Rangers Rule 5 Draft Candidates

With a deep farm system, the Texas Rangers were forced to leave a couple intriguing prospects unprotected for Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Though it's likely the Rangers escape unscathed, Lone Star Dugout profiles some players that could draw interest.

Major League Baseball will hold its annual Rule 5 Draft on the morning of December 9 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando. The Texas Rangers recently added four prospects to the club's 40-man roster in order to protect the players from the draft.

Players that initially signed at age 19 or older are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft after four years of professional baseball. Those that were 18 or younger at the time of signing are eligible after five years.

Coming into the 2010 campaign, Texas looked to have a number of difficult decisions on its hands. However, many eligible prospects either took steps back or didn't take the projected step forward.

As it turned out, the Rangers had a handful of open spots on the roster, and the club was able to add its four most likely candidates for selection. But with a deep farm system like the Rangers have, nothing is certain and there are still a few promising players left unprotected.

Players selected in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season. In the event of injury, the draftee is required to spend at least 90 days of the active roster.

The rule changes brought about by the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement delayed Rule 5 eligibility by one year. While players were previously eligible after three or four years of professional ball, the rule is now four or five years depending on the player's age at the time of signing.

The new rules have naturally thinned the talent pool and made finding legitimate big league talent in the Rule 5 Draft more difficult. For example, seven of the 17 players selected in last year's draft were returned to their original club before the end of Spring Training.

The Rangers are unlikely to have a player selected in Thursday's draft. However, Lone Star Dugout profiles eight prospects that could draw interest from teams in Orlando.

The players are listed in alphabetical order.

Jake Brigham: Though the 22-year-old has been a starting pitcher throughout his career thus far, he is likely destined for the bullpen in the long run. Brigham has the tools to be successful with a plus fastball, breaking ball combination. As a starting pitcher, the righty has a fastball that sits in the low-90s and reaches 95-96 mph at times. Brigham began throwing a slider midway through the '10 season, as he found the pitch easier to command within the strike zone. While he had success with the slider, he also still has an excellent curveball to chase strikeouts.

Brigham's primary issue has been results. The former sixth-round pick opened the season at High-A Bakersfield and logged a 6.93 ERA while yielding 67 hits in 49 innings. He had much more success after returning to Single-A Hickory and picking up the slider, posting a 3.36 ERA over 83 frames. Brigham shined in Spring Training this past year and may have turned a corner during the second half. He has legitimate raw big league stuff that could be intriguing to a team, although he also lacks upper-level success.

Ovispo de los Santos: Another excellent raw talent, de los Santos has arguably the most powerful raw arm in the Texas minor league system. The right-hander throws his fastball between 93-98 mph, and he touched triple-digits in Spokane this past summer. De los Santos, who has relied on his power heater too heavily in the past, is beginning to throw his work-in-progress slider more often. The pitch showed improvement as a swing-and-miss offering last season.

The biggest knock against the Dominican Republic native is sure to be his lack of upper-level experience. After opening the season in Extended Spring Training, he tossed five shutout innings with nine strikeouts at short-season Spokane. The hurler was then promoted to Single-A Hickory, where he logged a 3.48 ERA in 20 innings, allowing 17 hits, walking six, and fanning 25. The 23-year-old should at least draw interest from clubs as a potential high-risk, high-reward pick.

Daniel Gutierrez: The former Royals prospect looked to be a 40-man roster lock heading into the 2010 campaign, but he fell off in a big way. Gutierrez began his season by serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for Adderall. Upon his return, he never quite regained the stuff he flashed in the Arizona Fall League last offseason.

Gutierrez worked in the low-90s as a starting pitcher in '09, and his fastball reached as high as 97 mph in the Arizona Fall League that year. But his velocity sat in the mid-to-upper 80s this season while the once plus curveball had lost its sharpness. The righty appeared in just one AFL game this season––throwing 82-85 mph––before sitting out with what the Rangers are calling ‘mild shoulder inflammation.'

