Brian Walton, thestlcardinals.com
St. Louis Cardinals
The former fourth-rounder (2003) has great potential, but can't stay healthy. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty missed time with a rotator cuff in 2004, shoulder tendonitis in 2005 and an elbow nerve problem in 2006, due in part to his mechanics. Still, Michael has a very good repertoire that includes a fastball 93 to 95 MPH, along with an above-average changeup. Yet, coming off his poorest season to-date, a 2-7, 5.63 ERA campaign in his second year at High-A, the 24-year-old seems unready to make the jump to the major leagues.
The 22-year-old has hit .300 at two different levels, including an Appalachian League batting title in 2004. Lucena is a good contact hitter, striking out infrequently. He rarely, however, takes a walk and has demonstrated very little power. The Venezuelan is widely considered the Cardinals’ best defensive infielder, so his glove is not the issue. His 2006 batting line in High-A in 2006 illustrates the primary problem: .288/.320/.347.
Steve Holley, InsideTheIvy.com
Brownlie was considered one of the most promising young arms of his draft class. Much was made about Brownlie’s dip in velocity during his first Double-A season in 2004, but he seemed to pitch through it and would post modest numbers during his debut Triple-A season the following year. In 2006, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Originally considered for a bullpen role in the bigs, he started the year in Triple-A, was demoted to Double-A and was nearly demoted to High-A. Brownlie still has the potential to be a big league pitcher. His role has fluctuated back and forth between starting and relieving the past two seasons, and the frustrations have become somewhat obvious in the pitcher’s tone.
Drafted as a catcher in 2002, Wells was eventually converted to pitcher. He may not be the “flashiest” of Cubs prospects, but it’s fairly safe to say that he has as good a chance as any of warranting a gamble from opposing clubs. He eats a good amount of innings each year, stays relatively healthy, and features genuinely good command with a fastball that usually tops out in the low 90s to complement a changeup and slider that were still in the developmental stages this past season. He had gone 23 consecutive innings at West Tenn (Double-A) without allowing an earned run before a scoring change later negated the streak. At the time of his promotion to Triple-A, he left Double-A with the Southern League’s best ERA (1.59) amongst all starters. He possesses a flexible arm that can be used as either a starter or reliever, and teams would be wise not to underestimate him.
Bill Shanks, TheBravesShow.com
Smith was a non-drafted free agent signed the summer of 2003 after he missed his senior season in high school with an injury. The lefty was extremely successful as a reliever in the minor leagues, but the Braves moved him into the Double-A rotation in Mississippi late last summer to allow him to work on his pitches. Smith's performance over eight starts was scary: 2.27 ERA, 24 hits in 39.2 innings pitched, 16 walks, and 53 strikeouts. The Braves still believe he can be a big league reliever, but the work as a starter may get him another chance in that role. He's a kid that some scouts may feel is worth sticking in a big league bullpen.
White made a great impression on Bobby Cox last spring in big league camp, but when he went to Double-A Mississippi he missed some time with some shoulder discomfort. White's numbers in Double-A were not very impressive, but the Braves still believe White has a chance to be a big league pitcher. He's got a fastball that can reach the mid-90s, but coaches want him to be more aggressive on the mound. Stuff-wise, he's got a shot at competing for a big league job next spring, which might make him attractive to another team. He's a perfect candidate for middle relief.
Patrick Teale, InsidePitchMagazine.com
New York Mets
The Cuban defector hit .332 with 17 home runs in Double-A Binghamton – his first professional season in the United States this past year and followed it up by clubbing six home runs in the Arizona Fall League. At 6-foot-3 and a rock-solid 230-pounds, Abreu is a physically imposing figure in the batter's box and he can hit for both power and average. He is also solid defensively and considering his professional experience in Cuba, he is arguably more major league ready than most position players available in the Rule 5 Draft this year.
Concepcion is one of the toolsier outfielders in the Mets' farm system. He can hit for power, has plus speed, and boasts one of the best outfield arms in all of the minor leagues. He hit a combined .276 with 27 stolen bases in two minor league stops this past season. His plus defensive ability makes him an intriguing possibility as a fourth outfielder type and he still has a high enough ceiling that he would be worth a gamble in the Rule 5 Draft. He was a member of the Mets' 40-man roster as recent as a year ago and that fact may not be overlooked by baseball executives come selection time.
