20 November 2011

Oriole Rule 5 Target: Thomas Pham

Lots of hay in the Rule 5
Yes, I am going to waste your time.  I am going to write about a player who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft.  There is a type of player who might be the best to focus on.  That type is the player who was injured the year before.  In the previous column, I mentioned Cody Satterwhite and his labrum tear that limited him to ten innings last year as he rehabbed in rookie ball.  Another player who was limited was the 23 year old Cardinals' center fielder Thomas Pham.

In 2006, Thomas Pham was a name everyone knew coming out of high school in Las Vegas.  His Baseball America scouting report at the time mentions him as a prospect who could be seen as either an infielder or a pitcher.  He threw in the low 90s and flashed a plus slider.  He was seen more as an offensive hitter, drawing comparisons to Scott Hairston.  He hit the ball solidly and used his plus speed on the base paths.  Baseball America's assumption was that he would go sometime in the top five rounds and be overslotted.  However, there were some doubts about his maturity.  Pham was considered lackadaisical on defense and walked back on a commitment to Arizona State.  In the end, Pham was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 16th round and signed for 325k (roughly 3rd/4th round money).

The Cardinals tried him out at shortstop, but that last only for rookie ball.  For 2007 and onward, Pham was positioned almost exclusively in center field.  By all accounts, he did not take naturally to the position, but has improved with time.  His plus speed and a better understanding of route running has made him passable in center field.  His plus arm helped him record an assist once every 7 games last year.  He would not look pretty in the majors in center field, but those two attributes should be passable.

Pham also had difficulty showing himself to be a bat first prospect.  He struggled with the Mendoza Line in rookie ball, low A, A, and high A ball.  In his second pass through A ball in Quad Cities, he mashed 17 home runs in 346 plate appearances as a 20 year old.  However, he batted .218 and struck out 36% of the time.  The Cardinals kept pushing him up the ladder though and everything seemed to click performance-wise in AA.  His K rate dropped to 22% over 2010 and 2011 which works nicely with a maintained walk rate of about 11%.  His AA line has been 314/398/527.  If he had not broken his wrist 40 games into the 2011 season while go after a potential home run ball, I think he would have been protected.

How could the Orioles hold onto him for a season?

The Orioles need a fourth outfielder.  Pham is likely not to be league average, but he has the tools to be adequate in any of the three outfield slots.  He has experience in center and left while Reimold has spent time in both left and right.  Pham also has plus speed and has shown some ability to use that speed on the base paths.  Those qualities could make him workable in a pinch if an outfielder goes down for a few weeks.  He 306 plate appearances at AA do not suggest he is ready to make the leap to MLB, but he has shown good gap power and improved contact.  Pham would be better served by spending the year in the minors, but it may be worth it for a bad team to try to use him.

The alternative to Pham is using Kyle Hudson or Matt Angle in the outfield.  Hudson has more talent than Angle and Angle has more skill than Hudson.  Neither are likely to be anything more than fringe fourth outfielders.  Angle has a better chance to stick because he can play plus defense in center.  Pham, though, has the ability to be useful in center and carry an average to above average bat if everything clicks.  Additionally, if his broken wrist is still a problem, the Orioles might be able to stash him on the DL for a while.

As I mentioned earlier, the Rule 5 is full of unfulfilled potential, broken bodies, and guys who have one moderately amazing tool.  Any player you select is highly unlikely to provide any value to your team.  That does not mean there are no players of value.  It means that the ability to discern potential talent and be blessed (cursed?) with the opportunity to hold onto that talent is miniscule.  Pham is likely to not be a contributor at the MLB level now or perhaps even in the future.  He is a fringe top 20 prospect.  That said, maybe he is worth a look.

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