After days of wheeling and dealing at Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings, general managers and scouting directors will cap the week with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, Dec. 11.

Following the World Series, every team faced a late-November deadline to set their respective 40-man rosters so as to identify the prospects left unprotected for the December draft.

In a nutshell, minor league players become eligible for the draft when they reach their fourth of fifth draft since beginning their professional careers, depending on their age before signing. A player can only avoid becoming eligible for the draft by being added to his team’s 40-man roster before the aforementioned deadline.

Only teams with an available 40-man roster spot are eligible to participate in the event. On top of that, a team must pay $50,000 to claim a player in the draft and then keep him on the major league roster (25-man roster) for the entire season.

Therefore, the goal for teams with the Rule 5 draft is to find that one potential diamond in the rough.

In the context of the draft, that usually means finding a guy with one big league-worthy tool, whether it be a power arm with (at least) a plus fastball, a plus defender at an up-the-middle position, players with near-elite speed and a strong track record stealing bases, power-hitting corner players or, of course, left-handed specialists.

Last year’s draft resulted in three players spending the season in the major leagues: catcher Adrian Nieto (White Sox), left-hander Wei-Chung Wang (Brewers) and right-hander Tommy Kahnle (Rockies).

Here’s a look at some of the top candidates to be selected in this week’s Rule 5 draft, as well as ones to follow closely in the coming season.


Names to Know

Cody Martin, RHP, Atlanta Braves

2014 Stats (AAA): 27 G/26 GS, 156 IP, 3.52 ERA, 1.327 WHIP, .254 BAA (17 HR), 3.2 BB/9, 8.2 K/9

Cody Martin is one of the few notable pitching prospects available in this year’s Rule 5 draft, as he likely would have reached the major leagues in 2014 if not for the Braves’ surplus of starting pitching.

A seventh-round pick in 2011, Martin owns a 3.07 ERA over 433.1 minor league innings, and it would likely sit below 3.00 if not for a career-worst 3.52 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett last season. Other than that, the 25-year-old right-hander continued to miss bats at a high rate (8.2 K/9) in the International League and even lowered his walk rate while logging a career-high 156 innings.

Though his track record is undeniably impressive, Martin has never profiled as anything better than a No. 4 or 5 starter due to his lack of a plus pitch; he has a deep arsenal of four pitches and knows how to change speeds, but none of them are going to be standout offerings at the highest level. On top of that, Martin’s tendencies as a fly-ball pitcher caught up to him last season in Triple-A, as he allowed a career-worst 17 home runs (1.0 home runs per nine innings) as well as a .726 opponents’ OPS.

However, Martin should still appeal to teams looking for a cheap back-end starter headed into spring training. Yes, there are concerns about whether his stuff will translate in The Show, but the right-hander has done his part by checking all of the boxes in the high minors.  


Delino DeShields, OF, Houston Astros

2014 Stats (AA): 114 G, 507 PA, .236/.346/.360, 27 XBH (11 HR), 54 SB (14 CS), 12.0 BB%, 22.1 K%

A first-round draft pick back in 2010, DeShields is arguably the most intriguing Rule 5-eligible player this year thanks to his combination of power, speed and his ability to play two up-the-middle positions.

The 22-year-old put up huge numbers in 2012 between both Class-A levels (mostly Low-A), batting .287/.389/.428 with 44 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 101 stolen bases in 135 games, and he followed it up with a career-best .873 OPS at High-A Lancaster in 2013.

This past season saw DeShields bat .236/.346/.360 with 27 extra-base hits through 114 games in his first taste of the Double-A level, though a broken cheekbone he suffered in late April as a result of an errant pitch might have contributed to his underwhelming production. Still, the second baseman-turned-center fielder’s speed translated favorably at the higher level, as he ranked second in the Texas League with 54 stolen bases.

Speed alone could get DeShields popped in the Rule 5 draft later this week, and he might be particularly attractive to teams that believe the once highly regarded prospect still has some upside—which he does.


