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Should the Rays be worried about the Rule 5 Draft?

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Jim Donten

The Rays have a full 40-man roster, which is a testament to their prospect depth.

Every team had to finalize rosters late last month in anticipation for today's Rule-5 draft, which allows teams to steal away prospects left un-protected on the limited 40-man roster. The acquired played must stay on the starting 25-man roster the entire following season to then be kept. Otherwise, they are returned.

The nature of the draft usually results in back up catchers, pitchers turned into relievers for a season, and guys stashed on the bench.

The Rays have no room on the 40-man at the moment, barring a completed trade, so they are not expected to be active in the day's event. Does that mean no Rays are headed out the door?

This morning, Marc Topkin profiled Rays catching prospect Oscar Hernandez, a player who's putting together a fine prospect status. He's got the arm and the power to find a place in the big leagues, and his defense is on it's way, but he only finished his most recent season at Class-A ball.

As far as the system is concerned, he's become a lesser version of Justin O'Conner, who likely ranks as a top-five prospect for the Rays.

Hernandez did not place on any end-of-year prospect lists for his work in the Midwest League, his first full season of professional baseball with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, but he rebounded incredibly from some poor offense in 2012 and 2013. If you've been watching, you'd have known the bat was always there. As Topkin notes:

Hernandez put together one of the greatest Venezuelan Summer League seasons one will ever see in 2011, hitting .402/.503/.732 with 21 home runs. He led the league in batting average by 38 points, home runs by 13, slugging percentage by .238 points, total bases by 37 and on-base percentage by 39 points.

In 69 games that season, Hernandez put together a 222 wRC+ and a wOBA of .553. That's beyond video game numbers, and they came down to earth with a 110 wRC+ the following year, then a 96 wRC+ and .305 wOBA when he was bumped up to short-season A-ball.

In 2014, Hernandez rebounded from a slow start, concluding with a 98 wRC+ and .318 wOBA, which is what you like to see for his development to be on track. MLB.com doesn't have Hernandez in the top-twenty, but we probably will come prospect ranking season.

So is Hernandez out the door?

My first instinct is to say probably not. The catchers traditionally scooped up in the Rule 5 are guys with polished games in some regard, and Hernandez doesn't have an aspect to his game that's ready for The Show, not by any assessment I've seen.

If you're looking for a catcher to get stolen out of Tampa Bay, a better guess might be Armando Araiza, who has all the defensive accolades you'd want to see for a guy who could break into a big league roster. I'm not sure if he owns a bat or not, they gave him a .608 OBP in Bowling Green. Seems generous.

Then again, if a team doesn't care for the offense and just needs someone to display a glove and mind, Araiza might have a better chance at sticking for a full season backing up a busy catcher. Again, I'll point to the Royals, who have a guy that would catch every game if his knees would let him.

If you only need to fill twenty starts and have a solid defensive replacement, Araiza is a decent option. If that doesn't work, I hear Jose Molina is free.