Oakland A's MLN: Rule 5 Preview

Will the A's risk exposing Figgy?

Over the past few weeks, the Oakland A's have made a number of adjustments to their 40-man roster, designating players for assignment to make room for prospects who have to be added to the team's 40-man roster to be protected from this December's Rule 5 draft. In advance of this activity, we preview the players who could be protected from the Rule 5 draft in the upcoming weeks.

The Rule 5 Draft Rules

Any player not on a team's 40-man roster who signed his first professional contract in 2006 or earlier who was at least 19 years old at the time he signed and any player who signed his first professional contract in 2005 or earlier who was at least 18 years or younger at the time he signed is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December.

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 that player 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 40-man roster in late November. There is a minor league portion of the draft, but determining what players are exposed to 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, information that is usually kept secret by most organizations, so we won't address that part of the draft in this article.

Below we highlight some of the players who could be exposed to the Rule 5 draft this December and divide them up into three categories: likely to be protected, likely in the conversation to be protected and other names of note.

Likely To Be Protected

Chris Carter: Carter was drafted and signed by the Chicago White Sox in 2005 out of a Las Vegas area high school. He is the definition of a player who will certainly be protected from the Rule 5 draft this off-season. Arguably the A's top prospect (and certainly one of the top two), Carter has hit 67 regular season homeruns in two minor league seasons since being acquired by Oakland from the Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2008 season. The first-baseman/outfielder is one of the top power prospects in all of baseball and is expected to challenge for a spot on the A's 25-man roster at some point during the 2010 campaign.

Fautino De Los Santos: Despite being injured most of the past two seasons, De Los Santos is almost certainly going to be protected by the A's. If he isn't, then it should be taken as a sure sign that the set-backs De Los Santos has experienced from his Tommy John surgery are more serious than anyone has let on (which would be an unexpected development). Although he has never pitched above the A-ball level and he is coming off of a serious injury, De Los Santos has a premium arm that would make him attractive to a number of teams, especially teams not expected to contend who could hide De Los Santos in the bullpen for the season. The right-hander was acquired by the A's before the 2008 season from the Chicago White Sox. At the time of his acquisition, De Los Santos was considered one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in baseball. When healthy, he throws his fastball in the mid-90s and has an above-average slider.

Pedro Figueroa: Figueroa was actually eligible for the Rule 5 last season, but he was a low-profile prospect and the A's were able to sneak him through the draft without losing him. He isn't as likely to slide under the radar this season. The left-hander from the Dominican Republic has always had a good low- to mid-90s fastball, but his development through the A's system was slowed by a lack of command and trust in his stuff. A strong campaign with short-season Vancouver in 2008 translated into a breakthrough year for Figueroa in 2009, when he went 13-6 with a 3.38 ERA and had a 145 strike-outs in 152 innings for the Low-A Kane County Cougars and the High-A Stockton Ports. Although Figueroa is at least a year away from truly being major league ready, his arsenal of an above-average fastball, slider and change-up from the left-side could make him attractive to a team looking to stockpile young arms since he could probably be hidden as a seventh man in a major league bullpen relatively easily. Although the A's have a lot of good, young pitching, hard-throwing left-hander don't grow on trees, so the A's aren't likely to risk letting Figueroa be picked.

Likely In The Conversation

Graham Godfrey: Godfrey was drafted and signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006 out of the College of Charleston. Oakland acquired the right-hander before the 2008 season as part of the Marco Scutaro trade. As a prospect, Godfrey isn't as high profile as a Fautino De Los Santos or Chris Carter, but he has been a player with a good reputation around baseball since being signed above-slot by the Blue Jays in 2006 (it was reported at the time of the signing that Godfrey received a bonus commiserate with a fourth-round pick). He posted only average numbers his first season in the A's organization in 2008 (5.05 ERA in 140.2 innings, mostly for High-A Stockton), but he rebounded with a solid campaign for Double-A Midland in 2009, when he went 11-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 159.1 innings and was a Texas League Post-Season All-Star. Those high on Godfrey will point to his solid four-pitch mix and his mental make-up, which gets good marks from scouts around the league. Those who aren't as high on the right-hander will point to his low strike-out totals this season and the fact that none of his four pitches is considered a truly plus pitch. Godfrey will be 25 for much of next season and while he probably could use another season in the minor leagues, his pitching repertoire is polished enough that he could be considered by a non-contending team for a fifth starter or long reliever spot.

