By R.J. Anderson //
One of those prevailing questions during any given offseason usually concerns which minor league players within a system are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. The eligibility for the draft is pretty simple. Teams have four years to add players who sign at age 19 or older (and five for those who are younger) to the 40-man roster or else risk losing them via the draft, which acts as a talent spreading equalizer. Last year alone saw the Rays add Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alexander Torres to the 40-man roster to keep them within the organization, even if that meant in the minors instead of the majors for the immediate future.
Here are the organization’s top talents who at this point would be eligible for selection:
A right-handed starting pitcher drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 draft (the very same class that produced Jennings and Evan Longoria), Cobb is currently pitching for Montgomery with a career best strikeout per nine innings rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Cobb throws a low-90s fastball with sink and a plus curveball. Combine that with his 6’1” listed height and the Tim Hudson comparisons seem inevitable if Cobb keeps pitching well. He’s a must-add if he’s still in the system.
One of the pieces of the Scott Kazmir trade, Sweeney had a solid month and a half in High-A before heading to Double-A and struggling. His seasonal line there is .196/.263/.276 which does not do the 22 year old credit. He’s still playing third base and batting left-handed and while this season looks bad, he has a history of hitting. Odds are the Rays protect him.
Another 6’1” right-handed product of the 2006 draft, Rollins qualified for last year’s Rule 5 draft and went unselected. Rollins too sits in the low 90s and generates a fair number of grounders, but unlike Cobb, he is a full-blown middle reliever in the majors. Probably won’t need protecting, but could see time in the majors next season as he was in the running for the final pen spot this year as well.
Ashley, too, is a repeat offender of being eligible. The best case scenario for him is to turn into the Rays’ version of A.J. Ellis. Dioner Navarro is likely gone after this season, but with Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso intact, the organization only needs one of Ashley and Jose Lobaton protected. My preference is Lobaton
The return on Jason Hammel went undrafted last year and probably didn’t help his stock this year either. His strikeout rates and walk totals have went the wrong way since coming over from Colorado. He’s still young – he’ll turn 23 within a week after the Rule 5 draft – but his stuff has always been questioned. He’s a guy who has to work around the zone and get ahead to be successful with a low-90s fastball and curveball. Some team might pluck him as their long reliever. If not, it’s conceivable he could help the Rays out of the pen in 2011.
23 years old and repeating High-A, Fronk is unlikely to be taken; even if he were selected, he’s not worth a 40-man spot.
Salem is even older than Fronk with a lesser history of success. He’s an organizational soldier
The Rays’ fourth round pick in 2007, Newmann didn’t pitch in the minor leagues for the club until 2009. He’s started 46 games since and his numbers have been okay. He’s a southpaw with some potential, which usually means he could be stored in a bullpen, but I’m hesitant to believe that risk isn’t worth taking when the reward is a 25 year old injury prone non-elite starting pitching prospect.
Another older player in High-A without much need for protection; he’s had a nice season, but no way he sticks on a team’s 25-man roster all season.
The speedy shortstop from Washington whom the Rays selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft hasn’t worked out. He’s not going to be selected and he’ll probably spend the next offseason shopping for a new team as a minor league free agent.
With the exception of Cobb and Sweeney, this year’s eligibility class is drab. Next year promises to heat up, though, as Matthew Moore, Nick Barnese, Alexander Colome, and Wilking Rodriguez will need to be added to the 40-man.