Pitchers dominate Rule 5 Draft

Right-handers Lahey, Meek among 60 Minor Leaguers on the move

(Melissa Wintemute/MLB.com)

By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com | December 6, 2007 8:00 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There wasn't a sexy Josh Hamilton-type player on the move at this year's Rule 5 Draft, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a great deal of action and intrigue at the annual raiding of farm systems Thursday morning at the Opryland Hotel.

None of the 18 players selected in the Major League phase of the draft (60 were chosen overall) has the cache or newsworthiness of Hamilton's selection a year ago. However, there are some players who could have the same type of impact at the Major League level that Hamilton did for Cincinnati in 2007.

Tampa Bay had the top selection for a second straight year and this time chose Tim Lahey from Minnesota. The Rays held onto Lahey for about a minute before dealing him to the Cubs for cash considerations in the neighborhood of $150,000. Lahey was 8-4 with 13 saves and a 3.45 ERA in 50 appearances at Double-A New Britain. He also picked up a save in two appearances for Triple-A Rochester, giving Cubs general manager Jim Henry the hope that he's found some much-needed bullpen help.

"He's a converted catcher with tremendous life and great sink on his fastball," Hendry said. "We saw him on back-to-back days and on paper his stuff seems to be able to play well at Wrigley Field. He's a ground-ball pitcher.

"We feel he has a good opportunity to add to our bullpen. We decided he was one guy worth the gamble."

Grabbing a pitcher proved to be the theme throughout the Major League phase, which saw only four position players change organizations. Pittsburgh followed Tampa's selection by grabbing Evan Meek from the Rays. The well-traveled Meek -- he pitched in the Minnesota and San Diego systems before joining Tampa Bay last year -- was 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 44 appearances for Double-A Montgomery.

"He's a power arm that gets a lot of ground balls and can strike guys out," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "And bullpen help is hard to come by."

Florida also chose a pitcher with the fifth selection -- right-hander Carlos Guevara from the Reds. Like the Rays, though, they also made a deal, sending the 25-year-old Texan to the Padres for cash considerations. Guevara had a 2.32 ERA and saved 16 games for Double-A Chattanooga this season. He averaged 12.63 strikeouts per nine innings and walked only 23 in 62 frames.

"He's got a great screwball, a great strikeout-to-walk ratio and is a guy who has nailed it at about every level," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. "He was our No. 1 guy. We were trying to get the No. 1 pick to get him."

San Diego also selected right-hander Michael Gardner from the Yankees (3-5, 2.88 ERA in 44 games at Double-A Trenton) and infielder Callix Crabbe from the Brewers (.287, nine homers, 38 RBIs at Triple-A Nashville) in the Major League phase.

The Reds, having lost Guevara, wasted little time replacing him by selecting right-hander Sergio Valenzuela (no relation to Fernando Valenzuela) from the Braves with the sixth selection. The Mexican native was 1-3 with a 7.12 ERA while splitting 32 games between Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Class A Rome.

"His numbers aren't impressive, but we liked him in Winter Ball," director of scouting J Harrison said. "Winter Ball pretty much finalized it for me. One of our good scouts out west got a chance to see him and I saw him in a trip over to Mexico as well. It was a bullpen-type deal and he caught my attention on some of the things he did with his delivery and his strength. He looked like a guy who was underdeveloped and had some room for growth.

"We got a chance to do some homework on him. He's still got some development left. He's a guy we think can compete, contribute and eventually evolve into a starter-type for us. That's an area we need to continue to stockpile as many starters as we can."

There were two other selections in the Major League phase that are worth noting -- the Cardinals taking outfielder Brian Barton from the Indians with the 10th pick, and the Mets taking closer Steven Register from the Rockies at 13. St. Louis released outfielder So Taguchi on Wednesday to create roster space for Barton.

"We didn't think he would be available," St. Louis vice president for amateur scouting and player procurement Jeff Luhnow said. "There was a lot of competition for that spot, but this is who we had in mind. The reports and analysis we had on him were great."

Barton has a .316 career average in three Minor League seasons and is coming off a year in which he hit .305 with 10 homers and 66 RBIs while splitting time between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. He stole 21 bases this year and 41 in 2006, but recently had surgery to repair a microfracture in his knee.

He went to his own doctor to have the surgery done rather than have the team doctors address the problem, but it's unclear whether that played a role in the Tribe leaving him unprotected. Luhnow didn't seem concerned about the surgery.

"We saw him a couple of days ago in Florida," he said. "We know he has a knee brace on now, but our sense is that he will be ready for Spring Training."

Register, meanwhile, has a legitimate chance to make a thin New York bullpen that would be starved for set-up help should Aaron Heilman get a shot at the rotation or get traded. Register led the Minor Leagues with 37 saves this year and helped Tulsa reach the Texas League playoffs, where he pitched a scoreless inning.

The former Auburn star was a starter until this season and had mediocre results in that role before the Rockies opted to move him to the 'pen. He appeared in 61 games for the Drillers and was 1-3 with a 4.03 ERA.

Washington made multiple selections in the Major League phase, taking third baseman Matt Whitney from Cleveland and outfielder Garrett Guzman from the Twins. Whitney (32 HRs, 113 RBIs between Class A Advanced Kinston and Class A Lake County) will compete for a job behind Ryan Zimmerman, while Guzman is expected to get a long look at a fifth outfield spot.

The Phillies also picked up a pair of pitchers in the Major League phase, selecting Travis Blackley from the Giants with the 15th pick and Lincoln Holdzkom from the Red Sox with the 18th and final selection. The Astros selected Holdzkom in the Rule 5 Draft last year but returned him to the Cubs in March. Chicago released him and he signed with Boston.

Philadelphia assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said he could see Blackley (10-8, 4.66 ERA at Triple-A Fresno) competing for a spot at the back of the rotation, depending on Adam Eaton's health. He envisions Holdzkom (5-1, 2.97 ERA in 42 games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket) as a middle-relief candidate.

Overall, the Twins lost six players in the draft, while the White Sox saw five of their players selected. The Angels lost three players, all during the Double-A phase.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. Corey Brock, Mark Sheldon, Ken Mandel, Matthew Leach and Jenifer Langosch contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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