Rangers 2011 Rule 5 Preview

Prior to the deadline date for teams to protect prospects on their 40-man roster, Lone Star Dugout looked at Rangers prospects who could be added or selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The draft is in Dallas on Thursday morning, and we provide a reminder of the eligible Rangers and their scouting reports.

NOTE (12/8): The Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday morning at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas. This story was initially written before the Rangers protected a handful of prospects on the 40-man roster. The protected players are––RHP Jake Brigham, RHP Roman Mendez, RHP Justin Miller, LHP Martin Perez, RHP Neil Ramirez, RHP Matt West. All other players listed are eligible to be selected on Thursday.

The Rule 5 Draft Rules

The rules for eligibility are as follows:

Any player not on a team's 40-man roster who:

A) signed his first professional contract in 2008 or earlier and was at least 19 years old at the time he signed. B) any player who signed his first professional contract in 2007 or earlier and was at least 18 years or younger at the time he signed.

Teams select in draft order until all teams have declined to select players. Once a player is selected from an organization, that organization can pull back another eligible player to be protected. Teams that select a player must keep him on their 25-man roster for the entire regular season or offer him back to his original team. Teams generally set their rosters in advance of the draft.

There is a minor league portion of the draft, but determining what players are exposed in that draft is tricky because it involves knowing whether players have been placed on a Triple-A or Double-A roster during the post-season. That information is usually kept secret by most organizations, so we won't address that part of the draft in this article.

Thanks to Melissa Lockard of OaklandClubhouse.com for taking the time for that rules rundown. They can be tricky, and they go even deeper in terms of players getting injured during their Rule 5 season. Example: Mason Tobin with the Rangers in 2011.

This year's Rule 5 Draft will be held on the morning of December 8 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas.

The 40-man roster lock date for the Rule 5 Draft is Friday, November 18. With players declaring free agency and others being outrighted to the minor leagues in recent weeks, the Rangers currently have 31 players on the 40-man roster.

Although there are nine open spots on the roster, the Rangers certainly intend to add more major league talent at some point this offseason. The organization has a strong Rule 5 eligible class this year, and there are some attractive candidates that could be left off the roster due to space restraints. Lone Star Dugout runs down some of the eligible players.

The Near Locks

Roman Mendez, RHP – Mendez has never pitched above Low-A, but he could move quickly during the next two seasons. The 21-year-old works at 92-96 mph and touched up to 99 in spring training. His 80-83 mph slider is a future plus pitch, and the still-developing changeup improved this past season. If Mendez ultimately can't stick as a starting pitcher, he has the stuff to become a lethal late-inning reliever. Despite his lack of upper-level experience, pitching prospects of his caliber (raw talent and ceiling) are rarely left unprotected, and the Rangers aren't likely to take their chances by leaving him off the roster.

Martin Perez, LHP – Perez's addition doesn't really need explaining. He remains the top pitching prospect in the Rangers' organization, and he finished the '11 campaign in Triple-A despite being only 20 years old. He flashes three plus pitches at times, including a 90-96 mph fastball and a curveball that became more of a swing-and-miss offering this past season. The Venezuela native still needs more seasoning in terms of refining his fastball command and making his secondary stuff more consistent. He'll likely play most––if not all––of the '12 season back in Triple-A, but he is a 100 percent lock to join the club's 40-man roster.

Ramirez shows three plus pitches.
Neil Ramirez, RHP – Ramirez is another young hurler who spent much of the '11 season in Triple-A, and he––like Perez––is an absolute lock for the 40-man roster. The former first-round pick busted back on to the scene during a major league spring training game this past March, when he flashed 98 mph heat and a hammer curveball in a relief appearance. Through Ramirez battled some shoulder fatigue that limited his innings during the regular season, he missed Triple-A bats with three pitches (91-96 mph fastball, plus curveball, deceptive mid-80s changeup) when at full strength. He could contribute to the Rangers' big league club at some point next season.