Tot Holmes, LADugout.com
Los Angeles Dodgers
Right-hander Alvis Ojeda was signed as a free agent in 2001 out of Marcacaibo, Venezuela. He pitched two years in the Dominican Summer League and when switched to the bullpen posted a 7-4 record with a 1.79 ERA in 2002 that earned him a trip to the mainland where he dominated in the Gulf Coast League (4-0, 1.81) in 2003. He pitched well in Low-A Columbus in 2004 (8-2, 3.59) and at High-A Vero Beach at the end of the season. He combined for a 6-1, 3.20 record at High-A and Double-A Jacksonville in '05 and a 7-3, 2,59 at Jacksonville this year. Not overly impressive physically (6-foot-0, 170-pounds), he depends upon a fastball that bores in on right-handed hitters and a sharp curve.
A.J. (Andrew James) Ellis was an 18th round pick in the 2003 draft and had the misfortune of backing up Russell Martin at High-A Vero Beach in 2004 and split time with two other catchers in 2005. He showed he was a solid catcher and could hit a little, recording a .256 average and a .356 OBP) but again split time at Jacksonville in 2006 hitting .250 in 252 at-bats. He has never caught a full minor league system, so his ability to hit has never been fully tested.
George Von Benko, PiratesDugout.com
Starling was the team's fourth-round pick out of Odessa Community College in 2002 but didn't sign in time to pitch professionally that year. This past season was his fourth professional season. He made 28 starts between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona, going 10-9 with a 2.98 ERA but didn't pitch well in the Hawaiian Winter League (1-3, 5.28).
Boeve was the Pirates 12th round selection out of Northern Iowa in the 2003 draft. He batted .290 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI in 2004 with Class-A Hickory. At Double-A Altoona he hit .333 this past season in 26 games with three home runs and 24 RBI. He was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis where he hit .272 with six home runs and 37 RBI. He also stole a total of 27 bases in 2006.
Chuck Murr, Indians Ink
He hit a combined .306 with 27 homers and 106 RBI at High-A and Double-A in 2006, but isn't an overly gifted athletic talent. He hustles, has average speed and is decent, but nothing special in the field. He also has a propensity to strikeout (417 in 441 career games). But, when in a groove, he can flat-out mash. Drafted in the 24th round in 2003 out of Eastern Michigan, he hit a combined .296 with 36 homers and 144 RBI in his first two years of pro ball. Then he really struggled at Class-A in 2005 -- batting only .212 with 17 homers and 67 RBI. Such inconsistency makes it unlikely a club would gamble on him to stick at the big-league level and he's too old (age 25 by opening day 2007) to select and then try and work out a deal to stash him away in the farm system.
Jon Van Every
Teams in the market for a fourth or fifth outfielder who can provide some pop off the bench may be interested in Jon Van Every. Defensively, he's big-league ready. He can play all three positions well, with center field his best spot. He gets excellent jumps, takes very good routes to the ball and has a strong accurate arm. At certain times, his offense is even more impressive. He has a super-quick swing that produces home runs -- 63 over the past three seasons. He's often too fast through the hitting zone, however, which also has led to 415 strikeouts over that same 344-game span. A club that can convince the 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-hander to dial down his swing and make consistent contact could carry Van Every on its roster as a Rule 5 selection and reap rewards.
Dave Sanford, RoyalsCorner.com
Kansas City Royals
Jarod Plummer spent four seasons in the Dodgers organization in relative anonymity before the Royals acquired him in a trade during spring training in 2006. Despite pitching in one of baseball's most notorious hitter's parks in High-A High Desert, the 22-year-old Plummer excelled, striking out 114 batters (vs. just 20 walks) in 95.2 innings, mostly out of the bullpen. Royals scouts took notice, and Plummer's excellent season led many to believe that he might have a chance to contribute to the big league club at some point in 2007. Plummer works with a fastball that tops out in the low 90s, along with a slider and an excellent splitter, and scouts rave about his presence on the mound. There was reportedly vigorous debate among Royals officials about whether or not to add Plummer to the 40-man roster this winter, but ultimately they opted to protect lefty Neal Musser and take their chances that Plummer would go unclaimed. As it stands, Plummer is the Royals' prospect who is most likely to be claimed in the Rule 5 draft, although the club is hopeful that his relatively low fastball velocity will deter other teams from drafting him.
