Rays History

Tampa Bay Rays Rule 5 Draft History: The Players Lost

By Robbie Knopf
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Earlier today, we talked about the players that the Tampa Bay Rays have selected in the Rule 5 Draft, but now we are up to the darker side of Rays Rule 5 Draft history: the players they have lost in the Draft. We all know about the Rays’ critical mistake, but there was at least one selection of a Rays prospect by another team that ended up paying major dividends for the Rays. With that, let’s look at the players that have been taken from the Rays in the Rule 5 Draft.

1997: New York Yankees draft Matt Williams

Yes, the Devil Rays managed to have a player drafted away from them before they even played their first big league game. Williams, a lefty reliever, was coming off a 2.97 ERA in 63.2 innings at High-A St. Petersburg, and that was enough for the Yankees to draft him.

Williams never did play for the Yankees, but they managed to send him to the minor leagues either because the D-Rays didn’t want him back or because of some technicality. In any event, the Yankees got their just desserts when the Milwaukee Brewers selected Williams in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft and gave him his only 11 big league appearances (with a 7.00 ERA) in 2000.

2003: Toronto Blue Jays select Talley Haines

Haines was a right-hander coming off a big season at Triple-A Durham, managing a 2.85 ERA and a 64-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 67.2 innings pitched. With numbers like that at the minor leagues’ highest level and a dominant splitter, Haines was an obvious candidate to be selected. Adam Liberatore would have been a very similar case had the Rays not traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, Haines never pitched in a major league game, with the Blue Jays sending the Rays some compensation to send him to the minor leagues and never promoting him. Sometimes great Triple-A numbers simply don’t mean that a pitcher is a viable big league arm. Talley later became a scout for the Rays.

2005: Minnesota Twins draft Jason Pridie

This selection helped the Rays immensely. The Twins returned Pridie to the Rays before the start of spring training, but the time he spent in their organization made them learn to like him and desire to acquire him. That is exactly what the Twins did in December of 2007 as Pridie was part of the return along with Delmon Young and Brendan Harris for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. It’s always annoying to lose a player in the Rule 5 Draft, but if they give the player back, you may have leverage as you negotiate a trade with the team for the player later.

The Twins drafted Pridie because he was a former top prospect who missed most of 2005 at Double-A Montgomery from a knee injury. Pridie went on to play in just 11 games for the Twins in 2008 and 2009 before the team placed him on waivers. 2011 with the New York Mets was the only year that Pridie received extended big league time, he did get into two games with the Colorado Rockies in 2014.

2006: Chicago Cubs draft Josh Hamilton (then trade him to Cincinnati Reds), Boston Red Sox draft Nick DeBarr

Obviously it turned out to be a disaster, but how can we blame the Rays for not protecting a player who had gotten into just 15 games, all at Short Season-A, the previous four years? The Rays just had extraordinarily bad luck that the Reds decided to pick Hamilton and then immediately Hamilton’s personal life clicked as well. At least the Reds made a mistake of their own when they dealt Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.

DeBarr, meanwhile, was coming off an excellent season at High-A Visalia, posting a 2.74 ERA and a 61-17 strikeout to walk ratio in 69 relief innings. However, the Red Sox did not see enough to keep him, and he could not sustain his performance once he arrived at Double-A and Triple-A. DeBarr has never played in a major league game, but he was still active in Independent ball in 2014.

2008: Milwaukee Brewers draft Eddie Morlan

This one could have been a little bit embarrassing for the Rays as they had just acquired Morlan in the aforementioned Young-Garza trade a little over a year earlier. Morlan was certainly a good pick by Milwaukee, though, because he was coming off a solid season at Double-A Montgomery, managing a 3.64 ERA and a 45-15 strikeout to walk ratio in 47 innings pitched. He also touched the mid-90’s with his fastball to go along with a promising slider.

Morlan was returned to the Rays in spring training when it was apparent that his control wasn’t big league-ready, but Milwaukee did finally get him in 2010 after the Rays released him. In an ironic twist for a player selected in the Rule 5 Draft, Morlan never made it to Triple-A, let alone the major leagues.

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2010: Houston Astros draft Aneury Rodriguez

Rodriguez was another one of these low-upside Triple-A pitchers with solid numbers and a high probability of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Acquired by the Rays in exchange for Jason Hammel in April of 2009, Rodriguez went 7-5 with a 3.71 ERA and a 100-51 strikeout to walk ratio in 19 starts, 10 relief appearances, and 123.2 innings pitched, all but 10 of which came for Triple-A Durham. He also had decent stuff, touching 93 MPH with his fastball to go along with a slider and a curveball. Rodriguez had a chance to be a decent big league starter and also had the bullpen as a fallback, so he made a lot of sense as Houston’s pick.

Rodriguez proceeded to have a somewhat decent season in 2011 for the Astros, managing a 5.27 ERA in 35 relief appearances, 8 starts, and 85.1 innings pitched. However, Rodriguez made just one start (a strong six-inning outing) for the Astros in 2012 as he spent the rest of the season in the minor leagues. Rodriguez became a minor league free agent after the season and hasn’t pitched in a big league organization since, spending 2013 in Korea. Rodriguez is a the best comparison for Merrill Kelly that we’ll see here, but he had a better repertoire and was a far more likely pick.

2012: Detroit Tigers draft Kyle Lobstein, Miami Marlins draft Braulio Lara

Lobstein, the Rays’ second round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, did put up a 4.06 ERA at Double-A Montgomery in 2012, but he had too many walks (4.3 per 9) and not enough stuff to be protected by the Rule 5 Draft. The Tigers drafted him anyway, and while he predictably was not big league ready, the Tigers traded the Rays Curt Casali to keep his rights.

Essentially, the Rays turned a pitcher that wasn’t in their plans into a catcher who played for them in 2014 and could make a bigger impact moving forward. Even though Lobstein did pitch decently at Triple-A for Detroit in 2014 and make 7 big league appearances, he’s still a fourth or fifth starter type and the Rays have no regrets losing him.

Lara, meanwhile, was a fascinating pick thanks to his fastball touching 100 MPH as a starting pitcher at High-A Charlotte in 2012. However, Lara’s control was a disaster, and he didn’t find success in 2013 or 2014 either before the Rays let him leave as a minor league free agent. Lara signed with the San Francisco Giants on a minor league deal.

Losing Josh Hamilton will haunt the Rays for a long time, but they could not have possibly known that he would be fine. On the other side of the spectrum, they did get good outcomes out of the selections of Pridie and Lobstein. This year, the Rays look like they will have another player selected–Oscar Hernandez–and he has the most upside of anyone we have listed since Hamilton. Will he be another player that the Rays kick themselves for letting go? Rays Rule 5 Draft history continues to be written, and it will be exciting to see the next turn it will take.

We will have a full Rule 5 Draft preview with everything you need to know about Hernandez and the Rays’ other eligible players in a few minutes.

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