Rays Rule 5 Roundup

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The Major League Baseball Rule 5 Draft on the final day of the Winter Meetings was pretty uneventful for the Rays. They made no selections and lost two players, one in the Triple-A phase and another in the Double-A phase. Also, a former Rays Rule 5 pick was drafted by the Royals and traded to the Yankees. Let’s run through what happened.

In the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft the Boston Red Sox selected catcher Gerardo Olivares from the Rays system. Olivares is an interesting pick by the Red Sox. The then-Devil Rays signed Olivares as an 18 year old in 2007, but Olivares took two seasons to get to America, and another two seasons to get out of Rookie ball before finally making it to Short Season Ball as a 22 year old in 2011 as a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades. Olivares had a nice season with the Renegades, hitting .298 with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 18 RBI, a .355 OBP, and a .488 SLG in 28 games. According to Minor League Central, Olivares posted a nice 21.5% LD%, so his nice batting average was no fluke. Defensively Olivares was pretty darn incredible. Seven runners attempted to steal against him and six of them were thrown out for an unbelievable 86% CS%. Small sample size certainly still applies, but wow. There are two problems with Olivares: 1) he still hasn’t played full-season ball, and 2) the sample size was so small that you really don’t know what you’re getting with him. Unless the small sample size is more significant than it appears, Olivares is going to get dominated by opposing pitchers going straight from SS-A to Triple-A. Even for the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5, it doesn’t really make any sense to select a player who has never played full season ball. I don’t think the Rays are going to regret exposing Olivares to the Rule 5 Draft because there’s a negligible chance he succeeds going from Short Season Ball to Triple-A.

In the Double-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the Rays lost another player to a division rival, first baseman Matt Sweeney, who was selected by the Baltimore Orioles. Sweeney was once considered a big time prospect. In 2007, as a 19 year old third baseman at Low-A in the Angels organization, Sweeney had a monster season, hitting .260 with 29 doubles, 18 homers, 72 RBI, 7 stolen bases, a .324 OBP, and a .458 SLG in 119 games. But he missed all of 2008 due to injuries, derailing him quite a bit. But he came back in 2009 and after 4 games at Rookie ball, he turned to High-A and got right back to where he left off. He hit .299 with 17 doubles, 9 homers, 44 RBI, a .379 OBP, and a .517 SLG in 58 games. His prospect status managed to get to an ever higher level than it was before! But Sweeney got hurt in June, suffering a hip fracture, and his value shot down. At the trade deadline, the Angels included Sweeney in a deal for former Rays ace Scott Kazmir. And as soon as Sweeney arrived in the Rays organization, everything completely fell apart. He appeared in 6 games for High-A Charlotte at the tail end of 2009 after recovering from surgery and hit just .158. In 2010, he horrendous dealt with an undisclosed injury, hitting just .225 with 16 doubles, 8 homers, 41 RBI, a .299 OBP, and a .366 SLG in 80 games. And in 2011, he was even worse. He hit just .154 in 82 games at Double-A Montgomery with 11 doubles, 7 homers, 29 RBI, a .262 OBP, and a .282 SLG. They moved him to first base to try to relieve him of some stress, but that completely backfired. Sweeney is a player with nice power and some nice pure hitting ability but everything fell apart. Sweeney has nice power and good pure hitting ability, and the Orioles are hoping that with a change of scenery, some of that comes back. Sweeney turns 24 in April. It’s not over for him yet. If anything, the Rays have to be happy for Sweeney that another team is giving him one more chance. The talent is still in there somewhere, and maybe a fresh start is exactly what he needs.

Last year, the Rays selected lefty reliever Cesar Cabral in the Rule 5 after he came off a season in which he posted a 3.63 ERA, a 9.1 K/9, a 2.4 BB/9, and just a 0.1 HR/9 in 45 relief appearances in the Red Sox organization. That amounted to an unbelievable 2.33 FIP. However, he got pounded to the tune of a 5.80 ERA after being promoted from Low-A to High-A and he got pounded in spring training as well, leading the Rays to trade him to the Blue Jays, who returned him to Boston. This season, Cabral split time between High-A and Double-A and pitched well again, posting a 2.95 ERA with an 11.5 K/9, a 3.4 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 36 relief appearances and 55 IP. That amounted to another great FIP, 2.56. After another great season while playing at a higher level and not being protected by the Red Sox once again, Cabral was selected in this year’s Rule 5 Draft by the Kansas CIty Royals, who promptly shipped Cabral off to the Yankees for cash considerations. Cabral has a real chance to stink with the Yankees because of their dearth of lefty relievers (nearly every one they acquire gets hurt). Cabral, who will turn 23 in February, features a fastball in the low-90’s a nice changeup which is his best pitch, a solid slider in a fringy slurve. We’ll see him in spring training andwe’ll have to see if he makes the Yankee roster and sticks.

I think that the Rays’ inaction in this year’s Rule 5 Draft is a good sign. They are stating to the rest of baseball that they believe that they have the players and prospects to help their team win both now and in the future. Who needs someone else’s undesired when you have a farm system filled with quality players?

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