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03/23/08 2:45 PM ET

Decisions on Rule 5 Draftees looming

Players must be added to active rosters or returned

You probably won't see the next Roberto Clemente or Johan Santana emerge from the players selected in last December's Rule 5 Draft, but you might see some of them on Opening Day rosters.

Several of the 18 players selected in last winter's Rule 5 Draft in Nashville are playing well enough this spring to remain in the running for a roster spot and like one-time Rule 5 picks Clemente and Santana, move on to the Major Leagues.

As part of the Basic Agreement, the Rule 5 Draft enables players who might not otherwise receive a chance to latch on with a new team.

The Rule 5 Draft is held each year at the Winter Meetings and is basically an opportunity for any player not on a 40-man roster who has spent at least three years with a Minor League contract to be drafted by another team. Such players can be selected by another team for $50,000, with the selecting team obligated to keep the player on its Major League roster for the entire season or offer the player back to the original team for $25,000.

As we head into the final week of Spring Training, here's an update on the players chosen in the most recent Rule 5 draft:

1. Tim Lahey, RHP, Cubs: The Rays selected Lahey from the Minnesota Twins, then traded him to the Cubs. The converted catcher has a sinking fastball that he throws from over the top of his 6-foot-5 frame. The ball comes in on a downward plane and thus has a tendency to produce a lot of ground balls, a trait which would serve Lahey well at Wrigley Field.

"We'll see what happens," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "One thing in his favor, we'll probably end up carrying 12 pitchers. That gives us an extra pitcher to look at."

2. Evan Meek, RHP, Pirates: Meek, selected from Tampa Bay, struck out five and walked one in his first five innings this spring and displayed the kind of power arm that convinced the Pirates to grab the 24-year-old.

Meek has a fastball that registered as high as 96 mph on the radar gun on at least one occasion this spring, but he's also never pitched above Double-A. On the other hand, Meek has the kind of arm the Pirates would love to develop, and it's not like they're expected to contend this year, so the roster spot isn't as big an issue as it might be.

"He has a shot at the bullpen," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He's got a very good arm. If his command is good he's a guy who could help."

3. Randor Bierd, RHP, Orioles: Baltimore took Bierd from Detroit. The right-hander doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but he wouldn't be the first pitcher to combine an average fastball with above-average breaking stuff for a ticket to the big leagues. His changeup is very good, and he has excellent command. Although the 24-year-old had elbow surgery two years ago, Bierd bounced back with a strong season at Double-A Erie last year. He has been pitching very well and has an excellent shot at winning a spot in the Orioles' bullpen.

"He's passed every test so far, he really has," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.

4. Jose Capellan, LHP, Reds: The Giants selected Capellan from the Red Sox, then sent him back last week. The Giants placed Capellan on waivers, but he didn't clear them and landed with Cincinnati.

The 21-year-old was 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 14 starts in Class A last year, striking out 71 and walking 11. He is one of several candidates for a spot in the Reds' bullpen and has a plus arm, but his lack of experience will make it difficult for the Reds to keep him on the Major League roster.

"He is a long shot to make it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

5. Carlos Guevara, RHP, Padres: The Marlins selected Guevara from the Reds, then traded him to San Diego. A right-hander with so-so velocity but an effective screwball, Guevara caught scouts' eyes by striking out 176 batters in 132 innings over the past two years at Double-A, including 87 in 62 innings last year.

Guevara wasn't 100 percent healthy early this spring and his performance thus far hasn't killed his chances, but with San Diego's deep bullpen Guevara appears the least likely to make the team of the Padres' trio of Rule 5 picks.

Opening Day
Countdown to Opening Day
•   March 23: Turnaround tales to be told
•   March 23: Rule 5 decisions loom
•   March 24: Free agents on the spot
•   March 25: Breakout players in 2008
•   March 25: Comeback candidates
•   March 26: Top storylines for '08
•   March 26: Top AL rookie candidates
•   March 26: Top NL rookie candidates
•   March 27: AL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: NL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: Breaking down '08 slate
•   March 27: Century since Cubs' title
•   March 28: Top AL MVP candidates
•   March 28: Top NL MVP candidates
•   March 29: Changing of guard at short
•   March 30: Predictions for '08
•   March 30: '08 milestones
•   March 30: Season preview

6. Sergio Valenzuela, RHP, Braves: The Reds drafted Valenzuela from the Braves despite the 23-year-old's very thin resume.

