Oakland A's 2012 Rule 5 Preview

Will the A's protect Leon?

The deadline for protecting prospects from the 2012 Rule 5 draft is merely weeks away. The Oakland A's have already had some activity impacting the 40-man roster this off-season, but the A's could still add players to the roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft in December. We take a look at the players who could be added to the A's roster or impacted by the Rule 5 draft.

The Rule 5 Draft Rules

Any player not on a team's 40-man roster who signed his first professional contract in 2009 or earlier who was at least 19 years old at the time he signed and any player who signed his first professional contract in 2008 or earlier who was at least 18 years or younger at the time he signed is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December.

Teams select in draft order until all teams have declined to select players. Once a player is selected from an organization, that organization can pull back another eligible player to be protected. Teams that select a player must keep that player on their 25-man roster for the entire regular season or offer him back to his original team. Teams generally set their rosters in advance of the 40-man roster in late November.

There is a minor league portion of the draft, but determining what players are exposed in that draft is tricky because it involves knowing whether players have been placed on a Triple-A or Double-A roster during the off-season. That information is usually kept secret by most organizations, so we won't address that part of the draft in this article.

As of October 30, the A's had no open slots on their active 40-man roster. The roster composition will be changing soon, however. The A's will have to add back to the roster players currently on the 60-day disabled list: Dallas Braden, Andrew Carignan, Joey Devine, Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore. In addition, several players will be removed from the 40-man roster when they declare for free agency, including Inge, Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes. The A's will also likely remove some players from the 40-man roster to open spots and they have a few arbitration-eligible players who may be allowed to pursue free agency.

Last off-season, the A's didn't have many 40-man roster spots available to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft and they only added outfielder Jermaine Mitchell for that purpose. Oakland didn't lose anyone during the major league portion of last year's Rule 5 draft and they didn't make a selection either. This year, the A's have similar roster space restrictions and have some high-profile prospects who they will likely have to protect, which could lead to some difficult roster decisions over the next few weeks.

Below we highlight some of the players who could be exposed to the Rule 5 draft this year and discuss their chances to be added to the A's 40-man roster and thus protected from the draft.

Notable Rule 5 Eligible Players

First-time Eligible

Grant Green: The A's top pick in the 2009 draft will need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft for the first time in his career. Green's addition to the A's 40-man roster – barring a trade – is a no-brainer. Although the A's are still searching for Green's defensive position (they are hopeful that they have found it at second base), they are pleased with the adjustments he has made at the plate and believe he is nearing major league-ready. Green spent all of the 2012 season at the Triple-A level, making it the third straight year that he has spent an entire season at one level. He hit .296/.338/.458 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs.

While Green will likely never have the walk totals many associate with A's prospects, he is starting to add power to his game and has always shown the ability to hit for average. Green can now play six different positions and that combined with his hitting ability would make him an attractive Rule 5 pick if left unprotected.

Michael Ynoa: The decision about whether or not to protect Ynoa will be one of the A's most difficult this off-season. On the one hand, Ynoa has thrown fewer than 40 official innings during his three seasons in pro ball – none of which have come at a level higher than short-season A-ball – and he has already had Tommy John surgery. On the other hand, Ynoa is a unique talent and, despite the lack of progress over the past three years, is still a young man (he will be 21 all of next season).

Ynoa had a 6.46 ERA and a 1:1 K:BB ratio in his 30.2 innings for the AZL A's and the Vermont Lake Monsters this season, and those numbers coupled with Ynoa's lack of experience will likely scare-off most teams from taking him in the Rule 5 if left unprotected. However, Ynoa showed considerable progress over his final two starts with Vermont (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and pitched well during the A's recent Instructional League camp. That progress could tempt a team that is expected to be out of contention (like the Houston Astros or the Chicago Cubs) into taking Ynoa in the draft. Given Ynoa's injury history, a team could stash him on their disabled list until the tail-end of the season, when they would have to have him active for a few weeks on the roster, at which point they could hide him at the backend of their bullpen.

It would be awful for Ynoa's professional development to have his career take this path, but it could happen. Since the A's have invested so much money in Ynoa already (he signed a contract worth more than $4 million when he signed in 2008) and since he has shown progress, it would be surprising to see Ynoa left unprotected in the draft.