Matt West, RHP – The former second-round pick appeared to be on his last legs as a position player in spring training, having been passed on the depth chart by prospects like Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva. But he touched 94 mph in an experimental bullpen session at the end of camp and never looked back from there. Armed with two wipeout pitches in his 95-97 mph fastball and low-80s slider, he fills up the strike zone (35 strikeouts, one walk in 27 innings this season) and should fly through the system beginning next year. West still must refine his within-the-zone fastball command, but he is polished despite his lack of experience on the mound and has future closer potential.

Strong Candidates

These players may not be locks for protection, but they have a legitimate shot of being added to the 40-man. If the Rangers aren't able to put them on the roster, their mixture of stuff and polish will be attractive to other teams. One or two players from this group will likely have to be left off the roster.

Jake Brigham, RHP – Raw stuff has never been Brigham's issue, as his arm remains one of the best in the system. The 23-year-old had an inconsistent Double-A debut campaign but appeared to settle into the full-time bullpen role during the second half. He posted a 2.35 ERA while fanning 45 in his final 38.1 innings. As a reliever, Brigham's fastball sat at 93-97 mph, and both his power curveball and upper-80s slider flashed plus. He may not be a finished product, but his late-innings ceiling gives him a good case for addition.

Ryan Kelly, RHP – Kelly is currently scuffling in the Fall League, but it's more likely a product of fatigue, as his velocity is down and he pitched 82 innings during the regular season. The 24-year-old righty works at 91-96 mph fastball and his 81-84 mph breaking ball can miss bats. He had more success keeping hitters off-balance in the second half after introducing an upper-80s cutter to his arsenal. While Kelly's results didn't match the stuff early in the season, he improved (2.95 ERA, 29 hits in 36.2 ip in the second half) after adding the cutter.

Miller is an under-the-radar arm.
Justin Miller, RHP – One of the top breakout pitchers in the Rangers' organization this year, Miller posted a 1.81 ERA while allowing only 46 hits and striking out 77 in 69.2 innings at Double-A. His command took a massive step forward while his velocity and secondary stuff also improved. The 6-foot-3 righty works at 93-96 mph and touches even higher––up to 98-99 this season––with improved mechanics and decent command. He also uses a solid-average 83-87 mph slider that flashes plus and the occasional changeup.

Johan Yan, RHP – In his second season as a sidearmer, the 23-year-old progressed across the board in terms of velocity, command, and secondary stuff. Yan's long arms lead to a highly deceptive (and unorthodox) delivery, and he features a heavy 87-90 mph sinker. He also mixes in a unique mid-70s breaking ball and a changeup. After allowing just one earned run in 26.2 Double-A innings, he has pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. Both Miller and Yan should be major league ready at some point in 2012, making them attractive (and relatively safe picks) to other clubs if left off the roster.

Long Shots

These players are unlikely to be selected for the Rangers' 40-man roster and/or in the Rule 5 Draft. But in the interest of covering all bases...

Mike Bianucci, OF – Perhaps the strongest player in the organization, the 25-year-old slugged 30 home runs in 133 games at Double-A Frisco this season. Despite the strength, he lacks major bat speed and hit just .243. Bianucci is also a left field/DH-type, making him unlikely to be selected.

Richard Bleier, LHP – Bleier's overall results in Frisco this season were disappointing, but he was much better after moving to the bullpen late in the season, posting a 2.91 ERA with 24 strikeouts and six walks in 34 innings. The left-hander began throwing his sinker in the low-90s, even bumping 93 mph on occasion. A full-time relief role may be in store for him next season.

Joey Butler, OF – The 25-year-old made improvements to his approach this season and broke out, hitting .322/.388/.493 at Triple-A Round Rock. Though he made progress, his middling bat speed and subsequent 29 percent strikeout rate work against his chances of getting selected. Butler, who is a fringy defender at the corner spots, should at least get a cup of coffee someday, but it likely won't come via this year's Rule 5 Draft.

