Four of the 17 players drafted in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft are now Major League Baseball players (hat tip, John Manuel). Big league executives were unenthusiastic about this year’s talent level, so a lower-than-usual number of teams attempting to keep their draftees was expected. But pessimism isn’t allowed on days like this, so let’s start with the congratulations: John Raynor (Pittsburgh), Carlos Monasterios (Dodgers), Kanekoa Texeira (Mariners) and David Herndon (Phillies).
Obviously, all these guys are underdogs to still be Major Leaguers in September. But the Pirates can certainly afford to gamble on Raynor returning to 2007-2008 levels. The Dodgers and Mariners weren’t going to get tangibly better by rostering their other options rather than Monasterios or Texeira. And I am here today in support of David Herndon, the final pick in the draft that dazzled in Phillies camp by allowing just a pair of runs in 12.2 innings.
Full disclosure: the idea behind my sinker series that ushered in my debut at FanGraphs was born the day Herndon was picked by the Phillies. Herndon was a familiar name, because he was one of my sleeper prospects when Baseball America allowed me to write up the top 20 Pioneer League prospects in 2006. Any prospect analyst can tell you about the irrational affection we hold for our sleepers of yore, so even when his K/9 dipped to 4.8 last season, I hoped he’d get the opportunity to pitch in the Major Leagues.
Or, more accurately, to pitch in front of big league infielders. This season, Herndon will have the opportunity to pitch with an infield of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco. Last year, his usual group of infielders were Mark Trumbo, Ryan Mount, Hainley Statia and Wilberto Ortiz. I bring this up because, back in 2006, Herndon’s signing scout and then-manager Tom Kotchman raved and raved about the movement of Herndon’s sinker. The numbers certainly bear this out, as Minor League Splits has Herndon as a career 60.4 GB% guy in the minor leagues. Given that he’s never going to strike a lot of guys out, those infielders are of supreme importance to his success at any level.
Hopefully the Phillies share the same optimism about Herndon than I do. Hopefully they know the Angels’ reason for converting him to a reliever is because he should never face a left-handed hitter, as neither his fringe slider or non-change up are big league caliber in the slightest. They should know that if Chase Utley has a day off, that Herndon should not enter the game. He’s really the ideal seventh guy in a bullpen: he serves a very niche purpose, but has the chance to do it incredibly well.
My theory in the aforementioned sinker series is that a normal development isn’t necessary for non-projectable sinker-slider pitchers that are better served with better defenses. This hypothesis will face a great test in 2010 if the Phillies keep David Herndon on their roster all season. I’ll be rooting for him.