Arnold Leon: Leon was acquired by the A's out of the Mexican Summer League before the 2008 season when Leon was 19. He pitched for the Stockton Ports that season and became a prospect to watch when he held his own in a hitter's league at that young age. Leon was mostly a reliever his first two seasons in the A's chain, mostly because the A's were worried about over-working the right-hander, who pitched in Mexico in the winter. They did move him into the rotation towards the end of the 2009 season and he found success in that role.

Unfortunately, despite the A's efforts to limit Leon's workload, he injured his elbow early on in the 2010 season and had Tommy John surgery. He would miss the rest of the 2010 campaign and most of the 2011 season, as well. In 2012, Leon was finally healthy and he pitched at three levels for the A's as a reliever. He had a 2.70 ERA in 66.2 innings with a 74:23 K:BB ratio for Stockton, Midland and Sacramento.

Leon isn't a fireballer, but he has a plus breaking pitch and generally good command. He is also a groundball pitcher and rarely gives up homeruns. His command wavered slightly at the Triple-A level, but it is hard to know whether that was from the jump in levels or fatigue after missing so much time the past two years. He is currently pitching well in Mexican Winter League.

The A's have a lot of options on their 40-man roster already for their 2013 bullpen, but Leon has the potential to be a solid big league middle reliever/set-up man. He turned 24 in September. Given his relatively young age and his experience pitching in winter ball and at Triple-A this season, Leon could be an attractive Rule 5 pick if he is left unprotected. It's hard to say whether the A's will be able to make room for Leon on the roster, but they love groundball pitchers with good command and plus breaking pitches (who doesn't?), so there is a decent chance the A's will add him to the roster.

Conner Crumbliss: Crumbliss doesn't receive a lot of national recognition, but there isn't a minor leaguer anywhere who has been better than Crumbliss at getting on-base over the past three-plus seasons. The utilityman has led his league in walks in each of his three full professional seasons and he carries a .416 career OBP. Crumbliss has good speed and has stolen exactly 24 bases in each of his last three seasons (and 13 in 71 games in 2009).

Crumbliss is only 5'8'' and was a college senior when he was drafted, so he has always been old for his level – two factors that have kept his profile lower around the league than it should have been these past few years. However, he showed an increased ability to hit for power in 2012, connecting on a career-high 10 homers for Midland, and he offers positional flexibility as a second baseman and outfielder. Crumbliss has drawn comparisons to former A's utilityman Tony Phillips and a team looking for a bench player for next season could do worse than adding someone with Crumbliss' on-base skills and speed.

The A's have a crowded second base position right now with Sizemore, Jemile Weeks, Green, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales all on (or potentially on, in Green's case) the 40-man roster. All things being equal, the A's would probably prefer to protect Crumbliss this off-season, but the final decision will likely come down to available roster spots and any other moves the team makes with the other second basemen on the roster.

Stephen Parker: The A's fifth-round pick in 2009 has shared the same career trajectory as Green since their first full pro seasons in 2010. Parker isn't likely to join Green on the A's 40-man roster this off-season, however. The third baseman out of BYU spent the entire 2012 campaign on the Sacramento River Cats' roster. At the start of the season, he had an opportunity to push for a spot in the big leagues when Josh Donaldson was struggling at the major league level. Parker got off to a good start with the River Cats in April, but by the time the A's decided to send Donaldson back to Triple-A in May, Parker was in a deep slump. He had an up-and-down year at the plate with Sacramento, and he finished with a .256/.327/.390 line, his worst as a pro.

Before his struggles in 2012, Parker was consistently one of the better A's minor leaguers at getting on-base. Parker hit for power with High-A Stockton in 2010, but he slipped in that area with Midland in 2011 and slipped even further in 2012. He also has continued to struggle defensively. The A's still like Parker, but given Donaldson's emergence at the big league level during the final months of the season and the expected return from injury of Sizemore, the A's are likely to risk leaving Parker exposed for the draft. A team that liked what they saw from Parker in 2010 and 2011 could take a flier on him. He will be 25 all of next season.

