Among all the Winter League activities, I find the Rule 5 Draft to be the most fun and interesting, and the exercise with the most possiblities, especially for fantasy speculation.
Rule 5 players are those who have been signed by a Major League team, have been under contract for five seasons, have never appeared in the Majors and are not protected on the 40-man roster. It is interesting that this year's picks are all from lower levels of play, suggesting that as prospects are advanced more quickly than in previous years, teams are going younger and the pool of places to look goes lower. The question then becomes one of experience and maturity as much as skill.
Teams who participate can take a shot, and sometimes the likes of Geronimo Berroa or Kevin Millar result. But most of the time, the lack of advancement and protection prove to be justified.
But, the trick is a team drafting a Rule 5 player must keep him on the active Major League roster--or hide him on the DL, which does indeed happen--or return the player to his original team.
This means if nothing else, there is as close to a guarantee of Major League roster time for Rule 5 guys as there ever will be for a marginal gamble. I do indeed like grabbing Rule 5 Catchers, for example, for a buck, thinking if the player pans out he will help in a deep league, and if he is marginal, the playing time stats will not hurt my numbers. And if the guy goes on the DL, well that just gives me an extra reserve guy to consider as part of my overall strategy.
So, who are the Rule 5 players this year that are of interest? Here are my thoughts on the first eight drafted, and you can check out a complete list. Also note that there are both Major League and Triple-A Rule 5 rounds, and I will be covering just the Major League portion.
Miguel Diaz (22, RHP, to Twins from Brewers): First pick of the draft, Diaz is 8-18 over 236 minor league frames, but he has 222 strikeouts to go with a 1.263 WHIP and just 11 homers alowed. The Twins can indeed use some arms, and Diaz might indeed have some talent, but he has never pitched above A-ball, so a jump to the Majors is enough of a challenge at this point.
Luis Torrens (20, C, to Reds from Yankees): Torrens is exactly the kind of guy I would grab as a #2 catching gamble in an NL-only format. With literally a full season of games (161) under his belt in the Minors, Torrens produced a line of .250-6-51, with 31 doubles and a reasonable .342 OBP (73 walks to 123 strikeouts). His .686 OPS is a bit anemic, and again, Torrens has not played above A-ball, but he will likely be a third stringer, and likely a buck, so purchasing Torrens gives you $259 to spend on your remaining 22 players.
Allen Cordoba (20, SS, to Padres from Cardinals): An intriguing selection for a team looking to youth and rebuilding, Cordoba has 206 games under his belt, with a solid .309-4-63 line that also includes 150 runs and 52 steals. 70 walks to 109 strikeouts mean a great .375 OBP, and since Cordoba can play second, third, and short, breaking him in on the bench as a pinch runner/utility player is perfect, it seems. I do indeed have a serious interest in Cordoba in my Dynasty leagues at this point.
Kevin Gadea (21, P, to Rays from Mariners): More intriguing numbers, as Gadea registered a 17-6, 2.64 mark over 225.3 innings with 228 strikeouts and a 1.167 WHIP. Like his predecessors, Gadea has spent his time at the lower levels, although again, successfully. Gadea did at least pitch at Clinton last year, going 3-0, 2.15 over 50.3 innings.
Armando Rivero (28, P, to Braves from Cubs): A Cuban import, Rivero makes a nice gamble because of his age and experience playing Cuban ball. He did throw at Triple-A Iowa last year and went 5-3, 2.13 over 43 relief appearances and 67.6 innings, earning a save amidst 12 starts. Rivero has a fantastic 303 strikeouts over 220 innings, over which he had a 1.209 WHIP. Clearly, Rivero will throw out of the pen, at least to start, and he too makes a fun gamble on a team doing good things with their rebuild.
Tyler Jones (26, P, to Diamondbacks from Yankees): Originally drafted by the Twins in 2011, Jones then went to the Braves and then Pinstripes, going 19-7, 3.55 over 296.3 innings with a solid 361 strikeouts. Jones went 6-3, 2.61 over 89.6 Double-A innings, with 116 whiffs, and could work his way into the rotation. Note that at 26, he was older than his Double-A brethren, so the numbers might be deceiving.
Caleb Smith (25, P, to Brewers from Yankees): Apparently the Yankees were younger and deeper than we thought, with this third selection from the Pinstripe repository. Last season at Double-A Trenton, Smith went 3-5, 3.96 over 63.6 innings with 70 punchouts. He had a fine 2015 at Trenton, going 10-7, 3.38 over 130.6 innings, but was torched (three runs over 4.1 innings, so small sample) at Triple-A that year, so maybe the Yanks know something that is not obvious?
Justin Haley (25, P, to Angels from Red Sox): A sixth-round pick of Boston in 2012, out of Cal State Fresno, Haley went 8-6, 3.59 over 86.6 innings at Pawtucket last year, with 67 strikeouts and a 1.123 WHIP. Those numbers are actually decent enough, but again, if Haley was that good, why didn't the Sox give him a shot in the Majors when an injury occurred, let alone protect him? That said, teams do make mistakes.
Follow me @lawrmichaels