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Rule Fivin' It On Down the Road

Thinking a bit about the good doctor, and then writing a whole bunch of words about marginal prospects.

Congratulations, Tony. Nobody deserves it more, even if you were a giant pain in my ass much of the time.
Congratulations, Tony. Nobody deserves it more, even if you were a giant pain in my ass much of the time.
Marc Serota

Roy Halladay has retired.

I have to admit, it took me completely by surprise when I saw the news that Doc has decided to hang up his spikes and call it a career; I thought Halladay still had another good year or two in him, to be honest. Hell, if Mark Mulder's half pound of ground chuck "shoulder" has enough juice in it that he can even consider a comeback, I would think Doc Halladay could put together at least one more good campaign.

Then again, if the man feels he can't be the man anymore, perhaps it's time for the man to not try and be the man. We hate it when athletes hang on too long; it's unseemly, we think, to see the heroes of our youth doddering out to their positions on the field, possessed of a job only because neither their internal clocks nor the fanbase-beholden teams that employ them have the heart to say it's time to rest, friend. At least Keith Richards has been pickled in a vodka and heroin solution; plus, the stick they shove up his ass to wave him around on the stage like a finger puppet seems to add a certain lifelike quality. Old ballplayers just have to get by on the magic of nostalgia and pity and love.

The symmetry, of course, is palpable; Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay came up together as two-thirds of a legendary trio in Toronto, along with Kelvim Escobar, whose biggest career highlights ultimately came as an under-the-radar-solid starter for the Angels in the mid- to late-aughts. The three of them were supposed to dominate the league for years to come, an earlier version of the DVD trio Texas had coming a few years ago (that's John Danks, Edinson Volquez, and Thomas Diamond for those of you keeping score at home), or a latter-day version of the Mets' Generation K (Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher), triumvirate back in the day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering how rarely these things go according to plan, the Blue Jays' triple threat never quite came together the way they had hoped.

Escobar last appeared in the majors in 2009, pitching a single inning for the Angels. Chris Carpenter won a Cy Young, two World Series, and the angry, obscenity-screaming hearts of a fanbase here in St. Louis, but ultimately lost his battle to time and injury, bowing out in what seems like the foreverest ago less than two months in the past press conference imaginable.

Halladay ended up the best of them all, though he never did win on the big stage the way Carpenter did. Their careers began together and ended together, both in the timing of their retirements and the final, lasting images anyone will have of either of them, that Game 5 duel in 2011 that may very well be the greatest game I've ever seen played. Game 6 of the Series may have the memories attached, but Carp vs. Doc that cold night in Philly is the game tape I would take into a fallout shelter with me. It was everything you could ever ask a baseball game to be.

I wonder to myself what it would cost to get Carpenter and Halladay together to reenact that scene toward the end of "Tombstone", when Wyatt Carp gave his friend Doc a Cardinal jersey, because Halladay has always wondered what it would feel like to wear one of those. Halladay laying in bed, desperately sick with the rare Shoulder Consumption, Carp himself forced to wear his gun across his chest because his own shoulder makes it impossible for him to shoot from the hip any longer.

Going off to face Chase Utley, asking Doc, "I can't get a cutter by him, can I?"

Doc answering, "No, you can't."

And then, "Chris, if you were ever my friend, leave now. I don't want you to see me this way, with my velocity all shot to hell and my labrum frayed six ways to Sunday. Go, and don't look back."

Okay, my fan fiction aside, we have a Rule V draft to talk about. I'm sure everybody knows the drill on the Rule V draft by now; players who have been in a minor league system for more than five or six years (depending on when the player in question entered the system), but are not on a team's 40-man roster are eligible to be picked by any other team with less than a full 40-man of their own. The catch is said player must remain on the major league roster all season or be offered back to his original team. It's kind of a big catch, particularly for a contending team. It's hard to hide a player who may not be ready for the big leagues when you're shooting for the postseason. Still, there are always players here and there who slip through the cracks but, for one reason or another are interesting in their skillset.

I've got five players I think the Cardinals might have some interest in; or, at least, five players I'm interested in for the Cardinals, which isn't really the same thing, and three players the Redbirds themselves could end up losing tomorrow. Without further ado (because I'm already at 850+ words of ado at this point), here we go:

Danny Burawa, RHP, Yankees -- One of the themes you'll notice on this list is the presence of power-armed relievers. It's the kind of demographic which lends itself to something like the Rule V draft; sure, the player in question may not be completely ready for the big leagues, but velocity is something you just can't teach, and it can serve as one hell of an equalizer. Plus, we know the Cardinals have placed a premium on hard throwers in recent years, particularly in the 'pen, so any pitcher capable of lighting up a radar gun could at least potentially pique their interest.

And velocity, well, that's something Burawa has. His fastball is one of the better heaters you're going to find in the minors, sitting around 95, ranging from 93-97, and features nice sinking life as well. At his best, Burawa can overmatch hitters with his fastball, the combination of movement and velocity creating tons of weak contact and late, empty swings.