Taylor Featherston, SS, Colorado Rockies

2014 Stats (AA): 127 G, 550 PA, .260/.322/.439, 53 XBH (16 HR), 14 SB, 6.9% BB%, 20.7% K%

A fifth-round draft pick out of Texas Christian in 2011, Featherston has spent the last four seasons moving at a level-per-year pace through the Rockies system, and he’s quietly posted some impressive numbers along the way.

Coming off of a career-best offensive campaign in 2013 playing in the hitter-friendly High-A California League, Featherston, 25, proved his power was for real this year at Double-A Tulsa by setting career highs in doubles (33) and home runs (14) while once again achieving double digits in stolen bases (14). Plus, Featherston lowered his strikeout rate from the previous year by nearly nine percent, and he did so without sacrificing any power.

Featherston would likely be used as a utility infielder if selected in the Rule 5 draft, as he’s logged significant time at shortstop (113 games), second (242 games) and third base (18 games) over four minor league seasons. In general, Featherston is a sound defender with a solid glove, average range and above-average arm strength, and his tools tend to play up thanks to his strong instincts.


Reymin Guduan, LHP, Houston Astros

2014 Stats (Rk): 13 G/9 GS, 44.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, .286 BAA, 5.5 BB/9, 11.8 K/9

Reymin Guduan turns 23 next March and lacks significant experience above the rookie level, but he’s a 6’4” left-hander with a legitimate upper-90s fastball and a track record of missing bats.

Guduan spent 2014 in the Appalachian League where he posted a 4.47 ERA in 44.1 innings, though his FIP of 3.50 highlights how he suffered from bad luck (like opposing hitters’ .402 batting average on balls in play). Meanwhile, the left-hander continued to miss bats at a high rate as he struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings (K/9), which actually lowered his career rate to an 11.0 K/9.

Houston promoted Guduan from the Gulf Coast League to Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2013 for one appearance out of bullpen. He walked three batters and surrendered a run, but Guduan allowed only one hit over 2.1 innings and struck out four.

The Astros remain intent on developing Guduan as a starting pitcher, but his effectiveness against left-handed batters, albeit in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, could be worth the gamble for some teams.

Guduan’s fastball-slider combination screams late-inning potential, but his control is still all over the place. Therefore, any team that selects him will likely limit him to a defined bullpen role similar to how the Brewers handled 2013 Rule 5 selection Wei-Chung Wang, who made an unprecedented jump from the Gulf Coast League to the major leagues.



More Intriguing Rule 5 Prospects

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves

2014 Stats (AA): 27 G/19 GS, 71.1 IP, 5.55 ERA, 1.472 WHIP, .289 BAA, 3.3 BB/9, 6.3 K/9

Graham, 24, simply hasn’t been the same after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-May of 2013, as it cost him velocity and sinking action on his fastball. However, the right-hander, who was officially moved to the bullpen late in the 2014 season at Double-A Mississippi, still has the potential to carve out a role in the Braves bullpen if he’s able to return to his 2012 form.


Breyvic Valera, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

2014 Stats (A+/AA): 132 G, 570 PA, .313/.361/.367, 163 H, 22 XBH, 17 SB (15 CS), 7.0 BB%, 6.1 K%

Valera solidified his prospect stock with a quietly impressive 2014 season between the High- and Double-A levels, as the athletic switch-hitter combined to bat .313/.361/367 with 17 stolen bases and more walks (40) than strikeouts (35).

Since he’s still realistically at least a year away from holding a role in the major leagues, the Cardinals opted not to add Valera to the 40-man roster last month, making him eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.


