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Scouting Rule 5 Eligible Prospects

The MLB Rule 5 draft is scheduled for Dec. 6 during the final day of the 2012 Winter Meetings. It’s become a fan favorite over the years but the draft is not as valuable as it used to be for clubs. In the last Collective Bargaining Agreement update roster rules were changed to give organizations one more year of protection for prospects before they had to be added to the 40-man roster and therefore protected from the selection process.

The key thing to remember about players chosen in the amateur draft is that they cannot be optioned down to the minors (expect for an injury rehab assignment) and must remain on the big league roster for the entire season. There are basically two approaches for teams to take: 1) Take a very raw player from the low minors and use him sparingly for the year expect perhaps in blowouts, basically spending the year with a 24-man roster, or 2) Look for a player that is MLB ready and can hopefully provide at least league-average production for a league-average salary.

Below, you’ll read three scouting reports on prospects who I personally feel could make solid Rule 5 selections in 2013. For those of you new to the process, here is a quick primer for the Rule 5 draft by our own Bradley Woodrum.

  • Odubel Herrera | Texas Rangers | 2B/SS

    The Texas Rangers minor league system boasts an impressive glut of middle infield prospects – including Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas, Rougned Odor, Leury Garcia, and Hanser Alberto – which is likely one of the reasons that led to the exclusion of Herrera from the 40-man roster. The situation actually reminds me a bit of the Toronto Blue Jays system back in the late 90s when the organization had the likes of Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, Michael Young, Joey Lawrence, Tomas Perez, and Brent Abernathy, many of whom contributed at the big league level but with modest overall results.

    Herrera, who turns 21 in late December, doesn’t have a huge build – which limits his projection to a degree – but I was impressed with the raw pop that he generated thanks to a quick bat, strong wrists and good hip rotation. I was surprised with how well the ball carried off his bat, and the fact that he hits from the left side only adds to his potential value. Although he doesn’t walk a ton (6% walk rate in 2012), I did notice during his at-bats that he took a good number of pitches and worked himself into favorable hitters’ counts – including a four-pitch walk. With some maturity, I could see him working out of the No. 2 hole in the line-up.

    The young Venezuelan also has good speed but his base running is still rough-around-the-edges and needs some fine tuning. He likely has the potential to steal 20-30 bases with regular playing time in the majors. Defensively, Herrera also needs a fair bit of work and splitting time between both middle infield spots has likely slowed his development at both positions. He’s athletic enough that he should iron out his issues at both shortstop and second base but he’ll need reps and continued experience. The natural actions and range are there and he has enough arm to play shortstop on at least a part-time basis.

    Herrera is a project and would not be ready to contribute at the big league level in 2013 so a team choosing him in the Rule 5 draft would have to be willing to work with a 24-man roster. I’ve seen enough from him to project a floor of big league utility player and a ceiling of an above-average second baseman with more gap power than you might expect from his physical build.

    Projected Tools Grades (20-80)
    Hitting: 55
    Power: 45
    Speed: 60
    Arm: 60
    Fielding: 60

  • Graham Stoneburner | New York Yankees | RHP

    Stoneburner represents a Rule 5 eligible prospect who possesses some upside but he should also be able to step into a big league bullpen right away and provide at least average production for a middle or long reliever. Injuries have taken a significant bite out of his career and he’s had just one healthy season (2010) since signing as a 14th round draft pick out of Clemson University in 2009. Almost exclusively a starter in the minors prior to 2012, he made 17 of his 24 appearances out of the bullpen this past season; his season was interrupted by a reoccurring groin injury. In the past, he’s also suffered from a torn ACL, cracked vertebra and pinched nerve. Luckily, there have been no serious injuries to his elbow or shoulder.

    Stoneburner, who turned 25 in September, has had some success in the minors but I feel he would really blossom as a one- or two-inning reliever. When I watched Stoneburner pitch, his stuff was much more dynamic against the first four to six batters he faced and began to dwindle from there on. The right-hander utilized a low 3/4 arm slot and showed arm-side run on his fastball. He came right after hitters, throwing strikes and tying up right-handed hitters. He was very aggressive on the inner half of the plate and utilized a nice, tight inside breaking ball to catch a hitter looking for a called strike. He also did a nice job of keeping the ball down around the knees but began to elevate the ball as his pitch count rose.

    Stoneburner’s repertoire includes a fastball that works in the low 90s and can touch 94 mph. The second-best pitch I saw was a slurvy breaking ball. His changeup was a distant third pitch for him but it has reportedly shown potential in the past and could help him combat left-handed hitters. Along with his impressive pitching, Stoneburner also showed some athleticism by getting off the mound well to field balls hit to him. With experience as a starting pitcher, the Virginia native could pitch multiple innings out of a big league bullpen and, with further development of his breaking ball, I could see him working out of the seventh- and/or eighth-inning.