What he doesn't have, unfortunately, is much beyond that fastball. His command ranges from below average to simply not there at all, and he has yet to settle on a breaking ball that matches the promise of his heater. He does throw a sweepy sort of slider from a slingy slot, but the pitch just isn't there consistently.

The Cardinals have pretty remarkable depth in terms of the pitching staff already, and it might be somewhat unlikely to see them add another arm to the mix. Nonetheless, given their preference for power in the 'pen, if the club felt the coaching staff could help mold an arm like this, help Burawa find the strike zone more consistently and develop a more reliable second pitch, he might just be a chance worth taking, at least for spring training competition.

Brian Fletcher, 1B/OF, Royals -- Okay, see where it says '1B/OF' right there? After the word Fletcher? Yeah, see, that's a position. Problem is, Fletcher's only real position is 'hitter', as he doesn't have much skill on the defensive side of things.

The intriguing thing about Fletcher is the fact he does boast plus power from the right side of the plate, a rather difficult to find commodity in baseball at the moment. He tore up Double A this past season (albeit in his second go-round), and hit 17 homers all told in just over 330 plate appearances on the season. He did struggle at the Triple A level, and may not be ready to contribute even in a very limited role at the major league level. Given the anemic state of the Cards' bench, I could see them taking a flyer on a guy with some real thump, particularly depending on how they see the whole Matt Adams/Allen Craig/Oscar Taveras clusterfuck sorting itself out.

Marcos Mateo, RHP, Cubs -- You know how every year there are a couple of guys who shoot up the ranks of the June draft class, and we talk about the 'helium' those particular players possess? Well, it's kind of rare that a player has helium in the Rule V draft, given we're usually talking about fringy prospects anyway, and there usually isn't much baseball being played in the first week of December. I think Josh Hamilton is the last player I can recall who really seemed to be getting a ton of hype going into the Rule V, back that year the Reds pulled off some weird deal with the Cubs to get him.

Well, Mateo is, in fact, a helium player for the Rule V draft, largely due to the fact he's been a prospect forever and is currently doing absurd things in Winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He made it to the big leagues with the Cubs in both 2010 and 2011, then missed the last two seasons with elbow issues. He appears to be healthy now, and is dominating the Dominican League to the tune of a sub-1.00 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 19 innings. He throws in the high-90s with a plus slider, and his career K/9 is 10.28. The bad news? He's 29 years old, has an elbow injury in the recent past, and has always been prone to bouts of wildness. Still, this is another huge upside arm at the back end of a bullpen some team is almost assuredly going to take a chance on for 50K and a league-minimum salary.

Brett Eibner, OF, Royals -- I remember when Brett Eibner was drafted out of Arkansas, back in the magical year of 2010. I remember, because I wrote him up in a draft preview post, and I was a pretty big fan, actually. He was a two-way player for the Razorbacks, and a lot of people liked him better as a pitcher than a position player. I was one of those people, as I thought his mechanics on the mound were solid and his stuff was plus, while his swing was long and loopy and had some serious holes. (Bonus: that same post contains a writeup of high school catcher Kellin Deglan, picked by the Rangers that year, who has steadily moved into serious prospectdom since.)

The Royals, on the other hand, liked him as an outfielder, and I can't exactly blame them for it. Eibner has speed -- enough to play a very solid center field -- he has power -- he put up a .209 ISO this season in Double A -- and he still has the arm that made him an attractive pitching prospect in the first place and now makes him very dangerous to opposing baserunners looking to take a base that doesn't belong to them.

So what's the problem, you ask? Unfortunately for Eibner and the Royals, that loopy swing I didn't like coming out of college has produced hideous contact numbers in pro ball, with K rates hovering in the neighbourhood of 30% for his career. He did look better as 2013 wore on, as the Royals made some mechanical changes to his swing which seemed to help, but still, those numbers are very, very ugly.

The Cardinals don't need any more outfielders. At all. Eibner has some pretty serious warts, as well. So why would I put him in this post? Because he could represent the same kind of righthanded power off the bench as Brian Fletcher, only with a vastly greater upside. If the Redbirds could hide him on the bench for a year, getting him plate appearances while giving the coaching staff time to work with him (and maybe a mysterious injury in the middle of the season to send him to the minors for a bit...), they might be able to turn him into a real asset by the time 2014 is on the wane. It would be tough, though.

Marco Hernandez, SS, Cubs -- Marco Hernandez is very unusual among the players on this list, in that Marco Hernandez is a genyooine, bona fide prospect. Not to say these other guys aren't at all; it's just that Hernandez is a viable player at the most premium of premium positions, shows the tools to be an above-average major leaguer there long term, and is also still just 21 years old.

All that being said, Hernandez just probably isn't ready for the big leagues in 2014. The highest level he's reached is Low A ball, and the jump from the Midwest League to the majors is just...hard to fathom. He would strictly be a stash player, a guy you hide at the very tail end of your 25 man roster with the hopes it doesn't ruin his development too very much to sit for a season without a whole lot of playing time. He won't turn 22 until next September, so there's reason to believe it might still be worth it, but honestly, that's a luxury I'm just not sure the Cardinals can afford at this point. Again, the whole, "contending for a title" thing.

