By Paul Sporer
The Rule 5 Draft at the end of every year’s winter meetings has lot a bit of its intrigue in the last five years after the 2006 CBA made it so teams could protect players from exposure in the draft an extra year thus diluting the pool of talent. That very first draft in December of 2006 featured Joakim Soria and Josh Hamilton (and even Jesus Flores to a lesser degree) as teams got used to the new rules, but it was clear that when it came to finding diamonds in the rough, the rough had grown much larger.
Since 2007 the Rule 5 Draft has been littered with middle relievers who have given teams some decent enough innings, but nothing they couldn’t find in their minor leagues had they tried out a few of their own guys. The Pirates plucked Evan Meek from the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 and he went on to become an All-Star three years later, but his numbers haven’t been particularly special on the whole or even in that year (7.9 K/9, 2.3 K/BB in 80 IP). He is definitely a “success” story in the new era of the Rule 5 Draft, but not nearly to the caliber of previous success (including Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente).
Perhaps the best pick since 2007 was by the San Diego Padres who took Ivan Nova from the New York Yankees, but ended up returning him. He would have had to make a jump from High-A to the majors and considering the fact that he wasn’t even that good with the Yankees this year (I don’t care that he won 16 games), he probably would have struggled mightily as a major leaguer in 2009.
The Pirates were active in this year’s Rule 5 Draft both in the major league phase and the minor league phase nabbing Gustavo Nunez from the Detroit Tigers in the MLB portion and once-heralded prospect Aaron Poreda from the San Diego Padres who was a key return in the Jake Peavy trade with the Chicago White Sox.
Nunez, rated as Detroit’s 23rd-best prospect prior to 2011, is a glove-first (only?) speedster who broke out (relative to his history) with the bat a bit in 2009 hitting .309/.356/.421 in 538 plate appearances and stole 48 bases (but was also caught 25 times for a poor 66% success rate). He was exposed badly a year later in High-A posting a rough .544 OPS in 572 plate appearances, but did go 33-for-41 (81%) on the base paths while continuing to play sparkling defense.
At 23 years old, he repeated High-A and while that’s never good, at least he mashed through it the second time around hitting .304/.368/.431 in 294 plate appearances. Unfortunately he was a baserunning liability again going 14-for-24 (58%). A promotion to AA once again showed the flaws in his game as he dropped a .215/.252/.289 line in 131 plate appearances (4-for-7 in stolen bases).
He might have some value as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement, but Clint Barmes and Yamaico Navarro easily outclass him with the bat while Barmes matches him with the glove and Navarro is comparable enough that the offensive production gives him a wide edge and renders Nunez useless. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets returned to the Tigers.
Poreda has been an unmitigated disaster with the Padres organization since being traded in 2009, the season he started off as the 63rd ranked prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. He has lost any and all semblance of the strike zone, something that seemed to be a particular trait of his when he first started as a professional as evidenced by his 2.2 BB/9 rate in 207 innings from 2007 to 2008.
Since then has an 7.9 BB/9 (!!!) rate in 231 innings from 2009 through last season including MORE than a walk per inning the last two seasons (127 BB in 124 IP). Steve Blass thinks that is terrible. The only silver lining is that he also had a 10.2 K/9 in 70 innings last year, but that was likely because hitters were just as unsure of where the ball was going as Poreda was and they swung at the ball to keep it from hitting them in the face.
For him to only have a 5.43 ERA despite putting on nearly two batters per inning (1.83 WHIP) is a modern miracle. He has already moved into the bullpen and this isn’t just an issue with control, it’s a complete meltdown so his upside has definitely dwindled, but he is both left-handed and a once-regarded prospect so his leash will be longer than usual.
Since he was taken in the minor league phase of the draft, he was cheaper ($12,000 compared to $50,000 for Nunez) and he isn’t taking up a spot on the major league roster so there is time for the Pirates organization to work with him and see if they can iron out his issues and salvage perhaps a late-inning/high-leverage lefty reliever.