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Rays Rule 5 Draft Preview: Oscar Hernandez Set to Be No. 1 Pick

By Robbie Knopf
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The 2014 Rule 5 Draft begins at noon today, and it could have major ramifications for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays will not make a selection in the major leauge phase as their 40-man roster is full, but they have one player who looks like a sure bet to be taken by another team and others who have a chance to be selected as well.

Oscar Hernandez

It never made any sense for the Rays to protect Oscar Hernandez on their 40-man roster. Hernandez is a young catcher with upside, but he is coming off a good season–not even a great one–at the Low-A level and is nowhere near big league-ready. Nevertheless, the Arizona Diamondbacks are set to take him with the number one pick in the Rule 5 Draft according to Baseball America and that has to be a little frustrating for the Rays.

Hernandez is one of the Rays’ best catching prospects, and as we noted earlier, he has the most potential of any Rays player selected in the Rule 5 Draft since Josh Hamilton. We all remember how Hamilton turned out. However, the Rays can take solace in the fact that there is very little chance that Hernandez can stick on the D-Backs’ roster.

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Hernandez could be an excellent defensive catcher someday, but he is years from that point right now. His bat is even less developed, giving us no reason to think that that he can be even a serviceable big league backup at this point. The only teams that could possibly keep Hernandez on their roster all season are those who can carry a third catcher because one of their backstops is versatile. The lone team that immediately comes to mind is the Atlanta Braves, who have Evan Gattis, and the D-Backs certainly don’t qualify.

After Hernandez is picked, people may rip the Rays for protecting lefty Grayson Garvin ahead of him. Garvin is a former supplemental first round pick with good stuff, but he has also been extremely injury prone and will likely end up as a reliever. However, even if Hernandez has a higher ceiling than Garvin, Garvin would have been double or triple as likely to stick on the team that selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. Instead of a small chance of losing a talented player, the Rays would be facing a high probability of losing a player who has upside in his own right. Overall, that would be a worse situation.

Taylor Motter

The Rays’ other sure bet to be selected was going to be Adam Liberatore, but the Rays traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers and were able to get some value for him. That leaves Motter as the second most-likely Rays prospect to be picked.

Motter is coming off a strong season at Double-A Montgomery, combining his usual versatility and hustle with his first power as a professional. Overall, he hit to a .274/.326/.436 line with 16 homers and 15 stolen bases while playing every position other than pitcher, catcher, and first base in his 119 games. However, Motter doesn’t walk very much, managing just 34 walks in his 506 plate appearances, and that decreases the likelihood that he can sustain his power at higher levels.

Overall, I would say that there is a 20% chance that Motter will be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. He is a low-upside player with questions about his bat, and that should be enough for him to stay in the Rays’ system.

Merrill Kelly

How often do you have a pitcher who managed an ERA under 3.00 in 114 Triple-A innings be available for the Rule 5 Draft? However, Kelly was never going to be added to the Rays’ 40-man roster because they have more talented pitchers, and the team won’t be too upset if he is picked.

Kelly’s fastball stays primarily in the high-80’s, and while he does have a good changeup, his breaking ball is slurvy and not too effective. Realistically, Kelly will be a middle reliever in the major leagues, and there are arms with better stuff available. A team that thinks that Kelly can start could give him an opportunity, but I would give him a 15% chance of being taken in the Draft.

Josh Sale

He’s only here because of the Hamilton comparisons, but he was never as talented and is exceedingly unlikely to be picked. The chances of him being selected are under 1%.

Other players with remote chances of being selected are Armando Araiza (a better defensive catcher than Hernandez) and Cameron SeitzerJake Thompson also could have been somewhat interesting had he not gotten hurt in Winter Ball.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how Hernandez will do with the D-Backs and whether anyone else will be picked before the Rule 5 Draft is through. The Rays won’t be doing much drafting of their own, but it is worth noting that they could find value in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft as well. Last year, the Rays selected Enderson Franco in that part of the Draft and watched him break out to become an interesting pitching prospect. Could they find another such player this year? The Rule 5 Draft may be the most overhyped event in baseball, but there are certainly reasons for intrigue from the Rays’ perspective this season, and it will be worth following.

As you get ready for the Rule 5 Draft, check out the posts we did about the Rays’ history in the Draft from earlier today. We discussed both the players they have selected and the players they have lost, and there are several interesting names involved.

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