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Since they changed to rules a few years back to make even less players eligible, the Rule 5 Draft has gone from kinda useful to not really useful at all, and even by those standards, executives agree this year's crop is weak, particularly the bats. Three players stood out as potential selections, while two long-term projects and two short-term types were worth mentioning.
Blash looks like an NFL Tight End at 6'5/225 and turned down signing twice before getting $140,000 from the Mariners in the 8th round of the 2010 Draft out of Miami-Dade JC. His career took awhile to get started and went slow as Blash was a toolshed with little feel. At age 22 in 2012, he finally put together a solid year in Low-A but struck out in nearly 30% of plate appearances. The M's saw a glimmer and advanced him to High-A (.863 OPS, 25% K in 332 PA) then AA (1.061 OPS, 23% K in 120 PA) last season. He's got easy above average arm strength and raw power and is an average runner once he gets going for a classic right field profile. Blash will be 24 in 2014 and would start in AA with the chance to move to AAA if his momentum continues. This profile can go a few different ways, with Nelson Cruz the best example and Melky Mesa another recent example that's continued to hit. Mesa was protected by the Yankees from the Rule 5 Draft, has since reached the big leagues and one scout I spoke with says Blash is a clearly better prospect than Mesa for him.
Passed over in last year's draft, Perez is a threat to be picked again this year. He has similar arm strength to Nieto with an arm that is average to above, but is much better defensively, has played at a higher level and been healthy more as well. As you may guess, his bat is a real question mark and while he's played at higher levels and more than Nieto, there's less power and just enough bat speed to stay afloat at AA and AAA this season after having only cursory experience about Low-A entering 2013. He's a better bet to stick than Nieto due to his glove, but has a little less upside with the bat. Perez would be 23 and play at AA or AAA in 2014 and could be a target for a few clubs, though catchers aren't usually picked, much less stick for the season.
Nieto has the most draft pedigree of this crop as a 5th rounder that signed for $376,000 out of powerhouse Florida prep program American Heritage, where he was teammates with two first rounders (Royals 1B Eric Hosmer and Red Sox SS Deven Marrero) on a historically-talented high school team that won a National Championship. The Cuban defector has moved slow and had his share of injuries and while never that athletic, he's stiffened a bit since signing as well. He has above average arm strength and is a fine receiver with gap power and some feel to hit. If he isn't picked, he would be 24 and getting his first taste of AA in 2014 after a strong 2013 campaign in High-A and the Arizona Fall League. The fit would be as a cheap backup catcher for club short on low-cost options that hopes Nieto's 2013 portends more health and consistency going forward.
Others Of Note
Beyond these three, it's a very lean crop overall and particularly on the bats, which normally are about 1/3 or less of the players picked anyway. As for the upside plays, the two worth noting are real long shots to stick. Red Sox SS Jose Vinicio has zero offensive performance track record and no power to offer but was a seven figure July 2nd signing, can really play shortstop and has plus speed. A club could hide him as a 25th man if they believe in his upside, or think they could teach him a small ball approach that can make him worth a roster spot. Similarly, Reds CF Junior Arias is all defense and speed, offering a little more offensive upside since he's has success at Low-A, but that's a very low bar to clear. He's a plus runner with a little pop and an above average arm, but has just enough tools that you want to make him a hitter, something he won't learn in the big leagues.
In the upper level bench bat group, there's two more guys worth looking at, Cubs OF Jae-Hoon Ha and Mets OF Darrell Ceciliani. Ha has slightly more to offer, as a conversion guy that's new to the outfield and has a little more patience, but like Ceciliani, it's average tools that profile as a bench guy at best. Ha will be 23 and was solid at AA in the past while Ceciliani is more of a free swinger with a big platoon split that will be 24 and had his most recent success at High-A.