After days of wheeling and dealing at Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings, general managers and scouting directors will cap the week with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, Dec. 12.
Following the World Series, every team faced a Nov. 20 deadline to set their respective 40-man rosters so as to identify the prospects left unprotected for the December draft.
In a nutshell, minor league players become eligible for the draft when they reach their fourth of fifth draft since beginning their professional careers, depending on their age before signing. A player can only avoid becoming eligible for the draft by being added to his team’s 40-man roster before the aforementioned deadline.
Only teams with an available 40-man roster spot are eligible to participate in the event. Similarly, a team must pay $50,000 to claim a player in the draft.
Therefore, the goal for teams with the Rule 5 draft is to find that one potential diamond in the rough.
In the context of the draft, that usually means finding a power arm with (at least) a plus fastball, up-the-middle players with speed and strong defensive profiles, power-hitting corner players and, of course, pitchability left-handers.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the top 10 prospects for Thursday's Rule 5 draft.
1. Marcus Hatley, RHP, Chicago Cubs
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 2 SV, 60.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, .238 BAA, 74/35 K/BB (49 G)
The Cubs selected Marcus Hatley in the 39th round of the 2006 draft out of Palomar (Calif.) Junior College. However, they ultimately decided to sign him as a right-handed pitcher.
Hatley’s full-season debut in 2009 was cut short due to Tommy John surgery, and he didn’t return to the mound until late 2010. In 2011 and 2012, the right-hander began to climb up the ladder and even reached Triple-A, but he struggled to make swift adjustments upon reaching each advanced level.
The 2013 season arguably was the best of Hatley’s professional career, as he posted a 3.86 ERA, .238 opponents’ batting average and 74-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60.2 innings between Double- and Triple-A.
A 6’5” right-hander, Hatley works on a downhill plane with a plus fastball in the 92-95 mph range, and supports the pitch with a slider and curveball that both show above-average potential.
Hatley has helped boost his Rule 5 draft stock this offseason by pitching in the Mexican Winter League, where he currently owns a 3.94 ERA with six saves and 19 strikeouts in 16 innings.
2. Boone Whiting, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 136.1 IP, 3.83 ERA, .256 BAA, 133/47 K/BB (27 GS)
In an organization loaded with depth on the mound, Whiting was the odd man out when it came to a spot on the St. Louis Cardinals’ 40-man roster. However, he has the potential to crack a major league rotation as a back-end spot-starter, or even serve as a long reliever, as early as mid-2014.
A 6’1”, 175-pound right-hander, Whiting lacks downward plane and velocity on his fastball and induces too many fly balls. However, the 25-year-old knows how to pitch, showing an excellent feel for his craft and the ability to command three above-average offerings.
Whiting’s fastball will sit in the 88-92 mph range and he commands it well throughout the strike zone. The southpaw’s changeup grades as his best secondary offering, thrown with deceptive arm speed coming from the same high arm slot as the heater. He also throws a breaking ball with a slurvy shape and pace; it’s not as effective of a pitch compared to his fastball-slider combo, but his feel for sequencing makes the pitch play up.
3. Danny Burawa, RHP, New York Yankees
2013 Stats (AA): 4 SV, 66 IP, 2.59 ERA, .202 BAA, 66/42 K/BB (46 G)
Selected by the New York Yankees in the 12th round of the 2010 draft out of St. John’s University, Danny Burawa has been viewed as a reliever since entering the organization.
In 2011, the right-hander spent his full-season debut between both Class-A levels, posting a solid 3.64 ERA with five saves and a 66-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 innings. Unfortunately, Burawa suffered a torn oblique muscle and undiagnosed rib injury in 2012 and was forced to miss the entire season.
This past season, however, the 24-year-old demonstrated a more aggressive approach in his first experience at the Double-A level. Burawa attacks hitters with his 94-98 mph fastball with some late arm-side life and sinking action, but his high-effort delivery and long arm action impede his ability to flood the strike zone.