Valenzuela has never pitched higher than Class A. He was 1-3 with a 7.12 ERA at Class A Rome and had no record with a 6.88 ERA at Class A Myrtle Beach last season. It became clear early on in camp that Valenzuela wasn't what the Reds thought they had as he was never used in a Grapefruit League game and gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning of an intrasquad game.

Not surprisingly, Valenzuela was offered back to the Braves for half the $50,000 the Reds spent to select him.

The Braves immediately traded Valenzuela to Monclova of the Mexican League in exchange for future considerations.

7. Matt Whitney, 1B, Nationals: The Nationals chose Whitney from the Indians, for whom he hit 32 home runs at Class A last season. A former first-round Draft choice (2003), the 24-year-old was blocked at first base in Washington by Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young and was returned to Cleveland on Saturday.

8. Wesley Wright, LHP, Astros: Wright came to the Astros after spending the past four years in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He was 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings at Double-A Jacksonville last year and 1-2 with a 9.18 ERA in 14 games for Triple-A Las Vegas.

In Wright's favor is that he's left-handed on a roster with only three other lefty bullpen candidates. He has an above average curveball and has been impressive this spring. His command was an issue in his early outings but Wright and Astros manager Cecil Cooper chalked that up to nervousness.

"He's shown some progress out there, I'm pleased with what I've seen," Cooper said. "He's one of those kids who is eager, he wants to learn. He's not making excuses and he's receptive to what [pitching coach] Dewey [Robinson] has been teaching him and talking to him about."

Wright's mechanics make it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. His fastball, when he commands it, is Major League quality. Fastball command is key for Wright. When he has it, it makes his curveball even harder to hit. He also throws a slider and a changeup.

"There's been a lot more attention put on me because of [being a Rule 5 pick]," Wright said. "I just need to go out and there and compete and get outs. I've been mostly a relief pitcher my whole Minor League career, so I'm pretty much used to it. It's just a matter of gaining more and more confidence. I just need to command my fastball and be more aggressive early in the count."

9. Fernando Hernandez, RHP: Athletics. Hernandez really caught teams' attention in the Arizona Fall League, when the then Chicago White Sox prospect gave up just five hits in 12 2/3 innings. His fastball isn't overpowering, but combined with his above-average curveball and command Hernandez would appear to have an excellent chance of sticking in Oakland's bullpen.

In his first seven Cactus League appearances (nine innings) this spring, Hernandez allowed just two earned runs, while striking out seven and walking four. With other bullpen candidates -- such as Joey Devine, who was optioned to the Minor Leagues on March 17 -- out of the picture, Hernandez's chances of making the Opening Day roster are improving.

10. Brian Barton, OF, Cardinals: Barton's stock has been climbing the past two weeks.

Not only is the former Cleveland Indians prospect scalding the ball, one of the other outfield candidates for the Cardinals, 38-year-old Juan Gonzalez, is having health issues.

Also in Barton's favor: his ability to get on base, he can play all three outfield positions and he bats right-handed. Most of the Cardinals outfielders are left-handed hitters.

Barton is a career .317 hitter in 354 career Minor League games. Signed by the Indians as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami, he owns a career .417 on-base percentage in the Minors.

"He knows how to hit; he is capable of hitting .280 in the big leagues."
-- Nationals GM Jim Bowden on Rule 5 Draftee
Garrett Guzman

The 25-year-old played the majority of last season at Double-A Akron and was promoted late in the season to Triple-A Buffalo. He ranked second in the Eastern League with a .314 batting average and was fifth with a .416 on-base percentage. Barton stole 21 bases last season in 31 attempts.

"He runs well, he's an excellent worker," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "[I] think he's had generally good at-bats where he's handled different type pitches."

Another consideration is money. The Cardinals will be obligated to pay Gonzalez's $750,000 contract if he makes the 25-man roster while Barton would only cost the Major League minimum ($390,000) plus the $50,000 Draft price.

11. Randy Wells, RHP, Blue Jays: Wells had been with the Cubs until Toronto took him in the Rule 5 Draft. In his first six Grapefruit League appearances (covering five innings) this spring, Wells did not allow a run while giving up four hits and three walks, striking out five.