Even though Godfrey could generate some interest in the draft, he may not be protected by the A's if the organization feels that it is deep enough with young starting pitching already on its 40-man roster. One reason Godfrey might be protected: he profiles similarly to former A's prospect Ryan Webb (although he doesn't throw quite as hard as Webb) and Webb was protected by the A's last off-season despite having an inconsistent statistical track record. The A's moved Webb into the bullpen during the 2009 season and he eventually made the big leagues, albeit with the San Diego Padres after a mid-season trade.

Jared Lansford: Big things were expected of Lansford coming into the 2010 season. Selected by Oakland out of high school in 2005, Lansford will be eligible for the Rule 5 this year for the first time. If this draft were being held at this time last season, Lansford would have been a pretty sure bet to be protected by the A's. In addition to being a high-investment pick for Oakland (he was taken in the second round), Lansford had an outstanding season in 2008, his first as a reliever. He posted a 3.34 ERA and struck-out 94 in 89 innings for Stockton and Midland. Lansford was then sent to the Arizona Fall League and was a non-roster invitee to major league spring training. He was assigned to Triple-A Sacramento to start the 2009 season and struggled out of the gate. In 11 innings with the River Cats, Lansford walked 12, struck-out only one and generally looked lost with his mechanics. He was sent to Arizona to work with A's pitching rehab coordinator (and former Stockton Ports' pitching coach) Garvin Alston and, after some work in the desert, was sent to Midland, where he spent the rest of the season. Lansford had an odd year with Midland. He saved 12 games for the Rockhounds, allowed less than a hit per inning and posted an excellent ERA of 2.36, but he also walked 20 and struck-out only 29. He was so erratic at the end of the season that he was pulled from his closer's role, but he did regain it at the tail-end of the Rockhounds' post-season run and threw some solid innings in pressure situations.

Lansford comes from a high-profile baseball family and has been heavily scouted throughout his high school and professional careers. He is a groundball pitcher with a low-90s fastball who projects to be a solid reliever in the major leagues. However, he has struggled with his mechanics at various points during his career, including most obviously during the 2009 season. Those recent struggles might be enough to keep Lansford protected even if the A's don't add him to the 40-man roster, but it would still be a risk to expose him to the draft. The A's have tremendous bullpen depth at the major league and minor league levels, but many other teams are looking for good relief arms. If the A's don't protect Lansford, it will probably be more of a reflection of the organization's depth at his position than their feelings on his future with the club.

Anthony Recker: Recker was eligible for the Rule 5 draft last season but went unclaimed. After a solid campaign for Midland and Sacramento in 2009, Recker might be in a better position to be claimed if he isn't protected by the A's. In 94 games, Recker batted .267 with 15 homers and an 804 OPS, solid offensive numbers for a backstop. What makes those numbers more impressive are the facts that Recker got off to a very slow start with Sacramento at the plate and he was acting as a back-up catcher for much of the season, meaning that his at-bats weren't as regular as they could have been. Being a back-up catcher could work two ways for Recker when it comes to the Rule 5 draft. On the one hand, teams might not be interested in a player who wasn't even the primary catcher for another organization's Triple-A club. On the other hand, if Recker is selected, he will be taken by a team looking for someone to fill the role of back-up catcher, more than likely. That he has proven he can handle that role may be a plus for teams looking for an economical solution for their back-up catcher role.

