A change in the most recent MLB collective bargaining agreement gave teams an extra year of service time before they had to put prospects on the 40-man roster or risk losing those prospects in the Rule 5 draft. That rule change bought the Oakland A's an extra year before they had to make difficult decisions about a number of their top prospects. We take a look at some of those players inside…
Before this winter's rule change, if a player was drafted out of a four-year college, he could be left off of a team's 40-man roster for three seasons after he was drafted (including the season during which he was drafted). After three seasons, if that player wasn't placed on a 40-man roster, he was eligible to be drafted in the annual Rule 5 draft. For players drafted out of two-year colleges or high school, the rule was four seasons (including the season during which the player was drafted).
This past winter, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association signed a new collective bargaining agreement. One of the most significant changes included in the new agreement was that an extra season was added before players needed to be put on the 40-man roster or be left eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
The new rule was effective immediately, meaning that the A's got to delay their decisions on whether to add a number of players to their 40-man roster or risk leaving them exposed for the Rule 5 draft. That delay was significant because the A's have a number of top prospects that would have fallen into that category.
Now the A's have an extra year to evaluate these prospects before they decide whether or not to leave them exposed for next season's Rule 5 draft.
The A's 2004 draft was arguably the team's strongest draft since 2000. Thanks to losing top free agents Miguel Tejada and Keith Foulke, the A's had a number of first and second round draft picks to play with. Oakland selected six players in the top two rounds of the draft. One of those players, Huston Street, made his major league debut the following season and was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2005. The A's third round pick in 2004 was Jason Windsor, who made his major league debut last season.
Players who were drafted out of a four-year college in 2004 were affected by this winter's rule change. A number of the A's top prospects fall into this category, including:
Powell was the A's top draft pick in 2004. He missed all of the 2005 season with a torn ACL, stunting his development a bit. However, the switch-hitting catcher recovered from that missed season to become a California League All-Star in 2006. He was rated one of the top defensive catchers in the California League last season and that effort earned him an invite to major league spring training this year. Powell is advanced defensively, meaning that he could be a viable back-up catcher at the major league level in 2008 even if his bat isn't ready. If he puts up a decent offensive season at Double-A in 2007, he could be a prime candidate to be chosen for the Rule 5 draft if the A's don't add him to the 40-man roster.
Robnett was the A's second selection in 2004. He was pegged as a raw talent when he was selected and that label has turned out to be very appropriate. At times, Robnett has shown big league power and a major league caliber outfield throwing arm. However, he has struggled to put all of his skills together and to maintain consistency. He was showing signs of that package coming together last season before a broken hamate bone ended his season early. Robnett shined in a brief performance in the Arizona Fall League this off-season, but struggled in the Mexican Winter League. If he has a strong season at Double-A, Robnett will be an attractive candidate for the Rule 5 draft if the A's don't protect him.
Like Robnett, Putnam's 2006 season was marred by injury. The former Stanford
standout and 2004 supplemental first round pick missed more than two months with an injured knee. He returned in time to star for the Midland Rockhounds (AA) during the last three weeks of the season and in the playoffs. Putnam, who drove-in 100 runs in 2005, needs a strong and healthy 2007 season to re-establish himself as a top prospect. The lefty is a classic line-drive hitter with good plate patience and the potential to be a run producer at the major league level. If Putnam has a strong 2007 season, the A's will likely add him to the 40-man roster.
Suzuki is the A's highest-rated prospect who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft next season if he isn't added to the 40-man roster. The Cal-State Fullerton alum has established himself as the A's top catching prospect with two solid minor league seasons in 2005 and 2006. He is coming off a 2006 season that saw him make dramatic improvements defensively while posting good offensive numbers. Barring a major injury in 2007, Suzuki will almost certainly be added to the 40-man roster next winter and could be challenging for the A's starting catching spot in 2008.
Melillo is another top-10 A's prospect who will need to be protected next winter. The A's selected Melillo in the fifth round in 2004 after he slipped in the draft thanks to a season at South Carolina
marred by injury. Melillo exploded on the scene in 2005 when he hit 24 homers and drove-in 94 runs. The second baseman had a solid 2006 season with Midland, leading the Texas League in fielding percentage and hitting 12 homeruns. Melillo will get a crack at Triple-A this season and if he shows that he can hit Triple-A pitching, he will be prime candidate to be added to the 40-man roster.
Braden was a 24th round pick, but he has played well above his draft pick level since that time. The left-hander won 16 games and struck out 134 batters in 150.2 innings in 2005 and was named the A's 2005 Organizational Pitcher of the Year. However, he missed most of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury, appearing in only 10 games at the tail-end of the season. Braden pitched extremely well in the Puerto Rican Winter League this past winter. If he proves to be healthy and if he can handle the jump to Triple-A, Braden could be a candidate for a spot on the A's pitching staff in 2008 and will almost assuredly be added to the 40-man roster, as left-handed pitchers with advanced stuff are usually prime candidates to be chosen in the Rule 5 draft.
Robertson was a 31st round draft pick in 2004, but, like Braden, he has performed well above his draft position since then. The right-handed reliever has an incredible 12.50 K/9 ratio in his three professional seasons. In 2006, Robertson went 7-2 with a 2.80 ERA as the Midland Rockhounds' top set-up man. He then earned an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched well after a slow start. Robertson has flown under the radar for most of his professional career. If he has a strong spring in major league camp this year and then pitches at a high level during the regular season, he might be too high-profile for the A's to sneak through the Rule 5 draft.
Michael Rogers: The A's fifth pick in 2004 (second round) hasn't lived up to expectations thus far. In 2006, he pitched well at High-A Stockton, but struggled at Double-A Midland. He will likely pitch at Double-A this season.
Myron Leslie: The switch-hitter made a position switch from third base to outfield in 2006. He also drove-in 100 runs for High-A Stockton. Leslie will be a full-time outfielder in 2007, likely at Double-A.
Tom Everidge: The burly first baseman won the Kane County Cougars MVP award in 2005 after posting an 852 OPS. His OPS dropped to 765 at High-A Stockton in 2006. He'll need a rebound season in 2007.
Scot Drucker: Drucker reached High-A Stockton quickly, joining the Ports mid-season 2005. He repeated in Stockton in 2006, where he split his time between starting and relieving. Drucker was more effective as a reliever, and he could transition to relieving full-time in 2007.
Mike Mitchell: Mitchell was actually selected in 2003 out of junior college, so he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this winter if he isn't added to the 40-man roster. Mitchell's first three professional seasons were marred by injury. However, he had a strong 2006 season, during which he made the California League All-Star team and pitched well in the Arizona Fall League.
Note: Only players eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this winter were considered for this article.