2009 Rule 5 Draft Preview: Middle Infielders

Yesterday I reviewed a few catching options in the 2009 Rule 5 draft, although the chances of the Pirates selecting a catcher in the Rule 5 draft are slim.  There is a good chance that the Pirates could look at a middle infield option in the Rule 5 draft, and there are several available options that caught my eye this year.

The Pirates are weak at middle infield in the upper levels.  They recently traded for Akinori Iwamura to be their starting second baseman in 2010, although Iwamura is only under control for one season.  Ronny Cedeno projects to be the starting shortstop, but an optimistic projection for Cedeno still makes him a number eight hitter at best.  Ramon Vazquez doesn’t have the defense to play everyday, and has struggled in his career against left handed pitching, which doesn’t make him an every day player.  Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz haven’t shown much in their time in the majors, and both could be off the 40-man roster by the time Spring Training rolls around.

Argenis Diaz is at AAA, but is only 22 years old, and is a defense-first shortstop prospect, with his offense preventing him from being an everyday option in the majors at this point.  Shelby Ford and Brian Friday both fell off this past year, and Ford is exposed for the 2009 Rule 5 draft.  The Pirates have some promising players making the jump to AA this year in Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison, although as we saw with Brian Friday this past year, success in high-A doesn’t guarantee success in AA.  The Pirates have several options below this trio, such as Jarek Cunningham, Brock Holt, and Benjamin Gonzalez, but still no solid options above the AA level.

The San Diego Padres showed last year that you can find a decent middle infielder in the Rule 5 draft when they selected Everth Cabrera with the third pick in the 2008 Rule 5 draft (the Pirates selected Donald Veal with the next pick).  Cabrera made the jump all the way from low-A ball, where he posted a .284/.361/.399 line in 479 at-bats in 2008.  Cabrera posted a .255/.342/.361 line in 377 Major League at-bats in 2009, with 25 stolen bases.  Cabrera did struggle on defense, with a -11.7 UZR, but his selection was a success when considering he was a 22 year old jumping three levels to the majors.  So is there an Everth Cabrera in the 2009 draft?  Here are some middle infield options I like:

Ryan Mount, 2B, LAA

Mount was the number 14 prospect in the Angels’ farm system heading in to the 2009 season, according to Baseball America.  He spent the 2009 season in AA, with a .252/.301/.344 line in 305 at-bats.  This follows a 2008 season where he hit for a .290/.337/.512 line with 16 homers in 338 at-bats in the hitter friendly California League.

Mount’s biggest problem has been an injury plagued career.  He matched his career best 88 games in 2009, but has suffered injuries in each of the last three seasons.  Of course, that could mean he would be easy to hide on the active roster, with plenty of trips to the disabled list, similar to what we saw with Donald Veal in 2009.

Mount has above-average power for a middle infielder.  He has average speed, which makes him exclusively a second baseman, moving over from shortstop in 2007.  The Angels have a lot of middle infield options in their system, which combined with the injury history, explains why they could afford to leave Mount unprotected.

Scott Campbell, 2B, TOR

Campbell entered the 2009 season as the number 11 prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system, according to Baseball America.  He spent the 2009 season between high-A, AA, and AAA, receiving only 96 at-bats in AAA.  He hit for a .272/.368/.356 line in 298 at-bats combined between all three levels, with a .269/.373/.374 line in 182 at-bats in AA.

Campbell hit for a .302/.398/.427 line in 417 at-bats in AA in 2008, with nine homers.  He struggled at the end of the 2008 season after a hand injury, and struggled in 2009 at the plate after an early season injury.  Campbell is below average on defense, but his arm allows him to play both second and third base.  He turned 25 in September, and doesn’t really project to be a future Major League starter, although he could be comparable to Ramon Vazquez as a backup infielder.

Steven Singleton, 2B, MIN

Singleton spent the 2009 season between high-A and AA in the Minnesota farm system, posting a combined .277/.326/.422 line in 455 at-bats.  Singleton struggled some in high-A, with a .269/.329/.424 line in 297 at-bats.  That was strange, as Singleton had no problems in 2008 in high-A, with a .295/.371/.452 line in 241 at-bats.  The struggles could have been a fluke, as Singleton excelled in AA with a .291/.319/.418 line in 158 at-bats.