Jose Felix, C – An excellent defensive catcher, Felix is coming off a particularly disappointing campaign with the bat in which he hit .228/.263/.297 in Double-A. He profiles as a potential major league backup due to his glove and all-around work behind the plate, but teams almost always prefer veterans to fill that role, making Felix a long shot for Rule 5 selection.

Joe Ortiz, LHP – The 5-foot-7 lefty is highly unlikely to be added, but a team looking for a left-handed specialist could take a chance on him. Working from a low-three quarters arm slot, Ortiz throws his fastball at 89-92 mph––touching 93 at times this past season––with a plus slider that he commands well to both sides of the plate. Though he has no experience above High-A and a limited ceiling, he has advanced command of two solid pitches and a good track record against left-handed hitters. Ortiz also works as a lefty specialist in Venezuela for La Guaira.

Carlos Pimentel, RHP – Although Pimentel's stuff improved in 2011––his fastball began sitting in the low-90s with a little more movement––his pitchability appeared to take a step back. He was tough to hit (128 hits in 142.1 innings) but also led the Texas League with 80 walks issued. Pimentel is still only 21 and has three usable (but not standout) secondary pitches in his slider, curveball, and changeup. He'll almost certainly go undrafted and begin next season back in Double-A.

Is Telis too far away to be picked?
Tomas Telis, C – The switch-hitting Telis is a legitimate prospect with lots of offensive talent, but his lack of upper-level experience (never played above Low-A) and position (raw defensively behind the plate) make him a safe bet to be left unprotected and go undrafted. The 20-year-old hit .297/.329/.430 at Hickory this season, and he should play at Myrtle Beach next year.

Chad Tracy, 1B – Tracy topped the Pacific Coast League with 109 RBI this season while pounding out 32 doubles and 26 home runs, but he's also a dead-pull hitter and a below-average defender at first base. The 26-year-old could get a major league look as a bench bat someday, but he's unlikely to be added to the 40-man roster or get selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Tyler Tufts, RHP – A strike-throwing upper-80s righty when he was selected as a 32nd round pick in '08, Tufts still fills up the strike zone (eight walks in 62.1 innings this year) but now works in the low-to-mid 90s. His fastball doesn't have quite the sinking action it once did, but he still commands it well. His slider is a fringy pitch but flashed better and improved in '11. Though the 24-year-old isn't likely to be added, he is a dark horse upper-level relief arm to watch.

Other Eligible Players

1B/OF Jared Bolden, RHP Wilfredo Boscan, RHP Leonel de los Santos, RHP Ovispo de los Santos, INF Edwin Garcia, 1B Jhonny Gomez, RHP Kenny Gomez, OF Jonathan Greene, LHP Geuris Grullon, LHP Juan Grullon, RHP Ben Henry, INF Mitch Hilligoss, RHP Trevor Hurley, INF Andres James, LHP Kasey Kiker, RHP Carlos Melo, LHP Tim Murphy, LHP Yoon-Hee Nam, OF Guillermo Pimentel, 2B Alejandro Selen, INF Davis Stoneburner, LHP Ben Snyder, LHP Corey Young, C Zach Zaneski.

Pitchers Ovispo de los Santos and Tim Murphy could have been strong candidates if they'd been healthy. De los Santos is a right-handed reliever with a fastball that reached 100 mph during the 2010 campaign. Murphy, a lefty reliever, pitched well with good stuff and deception at Double-A Frisco in '10. But both hurlers missed the entire 2011 season with injuries.

Although Carlos Melo flashed consistent mid-to-upper 90s velocity at the recent fall instructional league, he did so with control issues and walked 57 batters (with 58 strikeouts) in 42.2 innings at the short-season and Single-A levels this season. He'll almost certainly be left off the 40-man, and he doesn't have a shot of getting selected in the Rule 5 until his results improve. However, the sudden extreme spike in velocity has put him back on the organization's prospect radar.

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