Your Team Should Choose James Skelton in the Rule 5 Draft

as long as someone else hasn't done it first, of course. Well, depending on who you are, it might be worth it to trade up to get him!

Skelton is the most attractive position player Rule 5 candidate I've seen in some time. Let me explain why.

1. Position: Position for players is like location for real estate. It's everything. It puts every offensive and defensive stat into context. Good catching is like beachfront property-- it's insanely valuable, especially if it isn't eventually going to slide into the sea (Mauer) and isn't so damp you can't really enjoy living there no matter how many bathtubs you put in (Posada). Stretching the metaphor still further, Skelton is the equivalent of a beachfront bungalow which is up for a foreclosure auction.

The rates at which useful catchers come along in Rule 5 are not high. Most teams hoard them desperately, obsessed with obscure injury scenarios. Yes, Jesus Flores was let go a few years ago-- and the Mets were roundly derided for it. Even though he hasn't been great so far, it was still a terrible decision for the Mets to leave him off their 40-man roster.

2. More position: Rule 5 is a funky gimmick. If you take a guy, you can't option him down for a year unless the team you took him from lets you. Normally, this is bad, because if he starts stinking it up you either have to give him back or effectively play a man short. A lot of Rule 5 picks are, for this reason, relievers-- you can always hide them in unimportant (low-leverage) innings.

Well, here's the awesome thing about catchers-- you can do the same thing! Everybody, even Russell Martin, has a backup at catcher in MLB. It's just physically impossible for anyone to play 162 games at the position. The position is tailor-made for snagging a catcher in Rule 5 and then hiding him where he only has to play 30-odd games during the season. If he works out, maybe you increase his playing time-- but even if he doesn't, you can keep him around without killing your roster. And he's only bumping your backup catcher off the roster anyway-- honestly, unless you're an Indians or Twins fan, did you actually care about that?

3. Age: James Skelton's career minor league stats look like this:

276 G 867 AB

253 H 45 2B 5 3B 13 HR

181 BB 179 K


This is a good line out of any catching prospect-- not a whole lot of power, but walking more than you strike out is a great indicator of success because it indicates a knowledge of the strike zone coupled with a strong ability to make contact with pitches when necessary. And there's some hints here that he might develop into a 10 HR guy-- a solid number of doubles and triples relative to home runs.

Still, it's not fabulous. What is (relatively-- we are talking about Rule 5 draftees here) fabulous is his age. Skelton just turned 23 about a month ago, and he's reached AA ball. One of the key predictors of how well a prospect will do is how old he was relative to the average player in the leagues where he was playing-- and for most of Skelton's career, he's been younger than usual. He's going to be that again in MLB next year, so it's nice to know he can hold his own (especially in terms of drawing walks and putting the ball in play) in tough environments.

Age again: The other great thing about scoring a young guy in Rule 5 is that even if he ends up kicking around the back end of your roster for a year and then getting optioned back to AAA to try again, he's still young enough to turn into something useful down the road! For some guys, mostly college draftees, Rule 5 is sort of their last gasp at having a big-league career. That puts a ton of pressure on them to do well, and baseball is, by its nature, not a game that normal people play all that well under pressure. 

[Tangent: Want my take on why statisticians searching for "clutch" in MLB players can't seem to find it? In order to get good enough to stick in Major League Baseball, you have to be a freak in more than merely physical ways. I know I could never do it-- I'd still be seething about my first at-bat, if I struck out, when I went up for my second, which is no way to focus. The extreme selectivity of MLB tends to weed out the temperamental and mentally weak prospects, leaving a landscape that looks almost robotic when it comes to pressure situations.]

The great thing about taking guys drafted out of high school or signed from Latin America in Rule 5 is that there's some potential payoff down the road even if you don't end up with an immediately good player. Almost everyone picked in Rule 5 still has all three of his minor league option years left at the end of his Rule 5 year. This means you can keep Skelton around until he's 27 without letting other teams claim him on waivers, and see if he makes something of himself.

James Skelton has his drawbacks as a prospect. Obviously-- if he didn't, a. he wouldn't be available to pick in Rule 5, and b. he'd be Matt Wieters, who's good enough to force his team to trade a league average catcher for a pile of lame. He's not great defensively, I noted that he has little power, and all things being equal you might like that strikeout rate to come down a little (striking out a lot in the minors sometimes indicates that a player won't hit for average in the majors). But he's probably better than your backup catcher. He's almost certainly more valuable than your backup catcher, because he's available on the cheap for the next seven-to-ten years. If you're really hard-up, like San Diego, he might even be better than your STARTING catcher. And he's available for 50 grand.

Draft him, ye MLB GMs.

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