Hernandez has above-average speed, a solid but not spectacular arm at short, and plenty of range to stay at the position. He still has some growing to do as well, currently weighing in at just 170 pounds on a 6'0" frame, so there could be more power in his future. It's easy to dream on the player he could still become, but the hoops you would have to jump through to get him into and keep him in your system makes me think he might be just a pipe dream in this case.

Bonus Names: Hector Nelo, RHP, Dodgers, and Ryan Tepera, RHP, Blue Jays -- Two more power arms to keep one eye on, Nelo can hit triple digits with his fastball, while Tepera dominated in 2013 after moving to relief.

Phew. That's a lot of talking, isn't it? I promise I'll be briefer with the three players I think the Cardinals could lose. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given how the Cards' system is currently constructed, all three are pitchers.

Seth Blair, RHP -- I liked Seth Blair when the Cardinals picked him. A lot. A starter at Arizona State, Blair boasted a power arm and a pair of nasty breaking pitches when he was drafted, along with some mild concerns about his command.

Mild concerns. Huh.

Seth Blair walked more than six batters per nine innings at every stop in his minor league career up until this season, when he finally seemed to get things somewhat under control, pushing his BB/9 down to 3.33. Still not Cliff Lee territory, but acceptable at least. Why Blair's control has been so appalling in pro ball is beyond me, to be honest, but them's the facts, folks. Unfortunately, that improvement just might be enough for some team to pluck him away from the Redbirds tomorrow with the hope he could use his power repertoire in a major league bullpen in 2014.

For my money, I think he just might be able to make it work. He throws his fastball in the 92-95 range, and has a curveball that at times can be completely unhittable. Consistency is still a big issue, though, and even when he's not walking hitters Blair's command is spotty at best. If he could continue to tighten things up, this is a late inning relief arm just waiting to happen (though the Cardinals have continued to use him as a starter in pro ball, I see his future in one-inning work), but that's a huge question at this point.

It's interesting; I look at a lot of the pitchers I've written up here, and Blair definitely fits in with them. If I had my druthers, maybe instead of picking some other team's high-upside question mark, the Cards would just have protected their own. But, the fact they didn't protect him sends a clear message they don't believe he's ready to actually stick on a major league roster in 2014, and they could very well be right.

Boone Whiting, RHP -- Possessor of one of the all-time great baseball names, Boone Whiting was a small-school draft selection in 2010 based on -- besides the great name, of course -- remarkable control over a middling repertoire of pitches. Since then, his control numbers are no longer quite so noteworthy, but it seems that's more likely a product of having to pitch more carefully as he's moved up the ladder.

Unfortunately, Whiting has had trouble staying healthy the last two seasons, pitching just over 170 innings total in 2012 and '13. Still, when he's been on the mound, the results have mostly been very good, as his strikeout rate has always been surprisingly strong for a pitcher without overwhelming stuff. His fastball comes in around 90 or 91 on average, and he matches the pitch with a plus changeup that I personally adore. He also has a slurvy breaking pitch that can be good at times, but feels a little lazy at others. He throws straight over the top, and his fastball is a little on the straight side, but the stuff is still plenty good to get outs.

Boone's biggest issue the past couple seasons has been the long ball, partly a function of pitching in the Texas and Pacific Coast leagues, but also largely a function of just the way he pitches. He's very much a flyball pitcher, and it makes me wonder if he couldn't be an effective back-end starter for some team with a spacious ballpark where those flyballs aren't going to find the seats quite so often. I'm a big fan of this kid, and I would hate to see the Cardinals lose him. Then again, with the way the depth chart looks at the moment, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of opportunity for Whiting, so maybe a Rule V selection would be for the best.

Dean Kiekhefer, LHP -- Dean Kiekhefer is, quite simply, Seth Manness, only in a mirror. He's not a big guy, he doesn't throw particularly hard, he doesn't strike many guys out. Oh, and he also doesn't walk anybody. Ever. In 2012, he walked just 1.6% of the hitters he faced at Palm Beach. In 2013, after some serious control problems in his second shot at the Florida State League (4.3% walk rate), he moved up to Springfield and walked...1.5% of the hitters he faced there, albeit in an extremely small sample size.

It's tough to say whether any team will think enough of Kiekhefer to pluck him tomorrow. The stats don't wow you, by any means, as his strikeout rates are uninspiring to say the least. But as a pitcher who is capable of soaking up some innings in a bullpen and never, ever getting himself in trouble via the free pass, I wonder if he might not be intriguing to some club whose own relief corps is badly in need of some innings support.

The Cardinals are in a somewhat awkward position for the Rule V draft this year; they pick way down at the end of the round (same as in the regular draft), they're obviously contenders, and they don't have a whole lot of obvious needs they might be trying to address. Still, we've seen what a bullpen full of power arms can accomplish in recent seasons, and the bench was a significant source of sadness this past year. If the club feels there's a player available who might be able to add some real value in one of those spots, I could certainly see El Birdos taking a chance on one of these players for a marginal, #23-25 on the roster sort of role.

Okay, folks, that's all for me today. I'll be back next week, maybe with another amateur draft preview or something. Take care.