The 2015 Rule 5 Draft is quickly approaching, and as December 10 gets closer, the Twins will hone in on their options. A season ago, the club selected reliever J.R. Graham from the Atlanta Braves organization, while losing Sean Gilmartin to the New York Mets. A similar scenario could play out this time should the Twins look to add through another organization's leftovers.
With the Rule 5 Draft, major league teams are able to select players from a pool of eligible prospects spanning across all big league organizations. In selecting a player during the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, that player must remain on the active roster throughout the 2016 season, or be offered back to the original organization. Minnesota accomplished that most recently with both Ryan Pressly and J.R. Graham.
Although Graham was far from lights out for the Twins, he provided a large amount of innings (63.2 IP) while working to the tune of a 4.95 ERA in his first major league season. Having dealt with injuries since 2012, Minnesota took a shot on the lefty who could push the radar gun out of the pen. Likely headed to Triple-A to start the 2015 season, Graham looks the part of a solid relief depth addition.
This time around, the Twins could again experience a similar scenario when it comes to the Rule 5 draft. One of the most notable names left unprotected by the organization was that of Zack Jones. The Twins 4th round pick in 2012, Jones is a fireballer that is generally given late inning, high leverage work. As with many Rule 5 pitching types, Jones' biggest issue is his control. This past season, Jones struck out batters at an impressive 11.8 K/9 rate. The issue however is that he also issued free passes at a 4.9 BB/9 clip. Although better than his career 5.0 BB/9 rate, the lack of control led to a late season demotion back to High-A Fort Myers.
In looking at the state of the Twins bullpen in the time ahead, there's plenty of reason to believe that Jones could contribute. With Nick Burdi and Jake Reed looking poised to make 2016 debuts, half of Jones' numbers suggest he should be right there with him. However, the fact that the Twins left him unprotected is telling, and could have the debut come for another big league team. Minnesota is probably in a better position than they aren't to see another organization scoop up Jones.
To replace him, and add to the pen, the Twins have a handful of options. As things stand currently, Minnesota has two 40 man roster openings. One of them should be filled in the coming days with the signing of Byung Ho Park becoming official. The other could be used on a free agent arm, or someone selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
It's a tough argument to suggest that the Twins would look to grab a positional player in the Rule 5 Draft. With the fact that whoever the selection would be needs to be able to play, the assumed roster construction for Paul Molitor's squad doesn't highlight any immediate fits. That leads us back to the relief options available, and the most likely scenario for the Twins to make a selection. Following the mold of Graham, Terry Ryan and the Twins could target a hard thrower, and deal with the control issues.
Given the current crop of available names, there's plenty of these options to consider. With Jones being of the same mold, the Twins making a similar selection would signify wanting to take a flier on someone outside of the organization. I'd lean towards the assumption that Minnesota would want to do more than make a swap of a Jones type, so here's some names to consider:
Rafael de Paula (RHP), Padres - de Paula is 24, and could be ready to help a big league club. Initially worked in as a starter in San Diego's organization, his shift to the pen provided much more impressive results. He can push his fastball to the mid-90's and his 34/10 K/BB ratio in 26 relief innings would qualify as some of the best control of those eligible.
Jose Martinez (RHP), Diamondbacks - Martinez has youth on his side as he's just 21 years old. Much like Graham, Martinez has struggled to stay healthy thus far in his career. When he has however, he's pushed near triple digits, and the Twins had success getting Graham to stay healthy.
Juancito Martinez (RHP), Marlins - Working most heavily against him is the fact that Martinez is 26. He was great in High-A during the 2015 season as a closer, but a promotion to Double-A spelled disaster (7.11 BB/9). If Minnesota believes it can get the past command back, they could make Martinez fit in low leverage out of the pen.
Reemit Guduan (LHP), Astros - Guduan is probably the least likely to be able to compete at the big league level out of the names given. What he does have though is the ability to throw triple digits consistently, while being left-handed. He's almost certainly going to be picked on those two facts alone, but he's going to need to stave off significant control issues to be able to help a big league club.
With just a little over a week left until the Rule 5 Draft, there should be clarity sooner rather than later for the Twins. Whether they supplement the bullpen from the free agency pool, or through another avenue, the expectation should be that they will. Knowing this team is in position to take steps forward in the year ahead, it will be integral that they are better able to protect leads late in games.