    Projected Tools Grades (20-80)
    Fastball: 60
    Breaking Ball: 55
    Changeup: 45
    Command/Control: 55
    Delivery: 60

  • Kenny Wilson | Center-fielder | Toronto Blue Jays

    It took five years but Toronto finally began to see the player they thought they were getting when they took Wilson with the 63rd overall selection (2nd round) out of a Tampa high school during the 2008 amateur draft. The speedy outfielder played most – if not all – of his pro career with a damaged left shoulder labrum, which was surgically repaired mid-way through the 2011 season.

    When Wilson returned to the field in 2012 he was a much improved player. Returning to A-ball in Lansing, Michigan for the third time in his career, he showed significant improvements with the bat and also stole 41 bases (49 attempts) in 94 games. He finished the year with even better results in 29 games at high-A Dunedin. A former switch-hitter, who was flipped to the left side in an effort to maximize his speed tool, Wilson is now solely batting right handed and is still learning to face right-handed pitchers from the opposite batter’s box.

    When I saw Wilson play, he was showing good bat speed and a shorter stroke than he employed earlier in his career. He was also taking lots of pitches (13 in his first two at-bats of the game) and working the count into his favor. He went 0-for-4 in that game but he made solid contact and hit the ball all over the field. The Florida native also almost beat out a routine ground ball to shortstop for an infield single.

    Along with being a weapon on the base paths with his near 80 speed, Wilson is a plus defender who takes good routes on balls, shows outstanding range and has a strong arm. I personally saw him throw out a runner with an incredibly accurate throw to third base from right-center field. A contact told me, “This guy is legit in center field and can really go get it.” I fully expect Wilson to continue his breakout in 2013 and could be ready for double-A ball. As a Rule 5 pick he’s not going to be an impact hitter by any means but he could be a late-game defensive replacement and/or pinch runner; he also has projection as a fleet-footed, future up-the-middle regular in center field.

    Projected Tools Grades (20-80)
    Hitting: 50
    Power: 45
    Speed: 75
    Arm: 65
    Fielding: 70

    David Laurila has provided a Rule 5 Report as well

    Jeremy Hazelbaker | Boston Red Sox | OF

    Hazelbaker doesn’t appear to be big-league ready, and there is a decent chance he never will be. That doesn’t mean a team won’t take a flier on the 25-year-old outfielder. If the stars align, he could be the steal of next week‘s Rule 5 draft.

    What type of player is Hazelbaker? Think Drew Stubbs if the enigmatic Reds fly chaser hit from the left side. The flashes of raw power are expand »there, as is the outstanding speed. So are the strikeouts, long swing, and lack of a consistent approach.

    Among the more athletic players in the Red Sox system, Hazelbaker seems equally capable of breaking out or fizzling out. Since being taken in fourth round of the 2009 draft out of Ball State, he has logged a 63-steal season [2010 in low-A Greenville] and a 19-home-run season [this year in Double-A Portland]. What he hasn’t been able to do is put it all together. As a professional, he has hit .259/.345/.434, with 183 walks and 457 strikeouts in 1,766 plate appearances.

    Hazelbaker finished this year in Triple-A — he went 8 for 30 in seven games for Pawtucket — and an adjustment helped lead to the promotion. On a mid-season visit to Portland’s Hadlock Field, I was told that he was too pull happy and tended to chase. When I returned in late August, I learned that he had been doing a much better job of staying back and using the whole field. He hit close to .330 for the month.

    On the defensive side of the ball, Hazelbaker has come a long way. An infielder until his final collegiate season, he has made himself into a solid outfielder. Much like Stubbs, he has the speed to run down balls in the gaps, although he doesn’t possess the same type of instincts. Capable of playing either center or a corner, he profiles as a slightly-above-average defender.

    His mental makeup will play a role in his future success. One scout I talked to expressed concern about Hazelbaker’s confidence and ability to channel his intensity. There is also the question of how he views his game. Despite having recently gone deep five times over a six-game stretch, he told me in July that he identifies himself as a speed guy who likes to bunt for base hits. While that may differentiate him from Stubbs — Reds fans have been clamoring for Stubbs to embrace small ball — parallels remain. Much like his big-league contemporary, Hazelbaker is seemingly an adjustment or two away from turning a corner. Whether he gets that chance with the Red Sox or another organization may be determined in Nashville on Thursday