Mark Hamburger: The reliever put himself on the prospect map this past season with outstanding results and improved velocity at High-A Bakersfield. Hamburger posted a 1.77 ERA and 18 saves in 45.2 innings with the Blaze, allowing 38 hits, walking 18, and fanning 49. He improved as the season progressed and had a string of 19.1 consecutive scoreless innings (17 appearances) at the time of his promotion to Double-A Frisco.

The success continued at the next level, as he had a 3.20 ERA with eight walks and 20 punchouts in 19.2 innings with the RoughRiders. The 23-year-old displayed a consistent 91-94 mph fastball (touching 95-96) to go along with a slider and the occasional changeup. While Hamburger has plus velocity, his breaking ball remains inconsistent. He failed to get on top of the slider at times, making it straight and flat. Hamburger could have a big league future, but his lack of a put-away secondary pitch likely means he doesn't have late-inning potential.

Kasey Kiker: While Hambruger saw his stock rise in 2010, Kiker's fell by quite a bit. Though command has never been the southpaw's strength, his plus changeup and heavy fastball allowed him to log a 3.86 ERA with a Texas League-leading 120 strikeouts at Frisco in 2009. Unfortunately, Kiker's velocity and control both took a tumble in 2010.

Kiker, 23, issued 46 walks in 40 innings with Frisco this past season. The issue, which grew as the season progressed, culminated in Kiker walking 12 batters in one total inning over his final three appearances. The former first-round pick appeared in his final regular season game in late-July but returned during Fall Instructional League before playing winterball in Puerto Rico. Kiker got out to a strong start in Puerto Rico but has now walked 11 in 5.2 innings over his last two starts.

As a starting pitcher, Kiker's fastball now sits in the 85-88 mph range. He often works between 88-91 as a short reliever, and that's likely what Kiker will be when he returns in 2011. The upper-80s, low-90s heater is plenty for a lefty, and Kiker can flash a plus changeup with major deception when he gets on top of the pitch. His curveball remains inconsistent. If the Alabama native can throw strikes with his fastball-changeup combination, he could have a future. However, there are probably too many question marks for a team to select him on Thursday.

Marcus Lemon: The former fourth-round pick received a seven-figure bonus out of high school in 2006. He appeared to be on the right track after a promising Arizona Fall League stint last year that produced a .343/.389/.627 slash line in 72 plate appearances. Not generally known for his power, Lemon belted three doubles, two triples, and four homers.

The 22-year-old was drafted as a shortstop but doesn't have the range to play there in the majors. He now splits his time between second base and left field with the occasional game in center. And while the 5-foot-11, 173-prospect profiles as a utility player, his inability to play shortstop and .267/.325/.344 line in two seasons at Double-A means he must show more with the bat to have a big league future.

Joe Ortiz: The diminutive southpaw has gained valuable experience as a lefty specialist for La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League the last two seasons. With a 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame, Ortiz is a reliever all the way, but he has an intriguing two-pitch mix in an 88-91 mph fastball and a plus slider. Ortiz has exceptional command of his breaking ball, locating it to both sides of the plate at will.

The 20-year-old's impeccable slider command led him to a dominant campaign at Single-A Hickory this past season. He posted a 1.50 ERA over 42 innings and fanned 59 while issuing just five walks. Fellow left-handers were 8-for-47 (.170) against him with one extra-base hit and 24 strikeouts. Despite the eye-popping results, Ortiz's limited ceiling and lack of upper-level experience make him a highly questionable candidate for selection.

Chad Tracy: Tracy could serve as a useful bat off a major league bench someday, though he lacks a primary position. The Pepperdine product was initially drafted as a catcher but has played first base and left field for most of his professional career. Tracy is a dead-pull hitter with plus raw power, hitting .263/.349/.502 with 17 homers in 78 contests during his Triple-A debut in 2010.

The 25-year-old suffered an oblique injury on July 7, causing him to miss nearly half the year. While the oblique healed late in the year, Tracy eventually elected to undergo season-ending surgery to repair his nagging right shoulder. Tracy was Rule 5-eligible last season and wasn't selected. With the injuries and surgery late last season, he's likely to go unselected once again.

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