Since being drafted by the A's in 2005, Recker has had a good track record at the plate, collecting double-digit homeruns in each of his four full professional seasons. He began his career with the reputation for being a below-average defensive catcher, but he has improved his work behind the plate by a considerable amount and has had good success working with some of the A's most talented young arms. Despite this good resume, Recker might be a long-shot to be protected by Oakland this season. Given how many young players the team has to protect, the A's may not feel like they have the luxury of carrying three catchers on their 40-man roster (especially given that the two currently on the roster are young catchers). Oakland has top prospect Josh Donaldson and Mexican League import Joel Galarraga available to them in Triple-A next season should anything happen to A's catchers Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell and neither Donaldson nor Galarraga need to be protected from the draft this season. The catcher position is one of the deepest in the A's chain right now.

Corey Wimberly: Wimberly was acquired by the A's for Matt Murton before the start of 2009 spring training. The utilityman made a strong impression with the A's coaching staff that spring with his speed on the base-paths, his energy on the field and his versatility with the glove. He was sent to Midland to start the season and got off to a great start before a fractured wrist sidelined him for several months. He never quite recaptured his pre-injury form when he returned to Midland, but he still finished the season with a .296 average and 21 stolen bases in 70 games.

Wimberly is an interesting candidate for the Rule 5 draft. He projects as a bench player in the major leagues, but his skill-set is one that could bring immediate value to a major league team (rather than being more of a project pick). That he can play multiple positions and has speed make Wimberly an ideal 25th man, in many ways. The A's have a player like this already on their 40-man roster in Eric Patterson, but Wimberly can play shortstop, unlike Patterson, so the A's may consider carrying both. If they don't add Wimberly, his name will be one to watch on draft day.

Other Names of Note

Jason Fernandez: Fernandez is a favorite of many members of the A's coaching staff and he has intriguing stuff, but his stats were unimpressive enough with Midland this season that the A's can likely get away with not protecting him.

Jermaine Mitchell: Mitchell is still one of the top athletes in the A's system and was considered a top prospect as recently as early 2008. However, two sub-par seasons with Stockton make it unlikely that he would be another team's major league Rule 5 target.

Jamie Richmond: Acquired in the Mark Kotsay deal before the start of the 2008 season, Richmond has an impressive minor league track record (he walked only eight and struck-out 67 in 76.2 innings this season, for example), but he has yet to pitch above High-A and doesn't have the big fastball or unusual delivery that teams usually look for when taking a flier on an A-ball level pitcher in the Rule 5 draft.

Jose Guzman: Guzman was signed by the A's out of the Dominican Republic in 2005. He had an outstanding 2008 season, making the post-season Northwest League All-Star team by saving 15 games for Vancouver. His 2009 got off to a slow start when he posted a 7.00 ERA in 10 pre-All-Star appearances for Low-A Kane County before being sidelined by injury. He returned after the All-Star break with Vancouver and posted a 2.61 ERA before returning to Kane County, where he had a 4.24 ERA in 23.1 innings over the final five weeks of the season. Guzman has a strong arm and has had a good minor league track record, but he hasn't pitched much above Low-A, making him an unlikely Rule 5 target.

Alexander Valdez: Valdez was actually set to be a minor league free agent this off-season, but he re-upped with Oakland. The switch-hitter posted a .273 average and a 747 OPS in 111 games with Stockton and Midland and is off to a terrific start with Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. A big winter season could make Valdez a player of interest for some teams, but the fact that Oakland could have already added him to the 40-man roster and instead signed him to a minor league deal is a decent indication that he isn't a top candidate to be protected this winter. This was his first season playing above the High-A level.

Yung-Chi Chen: Chen was claimed off of waivers by the A's before the 2009 season, but he was designated for assignment before the start of the season. He cleared waivers with Oakland and remained with the organization all season. Chen hit well, batting .306 with a 784 OPS in 52 games with three A's affiliates, but he was hurt much of the year. Injuries have been a problem for Chen throughout his career and are a likely deterrent for any team looking to select a player on draft day.

