Last week, the Rays added shortstops Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham as well as lefties Enny Romero and Felipe Rivero to the 40 man roster. This protects them from next week's Rule 5 draft when teams have a chance to pluck minor leaguers from other organizations, provided the claiming team keeps him on the 25 man roster all season. Of course that's a challenge as there's often a reason these players were left unprotected. Players may be taken if they're not on a 40 man roster and meet one of the two following qualifications: 1) If the player signed at age 18 or younger, they've spent five years in the organization, or 2) If the player signed at age 19 or older, they've spent four years in the organization. Teams occasionally pick up some real talents in this draft, but most people agree that the changes made to the draft in 2006's new CBA weakened the available talent because it gave teams an extra season to evaluate their players. That hasn't deterred me from being far too interested in it though.
Recent history indicates Rays fans have even more reason to not pay attention to it at all. As far as I can tell, they've taken 12 players in the Major League phase of the draft in team history, and only one player has stuck. The David Lamb era only lasted 55 unmemorable games in 1999, and he was claimed off waivers by the Mets the following winter. The Rays have a little more history with players being taken from them, with three of eight players taken in team history sticking with their new organization: righties Aneury Rodriguez and Evan Meek going to Houston and Pittsburgh respectively, and a guy named Josh Hamilton being drafted by the Cubs and traded to Cincinnati.
With all that being said about why it's not necessary to pay attention to this event at all, here are some players that could fit on the Rays in some capacity or another. Obviously they all come with the caveat that they're flawed in some way, otherwise their organizations would probably be more interested in protecting them, but it's always possible that there's a diamond or situational reliever in the rough.
Atlanta lefty reliever Ryan Buchter: Buchter has already played for three organizations in his minor league career, and he could make it a 4th this spring if another team likes his stuff. That's easy to do, but that team will also have to put up with poor control with his career 5.9 BB/9. With a career 1.51 WHIP, his stats certainly don't jump off the page and indicate a player ticketed for the big leagues, but he does have the stuff to get that chance, especially as a left hander.
His fastball can touch the mid-90's, not common for lefty relievers. That helped him put up a 32.8% strikeout rate against lefties in AA Mississippi in 2012, and he can generate some ground balls as well. In the Arizona Fall League, he showed a curveball in the upper 70's, and he's also been known to throw a good cutter. This is the kind of arm that can reach the majors, and he'll only be 26 next season. If a team believes they can work out his control and command issues, he can help a team.
Boston righty reliever Josh Fields: At one point, Fields was considered to be a legitimate closer prospect. That point when he was drafted 20th overall by Seattle as a senior out of Georgia. The idea was that he would move through the minors quickly, but that hasn't happened, and he'll be entering his age 27 season without having pitched in the majors. Now a part of the Red Sox organization, he enjoyed a breakout season across two levels, posting career bests in K/9 (12.0) and BB/9 (2.8). If his ability to throw strikes is a legitimate improvement and not a fluke, it's a bit puzzling that he wasn't added to the 40 man roster. His seven walks in six innings in the Dominican Winter League indicate that may not be the case.
With his stuff, Fields is probably still looking at a shot at the majors at some point. Although more recent reports indicate his velocity is down and his curveball isn't quite as sharp, it certainly hasn't stopped him from striking out batters. This was the second straight year Boston could have protected him from the Rule 5 draft, but they didn't see a need to. Teams will always take a chance on stuff though, and he could get a chance in big league camp in 2013.
San Diego infielder Jonathan Galvez: Galvez certainly fits the profile of a really good minor league player not protected by his organization. After being signed by the Padres out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, the infielder has advanced through AA with pretty solid performances. In the last two seasons, he's batted over .290 with gap power and speed. A hamstring injury slowed him down in 2012 and limited him to 82 games, but he still stole bases at an efficient clip. His plate approach has been a weakness, but both his walk and strikeout rates improved in 2012.
This sounds like a nice profile, especially for a player who held his own in AA before turning 22. Unfortunately, despite being a good athlete, Galvez is a poor defender. He hasn't played shortstop regularly since 2010 when he made 51 errors for low-A Fort Wayne, and he'll have to work hard to play a passable second base. Although he's a solid hitter, his gap power doesn't really profile on a corner. He might be a bit overwhelmed in the majors so soon, but a team could still take a chance on him if they believe in his upside.