Lisson has been hampered by injuries throughout his minor league career, but the 22-year-old third baseman was the Low-A Burlington’s best hitter in 2006, posting a line of .263/.368/.421 with 13 home runs and 30 doubles in 463 at bats. Lisson also stole an impressive 41 bases, and while scouts doubt that Lisson's speed will translate to similar stolen base totals at higher levels, they do praise his overall athleticism and upside. He has excellent raw power, and he made great strides with his plate discipline in 2006. Lisson is also athletic enough to handle a move to either first base or the outfield. As it stands, Lisson is a long way from being Major League ready, and it's unlikely that he'll be claimed by a team in the Rule 5 draft. He does, however, have considerable upside, and a team may be willing to take a chance on him if the circumstances are right.
Denis Savage, MadFriars.com
San Diego Padres
Entering the 2005 season, Oyervidez had not pitched above short-season A-ball. Coming off an injury that wiped out his 2004 season, Oyervidez was asked to go to Double-A to fill a gap and never relinquished his spot in the starting rotation. Armed with four pitches that all have solid movement, his biggest struggle has been consistency in the strike zone. Over the last two years, spanning 303 innings, he has issued 157 free passes, an average of 4.67 per nine innings. Despite the high walk total, Oyervidez has a 3.86 ERA over that span and has limited the opposition to a .244 average. He is a player that could offer a bullpen needy team with a hidden gem who could turn into a very good major leaguer with nourishment.
Once property of the Los Angeles Dodgers before his release, Soria is a pitcher that hasn’t been seen that often by scouts. He missed the 2003 season and most of 2004 after Tommy John surgery and has been pitching in Mexico for much of the last two seasons. He made a seven game appearance with the Low-A Fort Wayne but the Padres believe his upside warranted his placement on the Triple-A roster in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. Like Oyervidez, Soria throws four pitches well and is familiar with the bullpen role, although he figures to gain a foothold in the rotation moving forward. He would be gamble given his experience level but could be worth the risk with his above average fastball and good slider paving the way.
Bobby Vangelatos, InsidetheDome.com
Toronto Blue Jays
With the Rule 5 class not as deep this season because of the new CBA, there is a very good chance Vermilyea will be selected early in the process. After all, the Red Sox selected him last season, only to be offered back to Toronto during spring training. He went 6-7 with a 3.85 ERA with Triple-A Syracuse this season, and could fit in nicely as a long reliever for a club needing economical pitching.
There is a solid chance both of these pitchers could be selected. Gronkiewicz was selected in the minor league portion of the 2004 Rule 5 draft by Toronto, and his ticket to the big leagues could be via this draft. He has pitched well at every single level, but has never received a shot at the major leagues. The right-hander has command of all his pitches, and plenty of clubs have asked about his availability in trades over the past six months.
Melissa Lockard, OaklandClubhouse.com
Knox was one of the A's top pitching prospects in 2004, when he went 14-5 with a 2.59 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 156.1 innings in Low-A Kane County. He developed a back problem that off-season and had only a mediocre campaign for High-A Stockton in 2005. He re-established himself as a legitimate prospect with an excellent season for Double-A Midland in 2006. Knox went 12-5 with a 3.67 ERA, tying for the team lead in wins, finishing second on the staff in ERA and logging a career-high 161.2 innings. Knox isn’t overpowering (high-80s, low-90s fastball), but he has an excellent curveball and a good change-up/slider combination. Unlike many young pitchers, Knox isn’t afraid to pitch inside and he likes to pitch to contact.
The burly corner infielder and former Big Ten Player of the Year had a solid season for Double-A Midland, batting .308 with a .405 on-base percentage. It was a dramatic improvement over his showing at Double-A in 2005, when Spanos hit only .235 in 43 games. He spent a lot of time at DH in 2006, but Spanos still managed to make a game-saving defensive play at third in the Texas League All-Star game. He struck out only 73 times in 439 at-bats and managed to be hit by a league-high 25 pitches. Spanos is the definition of a grinder, someone who will never jump out at you when watching him in one game, but someone who will impress you over the course of a season. Spanos is surprisingly agile at first and has good hands and decent range at third. He has a good understanding of the strike zone, generally hits for a high average and has some power. He could be a useful fourth infielder/pinch-hitter at the major league level.
