Friday, December 10, 2010

A Rule 5 Diamond?

Most guys taken in the annual Rule 5 draft don't amount to much. Those that do -- and the Twins have benefited from more than their share of them, including Shane Mack in the 1990s and Johan Santana a decade later -- are generally selected early in the draft.

The Twins picked 27th in Thursday's draft. Logically, the best of the Rule 5 possibilities were off the board by then.

Still, I hold out hope that Scott Diamond will be of use as the Twins build a new bullpen for 2011.

Rule 5 guys, by definition, are flawed; they are players their organizations didn't deem worthy of 40-man roster spots. Diamond's flaw is that his fastball -- upper 80s velocity, usually -- doesn't wow scouts. He wasn't drafted as an amateur; Atlanta signed him as a free agent. But he has passed what prospect guru John Sickels calls the Double-A Finesse Pitcher Acid Test -- that is, he's pitched as effectively in the upper minors as he did in the lower levels despite his mediocre velocity.

Diamond is durable; he has, according to Baseball America, an above-average curve; he throws strikes; he allowed just six homers in more than 150 innings in Double-A/Triple A, which suggests that he doesn't allow a lot of fly balls.

Here's how Sickles describes the Diamond pick in his analysis of Thursday's draft:

Scott Diamond, LHP, from Braves: 24 years old, 3.46 ERA with a 123/54 K/BB in 159 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Gets some sink on his average fastball (1.77 GO/AO), has good breaking stuff, and throws strikes. That sounds like the perfect profile for the Twins.

The BA crew sees him as a fifth-starter type; I suspect that the Twins might be more interested in him as a second lefty in the bullpen, to work some long relief stints and help Jose Mijares with LOOGY chores. The above-average curve works in that second role; Ron Gardenhire clearly loves lefty relievers who can, as he says, "spin it." Meaning throw an effective breaking ball -- curve or slider -- to lefties.

That's the key to being a lefty specialist. Randy Flores quickly fell out of favor with Gardenhire last September by giving up base hits to lefties off his fast ball.

As a Rule 5 pick, Diamond has to stay on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Atlanta Braves, and it appears pretty clear that the Braves want him back.

At this point, I would think his chief competition for a bullpen opening -- I count at least four available jobs with the Twins -- would be Glen Perkins. Perkins has the better fastball, but he has been unwilling or unable to "spin it" effectively against lefties.

At the very least, Diamond offers a low-cost, low-risk alternative. I like this pick.

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