Ryan Ortiz: Had Ortiz repeated his production from the 2010 and 2011 seasons and carried over his hot 2011 AFL bat into the 2012 campaign, he would likely be on the list for Rule 5 protection this off-season. Ortiz took a big step back in 2012, however, posting a 541 OPS with Double-A Midland before being sent back to High-A Stockton for the final two months of the season. Ortiz did swing the bat well in August for the Ports, but his struggles up until that point in the season were likely enough to keep him off of the Rule 5 radar this fall. The A's have only two catchers on the 40-man roster currently (Derek Norris and George Kottaras), but given Donaldson's ability to catch, the A's don't need to add another 40-man roster catcher this off-season and will likely leave Ortiz unprotected.

Anthony Aliotti: Aliotti is coming off of his best season as a pro and is widely considered the best defensive first baseman in the A's system. The left-hander from St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., posted an 811 OPS for Double-A Midland this season and had a career-best .429 SLG. He struggles against left-handed pitching and doesn't have the typical homerun power expected of most major league first basemen, so even though the A's like Aliotti, they probably don't need to protect him this off-season.


Previously Eligible

Shane Peterson: The A's declined to protect Peterson last season and he went unclaimed despite posting an 856 OPS in 46 games with Triple-A Sacramento. Peterson was caught in a numbers game in 2011 and was sent back to Double-A to finish the year even with his success with the River Cats. He was caught in that same numbers game at the start of 2012 and spent the first half of the season with Midland, posting an 862 OPS. That performance finally earned him a spot with the River Cats and he took full advantage of the opportunity, batting .389/.484/.618 in 38 games.

Peterson has always suffered from the "tweaner" tag from scouts, as many scouts view him as not having a powerful enough bat for a corner outfield spot or first base and not enough speed for centerfield. He does have excellent plate discipline and a solid line-drive swing. With the addition of Chris Young, the A's outfield is pretty stacked up, so they may have a tough time finding a spot for Peterson on the 40-man roster.

James Simmons: The A's top pick in 2007 has been left unprotected the past two seasons. Shoulder surgery forced him to miss the entire 2010 season and most of 2011. Simmons was healthy in 2012 and settled into a new role as a reliever (he was a starter primarily before the injury). He had a 2.98 ERA and a 50:22 K:BB ratio in 63.1 innings with Midland and Sacramento.

When he returned to the mound in 2011, Simmons' velocity was down considerably (generally in the 82-85 MPH range). This season, he saw his numbers climb back up into the high 80s and he has reportedly been at 88-92 during the Arizona Fall League. Teams will get a good look at Simmons during the AFL season and, if he pitches well, he could draw some interest given his pedigree. As of October 29, Simmons had yet to allow a hit in 6.1 AFL innings, although he had walked three while striking out five. If the A's have to choose between protecting Simmons or Leon, they will probably go with Leon, but both will be under consideration to be added to the roster.

Bruce Billings: Billings flew under-the-radar this season, but he had a solid campaign. The right-hander spent most of the season with Triple-A Sacramento and he posted a 3.98 ERA with a 117:39 K:BB ratio in 133.1 innings for the River Cats. Acquired for Mark Ellis from the Colorado Rockies in 2011, Billings has been both a reliever and a starter during his pro career, but he was primarily a starter in 2012 and pitched well in that role.

Despite that success, the A's never called on Billings for a major league start in 2012, which could be an indication that they don't plan to add him to the 40-man roster this off-season. If he isn't protected but makes it through the draft unclaimed, Billings is a strong candidate to receive an invitation to big league camp as a non-roster player.


Other Notable First-Year Eligible

Paul Smyth: Smyth has two years of Double-A ball under his belt and experience as a late-innings reliever. As a side-armer, Smyth could draw some Rule 5 interest from teams looking for a groundball pitcher. However, his walk rate and flyball rate both rose this year with Midland. The A's have a lot of relief pitching depth and are likely to leave Smyth unprotected.

Rashun Dixon: The talented Dixon has struggled in two stints with the High-A Stockton Ports and finished the 2012 season back in Low-A ball with Burlington. A high school draft pick in 2008, Dixon is still only 22-years-old but isn't polished enough at the plate or in the field to be considered for the Rule 5 draft.

Michael Gilmartin: Gilmartin had a strong second-half with Stockton after struggling during the first half of the season, but he repeated at High-A this year and isn't likely to be a Rule 5 target.

Myrio Richard: Injuries have stalled Richard's progress the past three seasons and he struggled when he was in the line-up this year for the Ports.