Jason Cole, Rangers.scout.com
Nate GoldMichael Hollman and John Kazlo, InsideTheWarehouse.com
The Rangers’ 10th round pick in the 2002 draft enjoyed a breakout season with Double-A Frisco in 2006, hitting .292 with 34 home runs and 103 runs batted in. Gold showed plus power in college, as he was the NCAA home run champion in 2002, with 33 home runs in 56 games. The 6-foot-3 first baseman has shown vast improvement in all phases at the plate over each of the last three seasons. Gold's 2006 campaign was far and away the best offensive season of any player in the Ranger organization, but he is 26-years-old and has never played above the Double-A level. Because of his average-at-best glove, Gold would not appear to be incredibly valuable to a major league bench at this time.
Webster was acquired from the White Sox as part of a trade for Carl Everett in 2003. The 6-foot-0 left-handed hitting outfielder opened some eyes with High-A Bakersfield in 2005, as he hit .301 with 36 doubles, 11 triples, 11 home runs, and 25 stolen bases. Webster also got off to a fast start with Double-A Frisco in 2006, putting up a .310 average in 59 games. But the 23-year-old hit just .269 with a .384 slugging percentage in 69 games with Triple-A Oklahoma. A corner outfielder, Webster likely does not have the power or arm strength to play the position full-time in the major leagues. He could become a valuable fourth outfielder for a big league squad.
After drafting Hale with the 14th overall pick of the 2000 draft, the Orioles expected him to move fast. Instead, injuries, including two shoulder surgeries, cost him two and half years of development. Finally healthy enough to pitch again in 2005, the Orioles began to give Hale more exposure in the bullpen. In 95 innings at Double-A Bowie in 2006, he struck out 6.2 per nine innings pitched, walked 1.9 per nine innings, and induced almost twice as many groundouts as fly-outs. He was especially effective against righties, holding them to a .542 OPS. Most importantly, 2006 marked the first time, post-injury, his fastball was back in the low nineties. Hale has an outside chance of making the O’s pen in 2007 and he should garner a few looks in the Rule 5 Draft from teams intrigued by his perseverance and makeup.
Whiteside had a breakout offensive performance in 2004, hitting .253/.310/.495 in Doubl-A Bowie. He followed it up with a solid performance in the AFL that had the Orioles thinking they may have found their catcher of the future. He has disappointed in two subsequent stints in Triple-A, but he still demonstrates good power for a catcher. The problem has been that he strikes out too much to sustain a decent batting average and rarely takes a walk. Nevertheless, he has two qualities that might make him an attractive backup candidate- a good defensive reputation and one of the best throwing arms in the minor leagues.
Kevin Cunningham, SFDugout.com
San Francisco Giants
Bateman had a disappointing 2006 despite pitching in the pitching-friendly Eastern League, but he still has a ton of talent. A sidearmer who throws in the mid-90’s with a sinking fastball and above average control, his 3.75 ERA was the highest since 2003, after he averaged a 2.13 ERA over Single-A and Double-A through ’04 and ’05. He has consistently struckout more than a batter an inning and keeps his walks down. While old for the level, a sidearmer can be an effective change of pace in a good bullpen, throwing off hitters timing in the important middle innings. Seeing as the bullpen’s the best place to keep a Rule 5 draftee in the majors without exposing him too much, Bateman is a prime candidate for a team looking for a Cla Meredith type of player.
Old for Double-A, Palmer had the sort of breakthrough year that might make a team willing to take a risk. Starting what was his third season in Double-A, Palmer was moved from the bullpen into the rotation. Palmer responded by posting a 1.30 ERA in nine starts and 15 appearances overall. Palmer followed that up with a respectable 4.05 ERA in the hitter-friendly PCL. Palmer then got a chance to show his stuff in the AFL, and had a 4.29 ERA. While not a top prospect by any means, Palmer has shown very good control of his versatile stuff, and could become a solid middle reliever in the big leagues.