Burawa’s slider flashes above-average potential in the mid-80s, but he tends to get around the pitch and lacks a consistent feel overall. He also throws a changeup. However, it’s essentially a non-factor at this point in his development.
The right-hander finally started to miss the number of bats his stuff suggested this past season with 66 strikeouts in 66 innings—he also did a good job inducing ground balls—but it came at the price of an ugly 15.1 percent walk rate (44 in 66 innings).
The reason the Yankees decided not to add Burawa to the 40-man roster is because his control is such a work in progress that the organization did not envision using him in the major leagues next season. However, in the right organization with the right tutelage, he could quickly emerge as an impact seventh- or eighth-inning arm.
4. Tommy Kahnle, RHP, New York Yankees
2013 Stats (AA): 15 SV, 60 IP, 2.85 ERA, .182 BAA, 74/45 K/BB (46 G)
Since his selection by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Tommy Kahnle, 24, has posted an 11.99 K/9 rate (strikeouts per nine innings) in 214 career minor league innings. He’s also posted a walk rate of 5.17 BB/9.
That’s Kahnle in a nutshell: lots of arm strength and power but fringy control.
Serving as the closer last season for Double-A Trenton, 6’1”, 230-pound right-hander works in the mid-90s with his fastball and touches 96-98 mph when he’s well-rested. Kahnle’s changeup is a consistent above-average pitch that flashes plus with diving action that resembles a splitter and helps neutralize left-handed hitters.
Honestly, I was very surprised to learn that the Yankees decided not to add Kahnle to the 40-man roster. He held opposing hitters to a paltry .182 batting average this past season—left-handers batted just .159—and has experience as a closer. Sure, he has some serious control problems, but the right-hander has a nasty fastball-changeup combination capable of missing bats at any level. More importantly, Kahnle has the potential to be a late-inning arm for a team by mid-to-late 2014.
5. Matt Lollis, RHP, San Diego Padres
2013 Stats (A+/AA/AAA): 74 IP, 4.62 ERA, .286 BAA, 63/39 K/BB (58 G)
Matt Lollis is a physical monster at 6’9”, 250 pounds with a legitimate plus-plus fastball.
However, the 23-year-old’s enormous size prevents him from repeating his delivery and, in turn, forces him to employ straightforward mechanics that lack deception.
Now, back to the fastball. Working from a low-three-quarters arm slot, the right-hander consistently pops 97-99 mph with his heater. However, the pitch is all velocity and lacks significant movement. And due to his tentative feel for both a slider and changeup, hitters tend to sit on it—and square it up.
This past season was Lollis' first as a full-time reliever, and he showed some potential by posting a 4.62 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 74 innings across three levels.
Expect a team that thinks it can straighten out Lollis and get him to the major leagues by the end of the 2014 season to take a flier on him in the Rule 5 Draft.
6. Darrell Ceciliani, OF, New York Mets
2013 Stats (AA): .268/.322/.380, 29 XBH (6 HR), 31 SB, 105/29 K/BB (113 G)
A fourth-round draft pick in 2009 out of Columbia Basin (Wash.) Community College, Darrell Ceciliani appeared to be on pace for a breakout campaign in 2012 but ultimately appeared in only 23 games between multiple stints on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
This past season, his first at Double-A, the 23-year-old batted .268/.322/.380 in the Eastern League with 29 extra-base hits (six home runs) and 31 stolen bases while playing in a career-high 113 games.
A 6’1”, 220-pound left-handed hitter, Ceciliani’s swing is geared for line-drive contact rather than power, though he showed more pop against advanced pitching in Double-A and could conceivably tap into more at higher levels. And while his plate discipline and approach are lacking, Ceciliani has solid bat-to-ball skills.
Despite posting the second-best stolen base total last season in the Eastern League, Ceciliani’s speed is only a tick above average but tends to play up thanks to his instincts.