The Blue Jays are looking for bullpen depth and Wells is still very much in the running for a spot.

"He's been great," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He's a converted catcher, so he's new to pitching. But for a kid that's new to it, he's very polished, and his game is he can throw a lot of strikes."

Injuries have also muddled the pitching picture for the Blue Jays, who clearly would like to keep Wells.

"It's going to be a big decision," Gibbons said. "If we don't keep him, there's a good chance he'll go back to the Cubs, and we don't want to lose him. But saying that and losing Casey Janssen [out for the season with a torn labrum], we've got to be really selective [with] who we put in that spot, because they've got to be able to help us."

12. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mariners: The 33-year-old knuckleballer was the oldest player taken in the Draft, but the former Minnesota Twins hurler and 1996 first-round Draft choice of the Rangers has an excellent chance of sticking with Seattle.

In his first 12 innings in the Cactus League this spring, Dickey allowed just two earned runs.

The Mariners have released Horacio Ramirez, and the fact that Dickey can pitch on short rest and go multiple innings are other factors that would seem to enhance his chances of staying with Seattle.

"He can do any role and you can use him a lot and he brings something to the table where you could possibly take an extra bench player, because he can pitch every day and it won't bother him," Seattle manager John McLaren said. "I've been impressed."

13. Steven Register, RHP, Mets: The Rockies lost the right-hander to New York in the Draft, but barring injuries or unexpected roster movement, Register would appear to have only an outside shot to stick with the Mets.

Register has pitched well (3.12 ERA, six strikeouts, no walks in his first 8 2/3 innings) and is seen by some as closer material. He led the Texas League with 37 saves last year.

The Mets, however, appear set in the bullpen if everyone is healthy.

14. Michael Gardner, RHP, Padres: The Padres claimed Gardner from the Yankees, but he was returned to New York on Wednesday. The hard-throwing bullpen candidate has pitched well more often than not this spring and has demonstrated an ability to get right-handed hitters out.

15. Travis Blackley, LHP, Phillies: Selected from San Francisco, Blackley entered camp competing for the fifth spot in the rotation but now appears to be a bullpen candidate.

The Australian native was the Texas League Pitcher of the Year in 2000, when he went 17-3 in 27 starts, but shoulder surgery slowed his ascent through the Seattle system.

Blackley has the tools, if not the experience, to be the situational lefty Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is seeking.

16. Garrett Guzman, OF, Nationals: A left-handed hitter who doesn't strike out much and has good gap power, Guzman hit .312 with 16 home runs and 88 RBIs for Double-A New Britain (Minnesota) in 2007. The Nationals took Guzman from the Twins with an eye on seeing if he could win the job as the team's fourth outfielder.

Guzman's chances to stay on Washington's roster all season were lessened after the Draft, with the Nationals acquiring Rob Mackowiak, Willie Harris and Elijah Dukes. Still wanting to keep him, the team made a deal for the outfielder with the Twins on Sunday in exchange for a player to be named later.

"He knows how to hit; he is capable of hitting .280 in the big leagues," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "I think he will be a fourth or fifth outfielder on a Major League team."

17. Callix Crabbe, UTIL, Padres: The useful Crabbe, nabbed by the Padres from Milwaukee, can play second, third, short and all three outfield spots. He runs well, is decent defensively and is the kind of utility player a lot of teams would love to have.

Through his first 19 Cactus League games this spring, Crabbe was batting .365 (19-for-52).

Unless the Padres go with 12 pitchers, Crabbe looks like a good pick to stick with them.

18. Lincoln Holdzkom, RHP, Phillies: Holdzkom is certainly getting his frequent-flyer miles. The Phillies took him from Boston in the Rule 5 Draft, one year after the Astros had taken Holdzkom from the Cubs before sending him back to Chicago. The Cubs didn't keep him on the roster and the Red Sox claimed him.

A power pitcher with control issues, Holdzkom fared well last year (2.97 ERA in 42 Minor League games). He didn't pitch well enough to convince the Phillies to keep him, and the right-hander cleared waivers last week and became a free agent.

The Red Sox re-signed him, and Holdzkom was optioned to the Minor Leagues on March 13.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.