Jerry Beach, Diehardmagazine.com
Boston Red Sox
Spann took an impressive step forward this season at Double-A Portland, where he hit .294 – 46 points higher than a season ago at Single-A Wilmington – with ten homers, 50 RBI’s and 41 extra-base hits, one shy of his career high. He still needs work on his plate judgment and his defense is still a work in progress. But, he’s got impressive power potential, an excellent work ethic – he took ground balls on his knees when he was sidelined with an injured right ankle last season — and he added to his versatility by playing first base in the Arizona Fall League. A team looking for a corner infielder with upside could do a lot worse than plucking Spann this week.
Smith evoked comparisons to Greg Maddux during an impressive 2004 season, but he was sidelined by right shoulder woes and eventually underwent surgery for a torn labrum. He struggled throughout 2005 (4-4 with a 5.23 ERA in 15 Double-A starts) but bounced back impressively this season, when he went 10-7 with a 3.86 ERA between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. He struck out 101 while walking just 38, giving up 11 homers in a career-high 149.1 innings. Smith is the type of player the Sox typically select in the Rule 5 draft — a pitcher whose development won’t be stunted by a season of relative inactivity — and as long as his command holds up he could do an adequate job as a long reliever/spot starter for a big league team next year.
Mark Anderson, TigsTown.com
Hamman is a durable lefty reliever, with extended success at the Triple-A level. After allowing International League lefties a measly .207/.282/.326 line in 2006, he could certainly be an attractive option for teams in need of cheap bullpen help. His arsenal includes an above-average fastball, solid-average curveball, and fringe-average change-up.
A versatile player who can passably play second, third, or an outfield corner; Raburn's stick should eventually get him a big league shot. He has a solid line-drive stroke and power to all fields, and a good approach at the plate. He is very aggressive, which leads to very streaky results; but when he's good, he's very good. Teams in search of a Major League ready bat, may be wise to give him a look.
Patrick Teale, PinstripesPlus.com
New York Yankees
The son of St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan and brother of 2006 Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Duncan, who hit 22 home runs with the Cardinals in 2006, Shelley has even more power (ten more career minor league home runs in 738 less at-bats) than his sibling. He hit 34 home runs at the Double-A level in 2005 before hitting 20 home runs in two minor league stops this past season. His defensive ability is somewhat lacking and he probably profiles better as a designated hitter, but at 6-foot-5, he could be a cheap source of power for an American League team as he has little to prove at the minor league level. His brother's success this past season will not be lost on scouts looking at Shelley.
Manning is a left-handed reliever who has posted a career mark of 45-29 and has averaged over eight strikeouts per nine innings in his six-year career. He doesn't throw particularly hard, sitting around 86 MPH with his fastball, but he has a very good cutter and the development of his slider has made him a devastating opponent for left-handed batters. He held Double-A lefties to a .163 and his strikeout ratio against them was over 11 batters per nine innings this past season. Manning could be well worth the small financial risk in the Rule 5 Draft and find a home as a left-handed specialist on a big league roster next season.
Chuck Hixson, PhillyBaseballNews.com
After being diagnosed with high blood pressure and putting numerous nagging injuries behind him, Moss has started his ascent up the Phillies' prospect ladder. He's a hard working kid with a good attitude, and simply loves the game of baseball. He's only played as high as High-A, hitting .284 with 20 stolen bases at Clearwater in 2006. The good news is that his game relies a lot on speed, which can translate well at pretty much any level of baseball. The bad news is that he's got weak plate discipline and needs a lot of work there. He could play some shortstop and a team may be able to hide him on the bench and use his speed in the right spots. He also plays well defensively, which won't hurt.
Teams can sometimes hide an extra outfielder on their roster and Spidale could conceivably hold down that role. Spidale stole 29 bases at Low-A Lakewood in 2006 and was caught stealing just four times. Spidale spent some time Double-A when he was in the White Sox organization but hasn't been back in his short stint with the Phillies. This is a guy who generally has the word "sparkplug" connected to his name when scouts talk about his style of play. Spidale never seems to get much credit, but always finishes the season with good stats and always does the fundamental things very well. He steals bases, fields his position very well, and has above average plate discipline, helping him to post a .418 OBP in 2006.