With the deadline to protect players currently in the organization from the Rule 5 draft passing at midnight, we can now take the first looks at who the Orioles might be interested in come the second week of December. I get a bizarre joy out of randomly thumbing through Baseball Reference and finding unprotected players who might be a good fit in Baltimore. It’s the thrill of the hunt, I guess.
We know the Orioles are likely to select a player in the Rule 5 draft, since they have done so each of the last three seasons. For O’s fans, that makes the Rule 5 draft something worth paying attention to. From now until draft day, I will probably do a few of these posts (in groups of five) looking at potential candidates that might be on the organization’s radar. Up first are a pair of “older” San Diego relievers, an intriguing starter from the Cardinals system, an overachieving jack-of-all-trades from the Royal’s system, and a very attractive left-handed relief option from the Houston system.
Jeff Ibarra – LHP – Padres (Age 27)
2014 – AA (TL): 41 2/3 IP, 10.8 SO/9, 3.2 BB/9, 2.59 ERA
Career (6 Seasons): 292 1/3 IP, 9.0 SO/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.85 ERA
Ibarra handles lefties very well which makes him a possible LOOGY candidate. If the Orioles trade or non-tender Brian Matusz, they might be on the lookout for a cheaper replacement which Ibarra appears to be. The tall left-hander has struggled some against right-handed batters which probably limits his role in the majors. I am not sure if the Orioles are in the market for a strict LOOGY but if they are, Ibarra could be worth a looksee. He is also a slight groundball pitcher which might improve his stock in the organization’s eyes.
Jerry Sullivan – RHP – Padres (Age 27)
2014 – AA/AAA (TL/PCL): 59 IP, 10.1 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9, 6.4 H/9, 2.65 ERA
Career (5 Seasons): 444 2/3 IP, 7.5 SO/9, 2.4 BB/9, 9/6 H/9, 4.41 ERA
Missed all of 2013 with shoulder issues. Was a starter from 2009 – 2011. Moved to the pen in 2012 and saw an uptick in K’s. Sullivan worked as a reliever full time in 2014 and after a hot start in AA (25 IP), he transitioned nicely to the PCL by striking out 29.1% of batters faced over 34 innings. He is a ground ball pitcher as well (1.33 GO/AO in 2014). Actually fared slightly better versus LHB in 2014 (.511 OPS against vs. .588 OPS against). Looks like he could be a late bloomer who benefited from a move to the bullpen.
Boone Whiting – RHP – Cardinals (Age 25)
2014 – AAA (PCL): 96 2/3 IP, 9.2 SO/9, 4.1 BB/9, 8.9 H/9, 4.19 ERA
Career (5 Seasons): 441 2/3 IP, 9.3 SO/9, 2.5 BB/9, 8.0 H/9, 3.36 ERA
A top 30-ish prospect for the Cardinals over most of his minor league career (C+ from John Sickels in 2012). Statistics-wise, he looks like a better performing version of Mike Wright. He has had some trouble staying healthy and has never topped 136 innings pitched in a season. He’s spent the majority of his minor league career as a starter so maybe his stuff would play up in a relief role which he would likely fill if selected by the Orioles. The one thing separating his low minors performance from his AAA performance is a spike in walk rate. This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but an injury prone starter might work as a Rule 5 bullpen pick as one or two small DL stints (while still spending the necessary number of days on the active roster) could ultimately be beneficial.
Whit Merrifield – OF/2B – Royals (Age 26)
2014 – AA/AAA (TL/PCL): 535 PA’s, .319/.371/.470, 14.8% SO rate
Career (5 seasons): 2190 PA’s, .276/.338/.404, 16.3% SO rate
Merrifield is described in various articles as your typical “gritty”, “gamer” type player who is undersized but still produces offensively while playing a multitude of positions. He has over 50 games played at each of the outfield positions plus second base (163 games), with just a small taste of 1B, SS, and 3B. His 2014 numbers are not necessarily PCL-driven. His ISO was actually higher in the Texas League in 2014 (.185) than in the PCL (.134) but his average jumped up in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The obvious comp would be a right-handed Ryan Flaherty. He has crushed lefties throughout his minor league career which makes him a potential platoon candidate. His ability to play multiple positions could help him stick for a full season. It would be somewhat difficult for the O’s to carry Flaherty and Merrifield on the same team (especially if Jonathan Schoop is the starting second baseman) but it is not necessarily impossible. Merrifield’s versatility helps and the fact that he is a right-handed batter works in his favor. He has made enough contact, drawn enough walks, hit for enough power in the minors, and plays enough positions that it is not hard to see him sticking as a part-time player in the majors. He might just be a player that has been passed up because he is undersized and doesn’t carry any blow away tools.
Mitchell Lambson – LHP – Astros (Age 24)
2014 – A+/AA (CAL/TL): 54 2/3 IP, 10.4 SO/9, 1.5 BB/9, 7.6 H/9, 2.14 ERA
Career (4 Seasons): 207 1/3 IP, 10.2 SO/9, 2.3 SO/9, 7.6 H/9, 2.82 ERA
Lambson pitched in the Arizona Fall League after the end of the 2014 season and was excellent, striking out 17 batters in 14 1/3 innings of work. He did allow seven walks but only six hits on his way to a tidy 1.26 ERA. Given his impressive minor league numbers, his likely well-scouted performance in the AFL, and the fact that he is a southpaw, it seems likely some team will take a chance on the Astros’ pitcher in this year’s Rule 5 draft. The O’s might have an opening for a lefty reliever. They definitely have an opening for a lefty reliever who can also get out right-handed hitters. Throughout his career, Lambson has actually had reverse platoon splits (although he still handles lefties fairly well) so he might fit into that category. I imagine the O’s would have some interest in him as one-inning reliever but I also would not be surprised if he does not last long enough for the Orioles to select him.