Singleton’s numbers look similar to Josh Harrison.  He doesn’t draw a great deal of walks (although more than Harrison), but at the same time he doesn’t strike out often, with just 49 strikeouts in his 455 at-bats in 2009.  Singleton hit for 11 homers in A-ball last year in 476 at-bats, but only managed six homers in 455 at-bats this year between high-A and AA.  He plays second base and shortstop primarily, but has recorded two games playing third base.  He could be a utility infielder in the majors, as a good left handed bat off the bench.  Singleton turned 24 in September.

Blake Davis, SS, BAL

Davis had a breakout season in 2007 when he hit for a .291/.362/.409 line in 357 at-bats in the Carolina League in high-A.  He followed that up with a strong 2008 season in the Eastern League at AA, in which he hit for a .284/.324/.389 line in 457 at-bats.  Davis was in contention to make the majors out of Spring Training in 2009, but suffered a stress fracture in his left foot.  The injury cost Davis half the season, and he ended up hitting for a .211/.270/.272 line in 180 at-bats in AAA.

Davis doesn’t excel in any area defensively, but he does do everything well enough to make him a starting option in the middle infield.  He hasn’t played any other positions, but his coaches have said he can play second base and serve as a utility player.  An interesting note is that Cleveland originally drafted Davisin the 46th round of the 2005 draft, so there’s a possibility that Neal Huntington could have Davis on his radar.

Davis turns 26 on December 22nd, which means he’s getting close to the make or break point in his career.  He looked strong in 2007 and 2008, and it’s obvious that his injury in 2009 played a big role in his struggles this past year.  The Pirates could take a chance that his injury issues are behind him.  If they are, and he manages to hit like he did in 2008 at the AA level, he could challenge Ronny Cedeno for the starting job.  Worst case, he’d be a decent utility player, probably better than Brian Bixler or Luis Cruz.

Check back tomorrow when I will review some outfield options in the 2009 Rule 5 draft…

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • szielinski

    Pirates luck = offering Lee arbitration, having Lee refuse arbitration, seeing Lee sign with the Brewers and not getting a compensation pick for Lee.

  • Lee Young

    Tim….did you see this from Bob Smizik? Doesn’t say much for our over slotting…


    I wonder how other teams are doing with their over slotting?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I didn’t see it, up until I clicked that link.

      My response to the over-slotting players is that it is too early to be concerned with a lot of these players. There’s reason for concern with some of them. For me, scouting reports matter more in the lower levels than numbers. These guys are working on new pitches, focusing on their fastball, making minor adjustments to their delivery. It’s not really about the numbers, but it’s about getting them developed.

      Two examples I could give are Zack Dodson and Ryan Hafner. Both have poor numbers this year. In the Prospect Guide I said that Hafner could be this year’s version of ZVR, because he doesn’t throw with consistently high velocity, and has a tendency to leave a few balls up in the zone. So when I see his .295 BAA and two homers in 11.2 innings, there’s some concern.
      Dodson has great stuff that can dominate lower level hitters. We saw that last year. But despite the numbers last year, his command struggled at times, and he was inconsistent. It just didn’t show up in the stat line. He could put up strong numbers again, but he wouldn’t be making the changes to put up those strong numbers in the upper levels.

      It’s kind of like the situation with Jameson Taillon last year. I saw him a lot, saw that his stuff could easily dominate that level, and said on a few occasions that I felt if he just pitched and didn’t focus on development,
      he’d have an ERA below 2.00. This year he’s incorporating his secondary
      stuff more, and he’s also seeing improvements on his fastball command.
      Because of that, we’re seeing those dominant numbers.

      In short, the numbers don’t tell the story with a lot of these guys. If
      they didn’t worry about making adjustments you’d see some excellent
      numbers. But you also wouldn’t see those numbers as the players moved up
      the ladder, since they would have been focused on dominating A-ball
      hitters, rather than developing their game to work at the upper levels.

      • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

        The guy who retired already, is beyond concern. The Pirates inability to draft and/or develop talent hasn’t gone away.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Way too early to make that claim.

      • Lee Young

        Thanks Tim…

        I appreciate the writeup…

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          No problem.

          One other example I thought of after posting. Last year ZVR was hammered in the first half, then had success in the second half. That was a prime example of what I was talking about. The only thing that changed was that ZVR started pitching off his curveball in the second half, which is a very good pitch. That led to his success, but he didn’t show improvements with his fastball command, which led to the first half struggles. And that’s why he’s currently in extended Spring Training, because he still hasn’t fixed those issues, and he can’t pitch off his curveball forever.

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