The Rule 5 Draft is now a mere 24 hours away. Thursday morning at 10 AM, the top brass of baseball will meet to conclude this year’s Winter Meetings by taking a look at some of baseball’s unprotected Minor Leaguers.
We all know by now that — while it isn’t by any means an annual victory — several teams have been known to strike gold in the Rule 5 Draft. Roberto Clemente is hands down the most famous steal of Rule 5-ers, but there are other big names like George Bell, Johan Santana and Jose Bautista who have gone on to become mega-stars of their eras.
Even last year, the Philadelphia Phillies may have found themselves a nice piece in Odubel Herrera. I think it’s safe to say he exceeded the expectations of many in his rookie season. Herrera slashed .297/.344/.418 while hitting eight home runs and stealing 16 stolen bases in 24 attempts. He logged 136 games in center field for the Phils and with a certain youth rebellion about to occur in Philly, Herrera most likely won’t be going anywhere (especially after what he did in the Venezuelan Winter League).
So, are there any names out there this year that can prove to be a steal for teams this Thursday? There are a few, but two in particular caught my eye.
The Great Balbino made a name for himself last season with a monster year at the Double A and Triple A levels for the World Series champion Kansas City Royals. It’s hard to believe that he has already had an 8-year career when you look up and see that he is only 26.
Former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi signed Fuenmayor way back in 2007 at the age of 16. He instantly became a Top 10 Blue Jays prospect on paper, but never lived up to the hype. He bounced around from Rookie ball to Short Season and Low-A, but he struggled in living up to his potential, high strike out rates and unimpressive walk rates. The Jays would let him go in 2013.
Fuenmayor floated around independent ball for the better part of two years until the Royals signed him last season. With a new approach at the plate, the now 26-year old right hander reached new heights in 2015.
Finally getting the chance to play above Single-A, Fuenmayor thrived in Double-A. After winning the Texas League Player of the Month of May, he earned a bid to both the Texas League All Star Game and the MLB Futures Game. He would reach Triple-A, but would see his season end to an ACL injury.
Fuenmayor is a big first baseman, standing at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, but coming off of a World Series win, Eric Hosmer has solidified himself as the anchor of the Royals lineup. The next stop for Fuenmayor is the big leagues, and that seemingly wouldn’t happen with the Royals so he will test the waters of the Rule 5 Draft.
What was most promising about Fuenmayor’s 2015 was an understanding of the strike zone and patience at the plate. Yes, he did finally show that power stroke he teased earlier in his career, hitting 17 home runs over 360 combined at bats over two levels, but the plate presence may have changed his career. Where Fuenmayor used to go for the fences with two strikes on him, he became disciplined and looked for a pitch to drive and get on base.
He went from a player who annually hovered around a 30% strikeout percentage to a 15% strikeout rate on the year. The improvements led to a career high slash line of .358/.384/.589.
Due to his defensive prowess -- or lack thereof -- limiting him to first base or a career at DH, he seems more fit in the American League, but the Phillies do have the first pick and an aging, broken down first baseman in Ryan Howard still lurking in the big leagues.
Jake Cave simply got lost in the outfield mix in the New York Yankees system. Jacoby Ellsbury is locked in a big deal, they still have Brett Gardner despite big trade rumors swirling, and Aaron Judge is the heir apparent to Carlos Beltran when he finally breaks down for good. Having to protect newcomer Aaron Hicks, 2015 breakout Ben Gamel and perennial "this is his year" guys in Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams, Cave became the odd man out.
Cave will probably amount to nothing more than a fourth outfielder, but he has the stuff to stick on a big league roster and can make an impact as soon as 2016 for a team in need of a solid bench outfielder.
The 23-year old left-handed hitting center fielder was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the Yankees. Cave suffered through two years of injuries — completely missing 2011 and 2012 after breaking his knee cap in his first at bat — before settling into his role: a speedster who had nice gap power and solid defense.
The biggest knocks on Cave were his splits and base running ability. Entering last season, he had the speed to excel on the base paths, but was sloppy. He stole bases at a paltry 67% rate over the first four years of his career, but wound up swiping 17 of 20 attempts last season. He also shows major flaws batting against lefties (.205/.258/.231) versus against right handers (a much more respectable .289/.351/.379 with both of his home runs in 2015). So, again, he seems to have more of a future as a platoon player or fourth outfielder.
He does play a solid centerfield, and he does make contact with the ball. He did strike out 106 times last season, but he saw 592 combined plate appearances, so his 17% strikeout rate is something to take notice of, but I wouldn’t call alarming. When he got his first taste of Triple-A, albeit a mere seven games, he excelled at his opportunity, slashing.458/.517/.667 with four extra base hits.
Another name of interest to keep an eye on is Kyle Drabek. It will certainly be interesting to see if anyone else gives a chance to the prospect that was once deemed the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade.