Rule 5 report: Why was Maier excluded from the 40-man?
The Rule 5 draft, which takes place on Thursday, is proving to be interesting, although somewhat disappointing. There's no Andy Sisco this year, as most teams have been careful to protect their high-ceiling, top flight talent. In fact, Allard Baird the other day told the KC Star that he wasn't sure if the Royals would select anyone, but they were keeping their options open.
As you should know by now, Baird set off yet another firestorm of disapproval from many corners of Royals Nation when he set the Royals' 40-man roster. Baird angered many people when he added shortstop Angel Sanchez to the Major League roster, leaving 2003 first round pick Mitch Maier exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Maier, 23, had a tremendously disappointing season offensively after his promotion to Wichita, but the Royals did tout his defensive improvement, and Baird even went as far as to label Maier the organization's best defensive outfielder. Meanwhile Sanchez, who has never had an overly positive scouting report (at least not one that RC has seen), hit .313/.356/.409 in the hitter's paradise of High Desert last season as a 21-year old.
Mitch Maier's star has officially fallen.
Though Baird has made it clear in the past how much he likes Sanchez (which was primarily responsible for Sanchez's placement on RC's Top 25 Prospect List), it truly is hard to imagine that any team would have selected him in the Rule 5, while Maier's defense, good speed, and pretty swing figure to put him at risk of being selected. At first glance, this move simply doesn't seem to make any sense.
Of course, while it might not make any sense to us, it's quite probable we don't have all the information that Baird does. Sure, after reading what we have about Sanchez from sources other than the Royals, it APPEARS that there was almost no chance that Sanchez would have been selected in the Rule 5.
BUT ALL IT TAKES IS ONE TEAM! If ONE team saw Sanchez in the same way that the Royals do, then he was at risk. We have no idea if that's the case, but perhaps another team or two had expressed interest to Baird about Sanchez. Sensing he might be vulnerable, Baird chose to protect the player he views as having the best long-range chance of helping the Royals. Clearly Baird and company think more of Sanchez than Maier, and that makes fine sense to us.
Frankly, we don't even believe the issue comes down to a debate between Sanchez and Maier. What we find most surprising and potentially disappointing is that Baird chose to leave Shawn Camp on the roster over Maier. While that tells us all we need to know about how the Royals view Maier's future, it's still not something we would have done. Pitchers like Camp are a dime a dozen, and even if Camp had been snatched up on waivers (which seems VERY unlikely), the effect on the Royals' bullpen would have been negligible. That being said, Maier's exclusion from the 40-man roster clearly indicates one of two things:
1) The Royals are confident that Maier isn't thought of highly enough for any team to select him; or
2) The Royals don't care one way or the other if Maier is selected.
If the Royals are betting on #1, and Maier is ultimately selected, then Baird's gambit was clearly an error. If it's #2, then we won't know if the Royals made an error until Maier sinks or swims with his new team. Chances are that we'll never know the true reasoning behind Maier's exclusion, but perhaps this helps make more sense of it.
Now, how likely is Maier to be selected? The opinions are mixed. In his Rule 5 preview, Chris Kline of Baseball America identified Maier as one of the best players available in the draft. However, RC's source at Baseball America -- someone we trust far more than Kline -- scoffed at the notion of Maier being selected. In fact, our source even dismissed the idea of Maier being an above-average outfielder (and Klein listed him as being merely "average"), which would seriously diminish the odds of Maier being selected. The fact is that 23-year-olds who play average defense and hit .255/.289/.416 in the Texas League don't find their way onto a Major League roster very often.
Anyhow, we'll all know the answer on December 8. RC hopes and expects that Maier will continue his development in the Royals organization, even though we really don't expect him to ever amount to much. But if he is selected by another team, then we still won't lose much sleep at night -- odds are he'll be offered back to KC for $25K at some point during the season anyway. Of course, not many people know the Royals also have the option of selecting Maier with their own first pick, which actually could happen now that it's clear the talent available in the draft is so weak. It has been done before, and if the Royals decide they'd rather keep Maier than take anyone else, they very well may. Whatever unfolds, it promises to be interesting.
Also, in the next day or so, RC will provide some further analysis on the upcoming Rule 5 draft, as we plan to have for you scouting reports (and in many cases, original RC photos) on the top hitters available in the draft. Stay tuned...
Thanks again to everyone who wished RC well on the exam. Anyway, with all that crap out of the way, we are rededicating ourselves to providing you with more excellent content throughout the offseason, and like Rush Limbaugh, we won't rest until every single Royals fan agrees with us.