The 2012 Rule 5 Draft takes place later this morning. It remains to be seen exactly what impact that will have on the Mets roster going forward. Unfortunately, it looks like it won't be a positive one.
Due to 40-man roster constraints, Sandy Alderson has already made it clear that the Mets will not be making any selections this time around, which is particularly disappointing based on early reports about a stacked class. For anyone familiar with the club's minor-league system, this shouldn't come as a surprise. This offseason represented a heavy wave of draft-eligible players worthy of protection. That means players like Darin Gorski, Wilfredo Tovar, Juan Lagares, Zack Wheeler, Cesar Puello, and surprising late-addition Hansel Robles.
It's an annoyance to protect a number of guys who, save for a couple of exceptions, really can't be expected to help the big league club at any point in 2013. By definition these are guys that you're protecting exactly because some team likely views them as a potential piece for the upcoming campaign. But having too many interesting prospects is certainly a good problem to have. So at this point the question is: How much of a negative impact could the draft potentially have?
In each of the past two seasons the Mets have lost a hard-throwing relief prospect in the first few picks of the draft. In 2010, the Nationals plucked Elvin Ramirez with the third pick, only to send him back after he spent the season on the disabled list. Last winter the Astros used the first overall selection on Binghamton's Rhiner Cruz. Like Ramirez, Cruz suffered from command woes and posted a 6.05 ERA in 52 appearances. Fortunately, neither player went on to super-stardom, but the trend does beg the question about what — or whom — the Mets are choosing to protect versus what the market values.
The reason I point this out is because one of the most notable players that the Mets have left off the 40-man this year is another hard-throwing righthanded reliever: Armando Rodriguez. Like the aforementioned pitchers, Rodriguez is a slightly older relief prospect known for his excellent fastball. To be fair, most teams have raw, power arms at some level that they're leaving unprotected today — but again, it's hard to ignore the results from last couple drafts.
Additionally, what distinguishes the 6-3, 250-pound righty is that he can actually command that power fastball. Along with his 9.54 strikeouts per nine, Rodriguez posted a sterling 2.60 walks per nine mark in Double-A in 2012. Not to mention he had a 3.22 ERA and an opponent average that hovered right around .215 for the third straight season. Currently, he's got a 1.77 ERA through 14 appearances in the Dominican Winter League where he's allowed just 4(!) hits in 20.1 innings — though his 13 walks are unexpected/not ideal.
As far as other players at risk, there are a few more names that the Mets could potentially lose today. Most notably, perennially blocked infielder Josh Satin heads the list, along with Triple-A rotation depth Chris Schwinden close behind. 24-year-old Taylor Whitenton fits into that standard Rule 5 profile of righty reliever with power fastball. Further down, Binghamton's Juan Centeno could provide cheap, backup catching depth for a club with a veteran starter. Meanwhile top minor league third base prospects Jefry Marte and Aderlin Rodriguez are both likely too far away. Same goes for another rising organizational pitching talent in Luis Cessa.
Again, the buzz is that this season's Rule 5 talent level is not only way up from the last few seasons, it might be one of the best on record. Nevertheless, I do expect to see Armando Rodriguez hit the board at some point during the proceedings. Now it should be pointed out that it's always easy to pick out names we want the club to protect and much harder to pick out guys to cut in order to make roster space (though the value in protecting guys like Reese Havens and Gonzalez Germen is still to be determined). Let's just hope that if Rodriguez does get selected, he doesn't come back to bite a team desperately in need of relief depth of their own.
NOTE: I should point out that it's not completely out of the question for the Mets to help themselves in this draft. They could still take part in the minor league phase, though it's almost unprecedented for one of those draftees to have an impact on a big league club. However, one of a small handful to do so was actually drafted by the Mets in the minor league phase back in 2010. His name? Quintin Berry. Obviously that impact came only after the Mets cut him during the following spring training...