Matt Skole, 1B, Washington Nationals

2014 Stats (AA): 132 G, 544 PA, .241/.352/.399, 44 XBH (14 HR), 68 RBI, 14.3 BB%, 23.3 K%

The Nats‘ fifth-round selection from the 2011 draft, Skole slashed .291/.426/.559 with 27 homers and 104 RBI in 119 games between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac in 2012, but he missed nearly all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Fully healthy for 2014, Skole, 25, spent the entire season at Double-A Harrisburg where he batted .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 29 doubles in 132 games.

Prior to his injury, Skole proved to be an intriguing Three True Outcome prospect thanks to his left-handed power and patient approach at the plate. So, it’s not crazy to think a team that believes he might return to his 2012 form could take a flier on him in the Rule 5 draft.


Steve Baron, C, Seattle Mariners

2014 Stats (A+/AA): 60 G, 235 PA, .261/.319/.360, 17 XBH, 29 RBI, 7.2 BB%, 16.6 K%

Baron, a first-round draft pick out of high school in 2009, stands out for his superb defense behind the plate, as his excellent catch-and-throw skills and plus-plus arm strength have helped him throw out 46 percent of attempted base stealers over six seasons in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old will never offer much offensively—he’s a career .221/.268/.335 hitter in 1,589 plate appearances—though he did take a step forward in 2014 with a .261/.319/.360 batting line in 235 plate appearances and reached Double-A for the first time in his career.


Rafael De Paula, RHP, San Diego Padres

2014 Stats (A+): 28 G/25 GS, 131.2 IP, 4.92 ERA, 1.443 WHIP, .265 BAA (12 HR), 3.8 BB/9, 9.9 K/9

Acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees in the Chase Headley deal, De Paula, 23, posted a 4.92 ERA and 145/55 K/BB ratio over 131.2 innings this season between High-A Tampa and High-A Lake Elsinore. The 6’2” right-hander has a big-time fastball that registers in the mid- to upper-90s, but he’s struggled with his control at times and seems destined for a long-term bullpen role.


Former First-Rounders

Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels

The 2010 first-round pick has combined for a .222/.286/.312 batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances at Double-A Arkansas over the last two seasons, and he officially stopped switch hitting along the way. Sadly, the 22-year-old increasingly looks like a lost cause on both sides of the ball, but the Angels will give him one more season to bounce back before moving him to the mound.


Drew Vettleson, OF, Washington Nationals

The Rays drafted Vettleson with the No. 42 overall pick in 2010, envisioning him as a power/speed right fielder at maturity. However, the 23-year-old never developed as expected and amassed only 26 home runs and 45 steals in 314 games over three seasons in the Rays system, which prompted the club to trade him to Washington before the 2014 season. Vettleson held his own with a .715 OPS and 27 extra-base hits over 83 games at Double-A Harrisburg, though injuries limited him to only 83 games.


Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers

The No. 15 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bradley began last season back at High-A Brevard County after back-to-back dismal performances at the level in 2012 and 2013. The 24-year-old left-hander finally enjoyed some success in his third tour of the Florida State League, posting a 2.98 ERA in 60.1 innings, and ended up spending the final three months of the season at Double-A Huntsville. However, Bradley struggled in the Southern League with a 4.55 ERA in 87 innings, while opposing hitters raked against him at a .307/.377/.472 clip.

Bradley’s greatest strength is his ability to neutralize left-handed batters, as they collectively batted .196/.266/.238 against him last season and struck out 31.7 percent of the time in 158 plate appearances. If he’s popped in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, it’ll likely be for his potential in a specialized bullpen role.


Jared Mitchell, OF, Chicago White Sox

Now 26, Mitchell was the South Siders’ first-round draft pick back in 2009 out of LSU, and he seemed destined to make a quick run through the minor leagues before an ankle injury during the spring of 2010 derailed his career. He enjoyed arguably his best minor league campaign in 2014, as he batted .256/.362/.444 with 19 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 515 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A. However, Mitchell also struck out 151 times (29.3 percent) on the year, including at a 33 percent whiff rate in Triple-A, which led to the White Sox removing him from the 40-man roster last month. 

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