Jeff Baisley: Baisley was on the A's 40-man roster all of last off-season and through spring training before being designed for assignment at the start of the regular season. He struggled with the River Cats in 2009 (695 OPS) and didn't receive consistent playing time, so he isn't likely to be protected by the A's despite the fact that he plays a position (third base) where the team isn't particularly deep. Working in Baisley's favor going into the Rule 5 draft are the facts that he plays solid defense at third, has some major league experience, hits left-handed pitching well (1025 OPS in 2009), had a solid second-half of the season (782 OPS) and hit .311 with a 909 OPS on the road.

Franklin Hernandez: Hernandez was considered an up-and-coming prospect going into the 2009 season, but he posted only a 612 OPS in 121 games with Kane County. He hasn't played above the Low-A level yet in his career and isn't likely to be selected this winter.

Steve Kleen: Kleen hit .312 with an 856 OPS for Kane County and Stockton this season after missing all of the 2008 campaign with a shoulder injury. He was old for his level (26), however, and doesn't likely have the profile around the league to be selected in the major league portion.

Mike Madsen: Madsen was a Futures Game participant in 2007, but arm injuries the past two seasons and his age (he'll be 27 later this month) make him an unlikely candidate to be protected, despite his talent.

Jason Ray: Ray was one of the A's more promising pitching prospects as recently as 2007, but arm injuries cost him most of 2007 and all of the 2008 seasons. He pitched well in 2009 (2.25 ERA in 44 innings for Kane County and Stockton), but he is 25 and hasn't pitched above High-A, so he isn't a likely candidate to be selected in the major league portion of the draft.

Matt Carson: Carson was recently dropped from the A's 40-man roster after being added late in the 2009 season and making his major league debut with the team in September. He was re-signed by Oakland to a minor league deal and is likely to compete for a spot on the major league roster next spring. However, given that the A's have already removed him from the 40-man roster, they aren't likely to add him back onto it before the draft.

Yusuf Carter: Carter was taken by the A's in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft last off-season (he had been with the Cubs) and he played well during his first year in the A's chain, batting .318 with an 867 OPS for Stockton and making the Cal League Mid-Season All-Star team. He also made the switch from outfielder to catcher with mixed results. The A's are deep with catchers and Carter unfortunately had to miss the A's Instructional League with a broken finger, so he isn't likely to be protected this winter.

Scott Deal: Deal was selected out of high school in the same draft class as Jared Lansford. He has pitched well since being drafted, but has yet to progress above the Low-A level, making it unlikely that he will be protected in this draft.

Hector Garcia: Garcia, a native of the Dominican Republic, has a lot of talent in his right arm, but it has yet to translate to good numbers. He has only pitched six innings above the short-season levels in his career, so he isn't a likely target by teams in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft despite his good arm.

Christian Vitters: There were high expectations for Vitters when he was drafted in the 10th round by the A's in 2006, but he has yet to post an OPS above 700 for a full-season affiliate.

Toddric Johnson: Johnson posted only a 707 OPS for Stockton in 2009 after having an 807 OPS for Kane County in 2008. A corner outfielder, he doesn't have enough power to draw a major league team's attention for this draft.

Mike Affronti: Affronti has been a valuable utilityman defensively since being drafted, but he posted only a 619 OPS in 66 games for Stockton and Midland this season, so he isn't likely to be selected in the big league portion of the draft.

Derrick Gordon: Gordon had a good season for Stockton (3.78 ERA and 90 strike-outs in 85.2 innings), but he is 26 and has only one inning of experience above A-ball and doesn't have a big fastball, so he isn't a prime candidate for selection.

Larry Cobb: Cobb spent some time at Triple-A this season, but he finished the year on the suspended list after testing positive for a banned substance.

Gabriel Ortiz: Ortiz spent time with three A's affiliates this season, but only appeared in 46 games. He posted a 643 OPS and is not likely to be selected despite being a solid defensive catcher.

Josue Selenes: Selenes was a minor league Rule 5 pick by the A's last season and he pitched well in 2009, posting a 3.34 ERA in 56.2 innings. He's left-handed and has decent stuff, but he has limited experience above the Low-A level and is likely a safe bet not to be selected in the major league portion.

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