Josh Hamilton is one of the most famous and most successful Rule 5 picks of all time.
With the Winter Meetings taking place, we know that at their close there is an event called the Rule 5 Draft. It's kind of funny that it gets so much attention considering it seems to be a rather big deal if even one player selected goes on to have a successful season. Be that as it may, everybody likes to think their team may find the next Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton or Dan Uggla. Of course, the most famous Rule 5 pick of all is Roberto Clemente.
So we make a big fuss over who the team should have selected, who they left exposed to the process or even who they lost. I know I have written harshly worded stories directed at the Tiger front office for their indifference to losing Randor Bierd and James Skelton in the Rule 5. In my defense as an analyst, I believe I was more upset that they protected players inferior to those two rather than believing either was going to be a successful big leaguer. Still, I rooted for both after they left the system so they could validate my stance on the matter. Instead, I learned I'm not going to get all that worked up about the Rule 5 Draft anymore.
That stance is easier to take when you believe the Tigers have a rather shallow minor league system. A 40-man roster should offer ample protection for promising players who would otherwise be exposed to the draft. After all, they protected Hernan Perez and Avisail Garcia. Perez is just 20 years old and has spent all of 72 at bats above Lo A ball. Garcia, also 20, was in Hi A ball last season but also struck out more than seven times more often than he walked. It stands to reason if the Tigers are troubling to protect such long shots the players who are exposed either won't be selected or won't be missed.
Let's do some due diligence on the matter anyway. As Tigerdog1 explained back in November, players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft were a) drafted out of college in 2008, or b) drafted out of high school or signed as an international player in 2007. Are there any players who fit those parameters who may be missed?
Before we get started, I can quickly remove two players from consideration: Cale Iorg and Ryan Strieby. I believe both are technically eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, but neither will be selected. You see, both have recently been removed from the Tigers' 40-man roster and after passing waivers were outrighted to Toledo. This means any of the 29 other teams could have taken them and only would have had to keep them on their own 40-man roster.
If a team were to pick them in the Rule 5, they not only have to put them on their 40-man roster they would also have to keep them on their active roster once the season starts. In other words, any team that wanted either player could've already had them for a lot less trouble than the Rule 5 Draft. Actually, I'm going to go ahead and put Audy Ciriaco and Robbie Weinhardt in the same category. Both have been on the Tigers' 40-man but were removed over the course of 2011. In my opinion, neither has done much to make themselves more attractive options since they were outrighted.
With those guys out of the way, we can look at some of the other eligibles who might look attractive to other teams. Let's do this systematically and start with eligibles who topped out at Toledo last season. That would be Trevor Feeney, L.J. Gagnier, Ramon Garcia and Thad Weber on the pitching side. Ben Guez, Justin Henry and Deik Scram are the eligibles on the position player side. None of the pitchers will be selected as Garcia has been Rule 5 eligible for years. Weber was among the league leaders in a lot of the wrong categories and Feeney only pitched a couple innings in Toledo. Most of his work was done in Lakeland, and in his career he's given up 587 hits in less than 500 innings.
The position players, however, at least deserve some discussion. Guez is an athletic outfielder with some power. He can play all three outfield spots and has handled himself respectably when given a shot in Toledo (.267/.336/.423 in 607 PA). I don't think anybody will pull the trigger on him, but the system doesn't have a lot of names to mention on this kind of list so I included him. Henry might have a better shot. He has almost literally no power, but can play all over and in fact, Baseball America pegged him as a Rule 5 target for that reason. Well, the versatility and his ability to get on base despite his lack of power. Scram did well when he was in Toledo in 2011, but he'll be 28 next year and hasn't cracked 200 at bats in Triple A. He was also available to anybody who wanted him in last year's Rule 5.
If you look down to players who didn't quite make it to Toledo last season, there are maybe a few possibles. Jay Voss was the Tigers' return for Nate Robertson and he showed a lot of improvement last season. Brandon Douglas is a name that has come up in Tiger prospect discussions because of his bat and ability to play second base, but 2011 was the first time he was able to play over 100 games in his four year career. He also didn't hit so well for Erie (.281/.320/.371 in 541 PA). I suppose somebody could bring up Gustavo Nunez's name or maybe right-handed reliever Jared Gayhart, but mentioning them is likely as far as it would go.
When I dig even deeper, the only name that really caught my attention at lower levels was Bruce Rondon. Let me start by saying I don't think he'll be picked. It's probably goofy to even bring his name up. But he has a live arm and he's dropped down to a sidearm delivery. He turns 21 in a couple days and a part of me could almost be convinced some pitching coach somewhere might make a pitch that he could be worth a shot. I wouldn't worry about it. He did walk 34 in 40 innings last season, after all. But he was also damn near unhittable (22 hits allowed and 61 strikeouts) and what fun is an article like this if you don't toss a longshot out there to think about?
So what do you think? Does this look like a group where you're worried about losing one of these players? I wouldn't be. I don't think any of these players will be picked and if they are, I don't see anybody who's irreplaceable. The Tigers have been pretty good over the years at knowing when a player isn't a big leaguer. I don't think this Rule 5 Draft should rattle the confidence they've earned on the matter.