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Rule 5 Draft: Rays Lose Oscar Hernandez, Get Luis Urena, Mikey O’Brien

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As expected, the Arizona Diamondbacks made Tampa Bay Rays catching prospect Oscar Hernandez the number one overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft. Hernandez has considerable potential, particularly defensively, and has a chance to be a strong starting catcher in the big leagues someday. However, it is difficult to believe that he can go straight from Low-A to being a serviceable big league catcher.

Hernandez features excellent arm strength and strong receiving abilities for his age, but he needs continued refinement to be a big league catcher. He needs additional work on the accuracy of his throws, his footwork, and blocking balls in the dirt, and it could be two or three years before he is truly big league-ready defensively.

At the plate, meanwhile, Hernandez was closer to decent than excellent even at the Low-A level, hitting to a .249/.301/.401 line with poor plate discipline. He has some bat speed and raw power, but there is no reason to think that he can hold his own against big league pitching at all. If Hernandez can’t hit and also needs work defensively, can Arizona truly justify keeping him on their 25-man roster all year?

The Rays were fine with letting Oscar Hernandez be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft because the chances are exceedingly low that he can be a usable big league player any time soon. The D-Backs don’t have much to lose selecting Hernandez, but it would take a miraculous sequence of events for this pick to amount to anything for them.

Hernandez was the only player the Rays lost in either the major league or the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, but they did pick two players themselves in the latter portion.

Luis Urena, who turned 22 in August, spent his first season as a pitcher in 2014 after the Pittsburgh Pirates had signed him out of the Dominican Republic as an outfielder in 2009. He acclimated relatively well to the mound, managing a 5.25 ERA but an 11-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 innings at Short Season-A. Best of all, he apparently touched 94 MPH with his fastball. The Rays will have to get him some secondary pitches, but he looks like a project worth taking on.

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Mikey O’Brien, meanwhile, is a right-handed pitcher who will turn 25 in March. O’Brien was originally drafted by the New York Yankees in 2008, but he was a minor league Rule 5 pick by the Cincinnati Reds last year and signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a minor free agent this offseason before the Rays picked him. O’Brien has a solid Double-A resume, managing a 4.07 ERA and a 216-111 strikeout to walk ratio in 49 starts, 11 relief appearances, and 278.1 innings pitched. He finally made his first 7 Triple-A appearances in the Reds system in 2014, although he did not particularly impress.

O’Brien features good pitchability and a decent arsenal as he throws a fastball around 90 MPH to go along with a solid curveball and a halfway-decent changeup. He has struggled mightily with lefty batters basically his entire career, giving him the upside of a middle reliever, but even that would impressive for a minor league Rule 5 pick. The Rays will also try to refine his changeup and help him take off. At worst, O’Brien will give the Rays some minor league pitching depth, but he does have some potential and it will be interesting to see what he can do.

It has to nerve-wracking to have one of your impressive prospects be selected by another team in the Rule 5 Draft, but if Oscar Hernandez is returned as expected, the Draft will turn out to be a positive experience for the Rays. Luis Urena and Mikey O’Brien represent pitchers with some upside, and the Rays will hope to make their selections look like steals when we evaluate them years down the line.

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