There are three great things about Spring Training games. First and foremost, it's actual professional baseball players playing actual baseball. Nevermind that the games don't count. Unless you get the Caribbean Series on cable, this is the first chance to watch or hear baseball in four long months. Also, there are those "I can't believe that guy is still in organized ball" moments. (Jose Valentin and Denny Stark inspired a couple of these this year.)
Finally, it's the season for getting acquainted with the picks from the Rule 5 Draft -- players left unprotected on 40-man rosters and then claimed during the annual Winter Meetings draft. Rule 5 players have the opportunity for a fresh start with a new organization, while fans get the thrill of seeing if their team added a valuable player for the cost of a pick, a commitment to a major league roster spot for a whole season, and $50,000.
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Marlins fans had this pleasure three years ago, when their team went to camp with a washed-up Pokey Reese and a castoff from the Arizona system with a funny name vying for the second base job. Reese never reported, and the castoff Rule 5 pick, Dan Uggla, soon became an All-Star and one of the most recognizable Marlins. Johan Santana, Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria are members of the Rule 5 alumni club, but then again, so are Chris Booker, Matt Whitney and Jim Ed Warren. Some Rule 5 picks are returned to the organizations that let them go, but a surprising number catch on with their new teams. In many years, one or two players emerge from the draft who actually make an impact in Fantasy.
In the 2008 Rule 5 Draft, there were 21 players selected, nearly all of whom are still trying to stick with the big league club that picked them. Most of these players have virtually no shot of making it and will have to be waived or offered back to their previous organization. The eight players listed below do have some chance of cracking the major league roster. I have broken them down into those who have only a slim chance of a roster spot, those who are legitimate candidates for a reserve role, and those who could play regularly and make a difference in Fantasy this season.
Terrell Young, RP, Washington: The Nats are clearly interested in Young, having taken him first overall in the Rule 5 Draft and giving him some looks in preseason games. The competition for jobs at the back end of the Washington bullpen is not that fierce, but Young still doesn't figure to stack up against the likes of Jesus Colome and Jason Bergmann. He hasn't pitched above High Class A, where he continued to post underwhelming strikeout and walk rates out of the bullpen.
Last year, Joel Hanrahan came away from the Grapefruit League snagging the last spot in the Nationals' bullpen, and then he worked his way up to closer by season's end. Despite the potential for Young to capture a roster spot, don't bother tracking him for Fantasy purposes. The 23 year-old does not project to take the Hanrahan Leap this year -- or any year.
Donald Veal, RP, Pittsburgh: Veal had been used almost exclusively in the Cubs' system as a starter, but the Pirates may give him a whirl in the bullpen. He has had control problems throughout his career, and all of his ratios suffered when he moved from Class A to Double-A. It will be an uphill battle for Veal to find a spot in Pittsburgh, even at the back of the Pirates' bullpen. If he does make the cut, it will be even less likely that he will pitch well enough to be of value in Fantasy.
David Patton, RP, Chicago Cubs: Last season, Patton rung up more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, but he accomplished this as a 24 year-old reliever repeating the High Class A California League. However, through the miracle of small sample sizes, Patton owns an eye-catching 1.17 ERA and 10.6 K/9 rate in Cactus League play. It may have been enough to grab Lou Piniella's attention, but it will be a whole other thing to translate a lukewarm record from the low minors (including a 3.7 BB/9 rate) into major league success.
Reegie Corona, 2B/SS, Seattle: That's not a typo. It really is "Reegie" like "Squeegie." The ex-Yankee offers little power, but has a combination of speed and contact skills that could make him the Pacific Northwest's answer to Alfredo Amezaga. As with Amezaga, Corona would need regular playing time to have even a glimmer of Fantasy value. Sitting behind Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Ronny Cedeno on the M's depth chart, that is not especially likely to happen.
Ben Copeland, OF, Oakland: Copeland's profile is not too different from Corona's, which is not terrific news for an outfielder. His 13 triples in 372 Double-A at-bats last year is an intriguing indicator of his speed and power potential. Ultimately, though, he will have a tough time finding at-bats competing with Travis Buck, Aaron Cunningham and Rajai Davis. For now, Copeland is sidelined with a shoulder injury, so that buys the A's some time to figure out their plans for him.
Ivan Nova, RP, San Diego: There is some downside to this Yankee castoff, like his low strikeout rates in Class A ball and the possibility that his name will remind you of '80s cheeseball guitarist Aldo Nova. On the plus side, Nova (Ivan, not Aldo) has exhibited low walk and home run rates. With Mark Worrell out for the season, there is an extra bullpen slot available, and the Pads may be tempted to save it for Nova, where they can develop the 22 year-old as a future starting pitcher. That isn't exactly a recipe for saves, but Nova could be a low ERA reliever for owners in deep NL-only leagues.
Best Chance for Impact
Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego: The Rockies' castoff gets on base and hits with moderate power. Oh, and he stole 73 bases last year. He accomplished all of this in Class A, so the .284 batting average and .361 on-base percentage will translate to something much lower as a major league rookie. That still might be good enough for him to win a roster spot or even take playing time away from Luis O. Rodriguez.
Luis Perdomo, RP, San Francisco: The Cardinals picked up Perdomo in the Anthony Reyes trade last summer, then left him unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. He pitched for three different teams in the minors in '08, and the result was the same at each stop. Perdomo threw more than a strikeout an inning, kept the ball in the park and had a slightly elevated walk rate. There should be room for Perdomo in the San Francisco 'pen, though with little opportunity to earn saves. Still, his strikeout totals could be useful for owners in deep NL-only leagues.
| Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James |
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
Base Hits per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
Al Melchior was recently a Fantasy columnist and data analyst for Baseball HQ and will be providing advice columns for CBSSports.com. Click here to send him a question. Please put "Melchior" in the subject field.