The crop of talent available in this year’s Rule 5 draft wasn’t perceived to be as deep as recent seasons, but the Orioles believe they acquired two players who can contribute in the major leagues this season.
After three days of rumors, the Orioles’ first true acquisitions of the winter meetings were made Thursday in the Rule 5 draft when they selected corner infielder Michael Almanzar from the Boston Red Sox as the ninth and final pick in the major league portion and outfielder Julio Borbon from the Chicago Cubs in the Triple-A phase.
While Almanzar is viewed as a better prospect, the Orioles had expressed previous interest in Borbon, who has struggled in parts of four major league seasons.
“I’m kind of excited that we added two ballplayers today who have capability and skills to help our major league team,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said.
Almanzar, 23, made his professional debut at age 17 and has played in the minor leagues for the past six years, all in the Red Sox system, never reaching higher than Double-A. In 2013, he hit .268/.328/.432 with 16 home runs and 81 RBIs for Double-A Portland. He was also 13 of 16 on stolen-base attempts.
Primarily a third baseman, the right-handed hitting Almanzar also played 23 games at first base and 35 at designated hitter in 2013.
“Michael is a good ballplayer,” Duquette said. “He’s had two good years, he’s shown good progress at Double-A this year. He’s shown the capability to hit, drive in a run, play a couple of positions and steal a base, so that shows you he has all the tools and capabilities to be a big league ballplayer.
“You can see year after year his progress with the bat. He’s mature, he’s a little bit more selective. We’re glad to have him, and we’re glad to take a look at him.”
The Orioles, who will purchase the Almanzar from the Red Sox for a price of $50,000, must keep him on the major league roster for the entire season or offer him back to Boston for $25,000. The past two seasons, the Orioles have successfully maneuvered the Rule 5 draft to acquire utility player Ryan Flaherty in 2011 and left-hander T.J. McFarland last year.
“It’s a challenge for [Almanzar] to go to the big leagues and perform, but he performed all year in Double-A with the bat, and we’ll see how he matures between now and spring training,” Duquette said.
Duquette said that Almanzar could be joined in major league camp by the 27-year-old Borbon, who was a previous target of the Orioles. A first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2007, Borbon was claimed off waivers by the Cubs in April. In 73 major league games this past season, he hit .200/.282/.276 and was seven for eight on stolen-base attempts.
“It’s a possibility,” Duquette said when asked if Borbon would be invited to major league camp. “He does have experience. He’s still pretty young. He can play outfield positions, including center field. We had some interest in him in the past. We considered claiming him for our major league club last year. We considered it internally, and we almost did that. We have some history with him in Texas, so we know the player, so we’ll take a look at him and see if he can help our ballclub.”
While Borbon was listed on the Cubs’ Double-A roster, he also played in the minor leagues last year at the Triple-A level, hitting .260/.360/.329 in 24 games. Because he was drafted in the minor league portion, he does not need to be on the major league roster.
Orioles director of minor league operations Kent Qualls said it is “a little unusual” to be able to acquire a player with so much major league experience – Borbon has played in 288 big league games – in the minor league portion of the draft.
“You never know,” Qualls said. “We’re just looking at the talent and the upside to the player, and we think he can make some progress and still help a major league team.
“We were happy to see him there. He was on an outrighted contract, so his salary could be slightly higher than some other minor league guys, but we thought it was worth the investment and be a good player for us.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun