All 30 MLB clubs have until midnight Wednesday night to set their 40-man roster and minor league reserve rosters for the major & minor league phases of Rule 5 draft. The Rule 5 draft is set to take place December 12th, the last day of the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida.
The Seattle Mariners have a few interesting names that currently sit unprotected who would be available for the MLB phase of the draft. Players become eligible due to time spent in the system that can be hard to pin down at times, but the general rule of thumb is that high school players from the draft five years ago (2009) and college players from four years back (2010) would be eligible this year. International players who signed at true age 18 or younger prior to 2008 or signed at true age 19 or older prior to 2009 are also eligible.
Seattle currently has 34 players on it's 40-man roster (which can be found here). One of those players, however, is Danny Hultzen, and Hultzen is going to miss the entire 2014 season as he recovers from surgery. So there actually could be seven openings on the 40-man roster once Hultzen is moved to the 60-day DL. Are there seven players worth protecting by the Mariners?
Yes and no.
A selection in the Rule 5 draft, of course, must remain on the club's MLB roster for the duration of the regular season or else be offered back to his original team. The Mariners have selected a few in their history that they kept all season -- most recently lefty Lucas Luetge in the 2011 draft -- but they've also selected players who were eventually offered back or moved, like Kanekoa Texeira. Other names you probably remember the Mariners picking up via Rule 5 include R.A. Dickey, Sean White and -- Lou Pineilla's favorite pinch runner -- Luis Ugueto. But Dickey, White and Ugueto were actually selected in the Rule 5 draft by other teams and dealt to Seattle.
The most obvious names for the 2013 Rule 5 draft that will likely be protected by Seattle today are outfielders Stefen Romero and Jabari Blash and first baseman Ji-Man Choi. Those three have each enjoyed a coming out of sorts during the last two years and appear worthy of being added to the M's roster. Romero is probably the most likely to see big league time -- in Seattle or elsewhere -- in 2014, but the other two have promise. Romero and Blash are right-handed hitting corner outfielders and Choi is a lefty hitting undersized first baseman (converted catcher).
While there is a lot of hand wringing and "Johan Santana!"-ing about the Rule 5 draft by many people around this time of year, the fact of the matter is that it just isn't a justifiable way to acquire meaningful talent any longer. The next player that Seattle loses in the Rule 5 draft that has any sort of long term value potential will be the first such player. Seattle lost four players from their unprotected list in 2001 but haven't lost any since 2004. Across MLB, there really haven't been any truly significant pick ups via Rule 5 since 2008 when the Padres grabbed shortstop Everth Cabrera from the Rockies. Scott Diamond, Marwin Gonzalez, Luetge and Nate Freiman are the most interesting names since.
Romero broke out in 2012, winning recognition as Seattle's Minor League Player of the Year while posting a .352/.391/.599 slash with 23 home runs, 64 extra base hits and 101 RBI in 116 games between High Desert and Jackson. He fell off to .277/.333/.443, 11, 39 and 76 last year in 98 games and had a lackluster showing in the AFL outisde of his two-homer performance in the Fall Stars game, hitting just .212/.278/.333 in 70 plate appearances for Peoria. Romero recently turned 25 and is still adjusting defensively to left field, having converted from second base.
Blash had a big year this season at the same levels where Romero saw his a season earlier, hitting a combined .271/.381/.534 with an organization-best 25 home runs and 74 RBI in 109 games. He lowered his strikeout rate as the season went on and posted another strong year with walks (60) in his age 23 season. Now 24, Blash was drafted three times and is a very good athlete with great size (6-foot-5, 225 lbs) but he sometimes has been accused of not always giving his best effort.
Choi did Romero and Blash one better and made it through three levels in 2013 during his breakout, adding a 13-game stint in Tacoma to his High Desert and Jackson performance. Overall he hit .295/.394/.535 with 60 extra base hits, 18 home runs and 85 RBI in 122 games. The former catcher missed all of 2011 with a back injury that forced him out from behind the plate but he's hit .309/.411/.511 in over 1,000 career minor league plate appearances to date. Many had questioned his power potential but he showed some impressive pop in 2013 as his home run rate nearly doubled from 1.9% to 3.6% this past season.
Other names that could be at risk for Seattle (in either the MLB or MiLB phases) include outfielders James Jones and Leon Landry, infielders Gabriel Noriega and Nate Tenbrink, right-handed pitchers Tyler Burgoon, Forrest Snow (currently suspended), Stephen Kohlscheen and Andrew Carraway and lefty Brian Moran.
We won't know who all is available until all 30 teams make their 40-man moves, and many are waiting until today to do so. The first two names that jumped out at me on the list of currently unprotected players are right-handed reliever Deck McGuire from Toronto and outfielder Bryce Brentz from Boston.
McGuire was the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft that has struggled and stalled out a bit in Double-A, posting a 5.28 ERA and 1.42 WHIP there as a starter but has posted better peripherals than that and has a decent repertoire, with a standard starter's four-pitch mix and a fastball that works in the 91-93 range. Brentz was the 36th overall pick in that same draft who has shown a lot of power, popping 30 home runs in 2011 and picking up 38 extra base hits in 88 games this past season. Brentz also has a plus throwing arm (was originally drafted as a pitcher) and has been decent overall defensively in the outfield. He was injured before spring training last year when he accidentally shot himself in the leg while he was cleaning his gun and then had knee surgery in July. Toronto has 38 players on their 40-man roster before today and Boston has 36, including eight outfielders, so there is a chance each player slips through and is exposed.
Seattle will hold the sixth choice for the Rule 5 draft, just like they do for the June Rule 4 draft.
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