he suffered a devastating ankle injury that required surgery to repair multiple fractures and significant ligament damage.
He moved up to the short-season New York-Penn League in 2012 but looked like a shell of his former self, posting a dismal .593 OPS with 10 extra-base hits and 68 strikeouts in 247 plate appearances. To make matters worse, he then missed the entire 2013 season after breaking his wrist early in the spring.
Now 21 years old, Santana’s string of injuries over the last three years has diminished his once high ceiling, and he’s now well behind the developmental curve. That being said, he still has considerable upside—even if only for his power potential—and is a nice pickup for the forward-looking Astros.