For a team that could always use additional outfield depth, it’s surprising that the Mets left Ceciliani unprotected. The 23-year-old lacks a standout tool as well as the profile of an everyday player, but he’s solid on both sides of the ball and potentially could serve as a reserve by late 2014.
7. Freddy Lewis, LHP, New York Yankees
2013 Stats (A+/AA/AAA): 58.2 IP, 2.61 ERA, .263 BAA, 60/25 K/BB (29 G/5 GS)
Selected by the Yankees in the 47th round of the 2010 draft out of Tennessee Wesleyan, Freddy Lewis finally started to move up the organizational ladder this past season after three years at or below the Low-A level.
After a strong showing in relief for High-A Tampa to open the 2013 season, Lewis, 26, made a one-outing stint with Triple-A before heading to Double-A Trenton where he’d spend the rest of the year. At the level, the left-hander posted a 3.00 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 27 innings as a reliever, and he also looked sharp as a starter, with a 1.10 ERA in 16.1 innings (five starts).
At 6’2”, 205 pounds, Lewis will pump 94-96 mph out of the bullpen but sits more in the low-80s/high-90s as a starter. Both slider and changeup are raw and inconsistent offerings, but he makes them work thanks to deceptive arm action and an aggressive approach with his fastball. He reminds me a bit of Tony Cingrani, especially in the way he attacks right-handed hitters north and south with his fastball.
Lewis also is coming off an outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League during which he appeared in 11 games and did not allow an earned run.
8. Mycal Jones, OF, Atlanta Braves
2013 Stats (AA): .261/.337/.348, 22 XBH, 29 SB, 63/36 K/BB (111 G)
Selected by the Atlanta Braves in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Mycal Jones was a highly talented amateur prospect and ranked as one of the team’s top 30 prospects, according to Baseball America, in three consecutive seasons from 2009-2011.
However, the truth of the matter is the 26-year-old simply has never gotten any better since reaching full-season ball in 2010. Spending parts of the last four season at Double-A Mississippi, Jones has batted .242/.333/.346 with 43 doubles and 13 home runs in 976 plate appearances.
Jones’ redeeming qualities are his speed—29 stolen bases in 11 games last season—and his ability to play a good but not great center field. In theory, that gives him the defensive chops for a corner spot.
Given his former status as a high-ceiling prospect, expect a team that still likes Jones’ athleticism and sees him as a potential reserve outfielder to nab him in the Rule 5 Draft.
9. Kevin Munson, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 14 SV, 54.2 IP, 4.12 ERA, .209 BAA, 66/22 K/BB (53 G)
Once considered a promising prospect for the Diamondbacks, Kevin Munson—selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of James Madison University—seemed to be on the fast track to the major leagues after a strong 2011 campaign. However, the right-hander regressed considerably in his first full season at Double-A Mobile in 2012, registering a 6.28 ERA in 53 innings.
This past season, the 24-year-old had a respectable bounce-back performance, posting a 4.12 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 54.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A Reno. At the same time, his stuff wasn’t nearly as crisp as previous seasons, with a low-90s fastball that scraped 94-95 and a slider that featured average break and pace.
Although Munson lacks advanced command, he throws enough strikes and misses enough bats to warrant consideration in the Rule 5 Draft.
10. Angel Nesbitt, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2013 Stats (A-): 3 SV, 67 IP, 3.22 ERA, .235 BAA, 54/21 K/BB (52 G)
At 6’1”, 237 pounds, Angel Nesbitt is an intimidating presence on the mound and has the arm strength to back it up.
The 23-year-old will sit in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he’ll consistently run it as high as 97-98. His slider is still a work in progress with a slurvy shape and will need considerable refinement, but the signs of a second impact offering are there. Once Nesbitt can throw the pitch with a hint of consistency, his strikeout totals should start to climb.
He's a project, no doubt, but one that still has considerably upside.