Murphy Smith: Smith got off to a strong start in his first year at the Double-A level, but he struggled down-the-stretch and finished with a 4.82 ERA for the Rockhounds. The A's like Smith's ability to induce groundballs, but given the depth of young pitching already on the roster, he is likely to be left unprotected.

Connor Hoehn: Hoehn has good stuff, as evidenced by his career 10.5 K/9. Command issues have him stalled at High-A, however.

Nate Long: Long has moved slowly, but steadily up the A's chain. He spent nearly all of last season with Stockton as a long reliever/spot starter. He has only one appearance above the A-ball level and isn't likely to be a Rule 5 target.

A.J. Huttenlocker: Huttenlocker was nearly unhittable with Stockton in 2011, but the left-hander struggled in 2012, first with Midland and then with Stockton after a mid-season demotion. Huttenlocker has good command, but he doesn't have plus stuff and needs to be perfect with his location to succeed.

Omar Duran: Duran has looked like he was on the verge of a breakout season for several years now, but injuries have stymied the hard-throwing left-hander. Duran has plus stuff (42 strike-outs in 20.1 innings for Vermont this season), but he also has command problems (20 walks with the Lake Monsters) and an injury history. Although his resume is similar to Ynoa's, Duran doesn't have Ynoa's name recognition amongst scouts around the league. With less than 10 innings in full-season ball under his belt, the 22-year-old isn't likely to be protected.


Other Notable Previously Eligible

Brett Hunter: The hard-throwing righty is currently pitching at the Arizona Fall League. Hunter received a seven-figure over-slot bonus out of the seventh round in the 2008 draft, but injuries have hampered his development. He has been a strike-out pitcher throughout his career, but his command has prevented him from developing into an elite prospect. He currently has five walks in 5.1 innings in the AFL. A team could take a flier on his power arsenal, but he isn't likely to be protected by the A's.

Shawn Haviland: Also currently pitching in the AFL, Haviland is coming off of his second year at the Double-A level. He improved a lot during his second go with the Rockhounds, dropping his ERA from 7.08 to 4.80. He has had two good starts and one poor start thus far in the AFL season.

Gary Daley, Jr: Daley is also participating in the AFL. He was eligible for minor league free agency at the start of the off-season, but re-signed with the A's. Daley has been a project of A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson since Daley was acquired by the A's in 2010. The former third-round pick has good stuff, but he has struggled with command throughout his career and that has continued thus far into the AFL season.

Julio Ramos: The talented left-hander finally made it back on the hill this season after missing all of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns thanks to an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery. Ramos pitched well in 30.2 innings for Burlington and Vermont, but finished the year on the DL. Despite his talent, he isn't a realistic candidate to be selected in the Rule 5 given his injury history and lack of experience above A-ball. Like Daley, Ramos was a minor league free agent at the start of the off-season but chose to re-sign with Oakland.

Jeremy Barfield: Our resident blogging outfielder is eligible for a second year. Barfield repeated at the Double-A level in 2012 and improved in nearly every offensive category. Despite those improvements, Barfield isn't a strong candidate to be selected in the Rule 5 and is likely to be left unprotected.

Tyler Ladendorf: Ladendorf got off to a hot start in his second season with Midland, but he struggled during the second half and finished the 2012 campaign with a 682 OPS. Ladendorf is a plus defender at several positions and has good speed, so if he had been able to maintain his first-half 802 OPS, he may have drawn some interest in the Rule 5 amongst teams looking for a bench player. However, his second-half fade will likely keep him from being a Rule 5 candidate and from being protected by the A's.


Other Rule 5 Eligible Players: Trey Barham (had Tommy John surgery during the season), Jonathan Joseph, Dusty Coleman, Kelvin Rojas, Douglas Landaeta, Jensi Peralta, Mitchell LeVier, Pedro Vidal, David Mota, Travis Banwart, Josh Horton, Carlos Hernandez, Mike Ekstrom (signed by the A's as a minor league free agent earlier this week), Franklin Contreras, Deyvi Jimenez, Nino Leyja, Miguel Marte, Reynaldo Mateo, Ryan Doolittle (had Tommy John surgery during the season), Diomedes Lopez, Daniel Tenholder (missed entire season with injury), Chris Mederos (missed entire season recovering from Tommy John, Eliezer Mesa, any free agents the A's sign to minor league deals before the first week of December and any players the A's remove from their 40-man roster who clear waivers before the first week of December.

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