Nov 2, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Adrian Nieto against the West during the Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Minor Leaguers Get a Chance Through the Rule 5 Draft

The MLB Rule 5 Draft is a funny thing. It’s one of the checks and balances in place in professional baseball to make sure that teams don’t hoard all the minor league talent in the way that they used to in the days of the reserve clause. Prior to the 1960s, teams with the biggest budgets could scout and sign more players and hold on to them, effectively putting a stranglehold on the market for players.

The other side of the story is that the players themselves were held hostage by the fact that they likely wouldn’t get a chance to play at the major league level within some of these powerhouse organizations. They might have a chance to get traded to another organization where they would be able to fill a role in the big leagues but, for most, they were being kept in the minors primarily as a way of ensuring that other teams didn’t get some of the better talent out there.

The Rule 5 Draft changed that, giving MLB teams a chance to raid other teams’ farm systems . . . with certain restrictions. First of all, eligibility is important. Anyone not on the team’s 40-man roster for whom this is their fourth Rule 5 Draft after signing (players signed after the 2010 draft) are eligible unless the player was 18 at the time of signing his first pro contract. That buys them an extra year. There are a couple of exceptions (I’ll get to one in a second) but in general this rule holds true.

This is different than it was up until 2006. Until then, teams would have to decide on a player being added to the 40-man roster a year earlier. This change results in fewer top-tier talents getting selected in the draft because teams have a little longer to decide on whether it’s worth their while to protect them or not. Teams must also have a spot free on their 40-man roster in order to participate in the draft.

The other key to the Rule 5 Draft is the fact that the player must spend the entire season on the active (25-man) roster. Basically, this discourages teams from selecting players that they don’t believe will play for them. If they want to send a Rule 5 player to the minors, he has to be offered back to the original team before going through waivers.

One interesting note is that, because draft picks aren’t allowed to be traded, there can be some agreements in place around players who will be selected, particularly early in the draft. This year, there were three trades that involved players selected in the first six spots.

With the first pick overall, Patrick Schuster from the Diamondbacks, the Houston Astros had already agreed to send him to the Padres in exchange for Anthony Bass, a 26 year old right-hander with three seasons of major league experience. Schuster, on the other hand, had his best season in the minors last year, pitching in the very tough-on-pitchers California League (High-A). He’s only 23 and, having only pitched in High-A, will have to make the major leagues next year or be offered back to Arizona.

Chosen second, the White Sox selected High-A catcher Adrian Nieto from the Washington Nationals. Nieto, a 24-year-old Cuban, has what is looking like a solid bat, hitting .285/.373/.449 and had a very good 53 walk to 82 strikeout ratio in 452 plate appearances. He has consistently thrown out over 30% of baserunners stealing and could be a decent backup behind the plate for a year before he goes back to the minors to get a little more seasoning if needed.

For the third pick, RHP Kevin Munson from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, the Philadelphia Philles went for another pitcher. Pitchers (particularly relief pitchers) tend to get selected more often in the Rule 5 Draft because they can be hidden at the back of the bullpen, especially in today’s game in which teams are using seven- and eight-man bullpens. Munson has more minor league experience than either of the players selected before him, with 23 innings in Triple-A Reno last year. Control issues have plagued him in the past but he seems to have overcome them to some degree, posting a 2.7 BB/9 rate in Reno (3.6 BB/9 overall).

Selected fourth by the Colorado Rockies was Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle. The 24-year-old righty had a very good season in Double-A Trenton striking out 74 in 60 innings with a 2.85 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. While he had a lot of trouble with walks (45), he only gave up 5.7 H/9 showing that if he finds some more control, he can be very tough to hit.

Involved in the second trade were the Toronto Blue Jays who selected Brian Moran from the Seattle Mariners. Moran, whose brother Colin was chosen in the first round of 2013 Amateur Draft by the Miami Marlins, is a 25-year-old lefty who had a great season with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. He was very effective, particularly against left-handed hitters and he’s the perfect type of pitcher to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft: he has experience at the higher minor league levels, he can get batters out (without walking them) and he can fit into an established ML role of a lefty specialist.

Moran would never have made the Blue Jays out of spring training, particularly due to the fact that they have a very crowded bullpen already with at least four players who are out of options. The Jays likely had a deal worked out ahead of time to send Moran to the Los Angeles Angels in order to leverage around $240,000 dollars in international free agent signing bonus cap space (for 2013, not 2014).

Seth Rosin, a 6’6″ righty from the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization was selected by the Mets and promptly traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash. Rosin has three pitches and had a decent season in Double-A Reading in mostly a starting role. John Sickels thinks that Rosin’s low-90s fastball will play up in relief.

The next selection, Wei-Chung Wang from the Pirates’ organization is the most interesting player taken. Originally signed out of Taiwan in 2011, his original contract was voided due to an elbow injury and one of the exceptions of the Rule 5 Draft is that if a player’s first contract was voided, he immediately becomes eligible for the draft (if he re-signs with the same team). The Brewers selected Wang despite his never having appeared at a level higher than Rookie Ball, with Wang throwing 47 innings in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. He was outstanding, striking out 42, walking only four and giving up only 37 hits. Sickels thinks it’s highly unlikely that Wang will stick in the bigs but as a lefty, Wang could hang in there, especially since the Brewers see him as a starter long-term.

29-year-old Marcos Mateo was selected by the Diamondbacks from the Chicago Cubs. With 44 2/3 innings of solid major league experience already, Mateo has more of a chance to stick around than many of the other players chosen. He’s had a solid season in the Dominican Winter League this year and the Diamondbacks could be getting a reliable bullpen arm with this pick.

The last selection in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft was 23-year-old Dominican third baseman Michael Almanzar who was selected by the Baltimore Orioles. Almanzar has significant experience in the minors (with the Red Sox organization) playing both first and third base) and hit .268/.328/.432 in Double-A Portland with 16 home runs and 29 doubles. Sickels doesn’t think he’s ready for the majors yet, as Almanzar struggles with plate discipline issues. There’s also a big question as to where he plays for Baltimore; while the Orioles have Manny Machado at third and Chris Davis at first, Almanzar would probably need to be hidden on the bench and might not make it to Opening Day.

That’s it for the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Grading on the Curve wishes to extend the best of luck to the players selected who get a chance to make their major league dreams come true in 2014!

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