With the fifth pick in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft (that doesn't sound half as good as when it happened in June), the Twins selected right-hander J.R. Graham from the Atlanta Braves. Sean Gilmartin, on his way out, was acquired from the Braves for Ryan Doumit.
Losing Gilmartin, 24, was expected. The lefty was a first-round pick in 2011 and was slowed by injury in 2013, but for Minnesota this season he compiled a 3.71 ERA in 145.2 innings between Double and Triple-A. He's good depth for any system, but now that the Mets will be forced to keep him on the 25-man roster they'll be stashing him as a LOOGY specialist out of their bullpen. It would surprise me if he wasn't perfectly adequate in that role, which again begs the question of why the Twins will pay a multiple of what would be Gilmartin's Major League salary (the league minimum) in order to retain Brian Duensing.
In Graham, the Twins have another reclamation project. A fourth-round pick by the Braves in 2011, he was considered a talented arm with some pretty good upside. His fastball was in the upper-90s and he had a plus slider, but his mechanics were considered high-effort, with scouts stating that an arm injury was inevitable. The reports reminded me of Francisco Liriano.
After eight starts to start the 2013 season, Atlanta's Double-A affiliate put Graham on the disabled list with a strained shoulder. He was supposed to miss a few weeks but ended up missing the rest of the season. Even after all that, Talkin Chop (SB Nation's Atlanta Braves community) ranked him as their number two prospect headed into 2014. Here's what they said:
Scouting reports around the league read in a similar fashion. But he lost most time to injury in 2014, and when he returned was a mixed bag of tricks. He had lost five miles per hour or so off of his fastball, the slider had more movement but had lost its bite, and the two-seam fastball remained his best pitch but sat just above 90mph.
Graham is no longer a power pitcher and has had to learn to control his body. The result is that the Braves considered him expendable. Minnesota gets an opportunity to check him out in person, to see how the arm is recovering, and to see if his once golden arm can find some form out of the bullpen.
There's still upside to Graham. Certainly more than there was for Gilmartin or even Scott Diamond, if we want to keep bringing up ex-Atlanta pitchers. But the command is going to have to come more easily, and he's going to have to prove that he can repeat his delivery and get Major League hitters out - even if it's in short stints instead of as a starter.