Aside from the non-stop rumor mill barrage, one of the biggest highlights of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft. The draft will happen tomorrow, the last day of the meetings. Usually, you don’t see too many big name prospects change hands, since most of them are protected by the 40 man roster, but there’s always the possibility that your team will select the next Johan Santana (a Rule 5 pick in 2000). Since the Twins have the #2 pick this year, some great prospects will be available when they pick.
The Rule V is best suited for rebuilding teams, because any player picked in the draft has to stay on the Major League roster for an entire season, or else the player goes back to his original team. It’s harder for a contending team to keep a roster spot occupied by a player who is still learning his way around the Majors Leagues. But for other teams, for example teams that just lost 99 games, it’s often worth taking a chance on a young player (if you want to brush up on how the Rule 5 Draft works, check out this post written by Puckett’s Pond’s Paul Pleiss last month).
Below is a list of players the Twins might be interested in this year, but first, let’s discuss the types of players the Twins might be looking for.
Backup catchers. With Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit on the roster, the Twins have two catchers who can also fill in at other positions. This means there might be roster space to carry a third catcher. As of now, that spot is occupied by Drew Butera, but it might be worth looking for a better hitter in the Rule 5. Any player picked by the Twins would also become a candidate to catch full time if Mauer switches positions a couple years down the road.
Outfielders. Unless Michael Cuddyer and/or Jason Kubel re-signs (and neither one had as of the time I wrote this), the Twins are very thin in the outfield. Even if one of those guys does return, it couldn’t hurt to add a backup, now that Jason Repko has left the team. Factor in Denard Span’s health concerns, and outfield depth becomes even more crucial.
Pitchers, Pitchers, Pitchers. You can never have too many of these. The Twins’ biggest need right now is starting pitching, but it’s doubtful that they could add a player who is ready to start in the Major Leagues through the Rule 5. Still, it might make sense to add a starting pitcher and stick him in the bullpen for 2012. If he does well there, the team could put him in the rotation in 2013. Or they could take a true reliever and see how he fits in that role.
Okay, now here are eight players I think might be worth taking:
1. Thomas Pham, OF, Cardinals, 24 years old on Opening Day
Pham lost time to a hand injury last year, but in his 143 PAs at AA, he hit .294/.372/.517, following a .339/.429/.537 performance in 2010. He has also stolen 17 or more bases in each of his last three full seasons. He is a righty with power and on-base skills. Assuming that he is healthy, Pham would be my top choice on this list. But I don’t make the decisions, so let’s look at some other candidates.
2. Bryce Stowell, RHP, Indians, 25
The Twins have recently developed a fascination with hard-throwing relief pitchers (see Jim Hoey and Lester Oliveros). Stowell would be another interesting addition in that mold, as he can hit 97 with his fastball. Unlike Hoey, he has a good slider as well. He has great minor league strikeout rates, and he made it as high as AAA in 2010.
3. Rossmel Perez, C, Reds, 22
Perez has never been above High A ball, but he hit .287/.373/.342 there last year. He knows how to get on base, and as a #3 catcher, he’d only need to play about 15 to 20 games in 2012. He’s also 5’9”, so the Twins pitchers should appreciate his “low target.” Even if he didn’t impress at the MLB level, Perez could go back to the minors for more seasoning in 2013.
4. Chad Tracy, OF, Rangers, 26
Tracy would fill an immediate need for the Twins, because he is a righthanded hitting outfielder with power. He hit 26 homers for the Ranger AAA squad in 2011. His .339 OBP was lower than you’d like to see for a minor league outfielder, but it might be a fluke, as his on-base numbers have been better in the past. Tracy also has experience at first base and catcher, so he could be something of a utility guy. Tracy isn’t as projectable as Pham, but he’s probably more polished, given his extra minor league experience.
5. Ethan Martin, RHP, Dodgers, 22
This guy is a project, but he has a fastball in the upper 90s and a good curveball that might make him worth the effort. Aside from huge strikeout rates, his minor league numbers haven’t been very good. But he settled down a bit last year, going 5-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 40 AA innings. He could be a power reliever one day.
6. Kyle Russell, OF, Dodgers, 25
Russell is an intriguing all-or-nothing hitter. He has big power and decent on-base skills, but he strikes out a lot (144 times in 447 AA plate appearances last year). If the Twins can overlook the K rate, Russell is 6’5” and only 185 pounds, so he has the potential to become a huge power guy if he gains a little muscle weight. He is a lefthanded hitter, though, so that might be a negative for the Twins.
7. Cesar Cabral, LHP, Red Sox, 23
Cabral struck out 70 batters in 54 innings between Class A and AA last year. A lefty reliever who can strike guys out is always a nice thing to have.
Wild Card: Pat Venditte, RHP and LHP, Yankees, 26
You know what’s even better than a lefty reliever? An ambidextrous reliever. Venditte is an oddity – he can pitch both lefthanded and right handed. He’d be more of a novelty than anything else, but he can pitch, too. In 2011, Venditte went 3-7 with a 3.40 ERA and 88 K in 90 IP at AA ball. Because Venditte’s talents are so unique, I couldn’t figure out how to rank him against the other players on the list. But he would certainly be an intriguing option, and I would not fault the Twins for selecting him.