Rhiner Cruz? 1st Pick? Seriously? by Mike Newman December 9, 2011 In seeing Rhiner Cruz‘ name as the top pick in this year’s Rule 5 draft, my first thought was this would be the last time I ever spent a tangible amount of time prepping for it. In a moment of clarity, the Houston Astros helped me understand just how important the Rule 5 draft is NOT. Even after reading Adam Foster’s piece breaking down Rule 5 draft picks between 2007-2010 which hammers home the fact players selected essentially have zero value on average, I was still hopeful for something…. anything worthy of excitement from a prospect perspective. No offense to Rhiner Cruz specifically, but I spent the entire 2009 season watching him close for Savannah, the New York Mets full-season Class A affiliate and never felt the need to actually scout him. At the time, Cruz was 22 and lived off a bit of a funky delivery and a fastball which topped out at 92. With a fringy little slurve, it was enough to keep lower-level hitters off balanced, but not an arsenal that would translate well at the big-league level. My most vivid Cruz memory was watching him come in to close out a one-run game only to walk the bases loaded on twelve pitches before being pulled. In fairness to Cruz, good friend in baseball Mike Diaz of Mets Minor League Blog scouted him more recently than I to verify Cruz’ fastball was now in the 94-96 range, touching 97 MPH on a number of occasions. Excellent velocity, for sure, but if his command and at least one secondary pitch didn’t also improve dramatically over a couple of years ago, Cruz would throw 107 MPH and I’d still wonder how well the stuff played at the big-league level. And this scenario kind of played out at the double-A level as Cruz posted a 4.58 FIP while walking nearly six batters per nine innings. Even more concerning is the fact he struck out less than eight per nine as an older “prospect”. With the Houston Astros in full rebuilding mode, Cruz may very well be stashed and used in the most low leverage of situations through 2012, but I simply can’t envision a larger bullpen role than that. In 2011, I had the opportunity to scout a couple of other prospects worth at least a brief mention for the most hardcore of prospect followers in Erik Komatsu (Cardinals) and Luis Rojas (Giants). Luis Rojas is one of the hardest throwers I’ve ever had the opportunity to scout. This is not to say he’s a particularly good prospect, but kudos to the Giants organization for taking a shot on a guy the Mets organization really never gave a legitimate shot to. As somebody who watched the Savannah Sand Gnats roll out reliever-after-reliever with fastballs upper-80s and no upside, a young righty pumping 96 MPH should have been granted consistent innings and the opportunity to work through his serious command issues. It’s more than likely Rojas will amount to little in the end, but he was all but guaranteed that outcome until yesterday. In Erik Komatsu, the St. Louis Cardinals selected an outfielder who fits what they look for in versatile bench players quite well. For me, he’s similar offensively to Skip Schumaker who played some centerfield before making the conversion to second base. And while the ability to play a middle infield position, plus some outfield chops leaves Schumaker a more valuable player defensively, the fact Komatsu can play all three outfield spots – at least in a pinch – leaves him a potential steal at the league minimum when Schumaker made more than five times that in 2011 and is projected at a salary of a shade above three million through arbitration. With a number of non-tender candidates with similar offensive skill sets on the roster at present, Komatsu may very well stick. I should have learned my lesson last season after another Mets farmhand, Elvin Ramirez, went third to the Nationals, but I was fooled twice so shame on me. Next season, I hope to see virtual crickets in the @ScoutingtheSAL Twitter feed come Rule 5 draft day.