San Diego catcher Jason Hagerty: The Padres drafted Hagerty from Miami in 2009. After finishing his collegiate career at first base to accommodate Yasmani Grandal, they got him back behind the plate where it was believed he could become an average defender. His calling card would always be his bat though with power and a solid approach from both sides of the plate. After piling up 95 extra base hits across three levels in 2010 and 2011, Hagerty hit a bump in the road in 2012 with AA San Antonio. Battling shoulder injuries that limited him to just 72 games, Hagerty hit .248/.346/.382. His BB% and K% were still good, if not better than previously in his career, but the average was 25 points below his career norm.
Entering his age 25 season, he's now lost in the shuffle in the organization with Yasmani Grandal again ahead of him along with Nick Hundley, and Austin Hedges behind him. If his shoulder was the cause of his subpar 2012 season, he still has potential to reach the majors, but he'll be battling history in the Rule 5 draft. Catchers are rarely taken, and it's even more unusual for them to stick. In the last 10 years, only seven catchers have been drafted, and only two have stuck: Jesus Flores and Chris Shelton.
Texas first baseman Chris McGuiness: McGuiness is a popular name for Rule 5 watchers after a strong Arizona Fall League campaign where he was named league MVP. His AFL OPS was actually just two points lower than his Texas League OPS where he batted .268/.366/.474 with 23 home runs in 123 games. That's a solid batting line with a good plate approach, but he's a non-athlete and has not played a position other than first base as a professional. All of a sudden, his bat doesn't profile in the big leagues so well. He is very strong so hitting over 20 home runs isn't a surprise, but he's a career .260 hitter with no indication that he'll become a better hitter.
He showed a pretty sizable left/right split in Arizona which would indicate that he could play a part in a platoon role, but that seems to be out of the norm for him. In the regular season with AA Frisco, his batting lines against righties and lefties were very similar, with the only somewhat significant difference being a tendency to strike out more against lefties. Minor league first basemen always face an uphill battle to reach the majors because the bar for their bat is set very high, and it's probably even steeper for McGuiness with his lack of versatility. He could still get a shot in a big league camp this spring thanks to his patience, power and solid performance in Arizona.
Seattle lefty reliever Brian Moran: Moran was a key part of great North Carolina teams before being drafted by the Mariners in the 7th round of the 2009 draft. A reliever all the way, Moran continued his success in pro ball and advanced to AAA in 2012. In 225.1 pro innings, Moran has a 1.11 WHIP and a K:BB ratio well over 4.00. Across AA and AAA in 2012, he posted some impressive numbers against lefties, including a 33.3% strikeout rate, but he was also pretty effective against righties as well. He also struck out 11 in 13.2 innings in last year's AFL season.
Moran doesn't succeed with great stuff which is certainly a large factor in why he'll even be available next week. He has a very deceptive delivery that looks like his elbow could fly off at any moment, and it's a bit of a low arm slot too. Because of this, he can get away with a fastball that sits in the mid to high 80's complemented by a changeup in the high 70's. Somehow this generates swings and misses for him, and lefties have succeeded with less in the past.
Now for some quick hits on other players that caught my eye. What position, if any, should the Rays be looking at?
Dodgers RHP Jose Dominguez: Small righty has a big fastball but has faced two suspensions due to drug policy violations.
Reds OF Josh Fellhauer: Left handed bat will likely end up as a platoon player, and he plays solid defense in the corner outfield spots.
Red Sox LF Jeremy Hazelbaker: Great power/speed combo is limited by a below average hit tool, but the talent is there.
Orioles INF Ty Kelly: Switch hitter has played second and third base in career with an ability to put the ball in play and more walks than strikeouts.
Mets INF Josh Satin: Satin comes with a nice bat and plate approach, and he has experience playing second base.
Orioles OF Brenden Webb: Athletic, powerful outfielder had a outstanding 19.7% walk rate in 2012, but he also had a 27.8% strikeout rate.
Padres SS Beamer Weems: Weems can play a major league shortstop, but his bat leaves much to be desired.
Nationals RHP Rob Wort: Former 30th rounder struck out an absurd 41.7% of batters faced in 2012 but hasn't pitched above high-A.