With the first pick in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft the Astros chose right-handed pitcher Rhiner Cruz from the New York Mets organization. The Astros also chose another pitcher, Marco Duarte, but traded him to Boston in exchange for shortstop Marwin Gonzalez. Both players will have to spend the entire season on the Astros roster or be offered back to their original organization. In full rebuild node, the Astros may decide to keep both players.
Cruz is a 25 year-old from the Dominican Republic and is currently playing winter ball in his native land. Cruz has a power arm but has yet to harness his control. That sounds familiar! Cruz has served as a reliever in the minors and could find a spot in the Astros bullpen this season. The Astros are hoping that Cruz will eventually establish himself as a dependable late-inning reliever.
Stashing a Rule 5 reliever on the roster all season is pretty commonplace, but a shortstop could be a slightly more difficult proposition. That’s what makes the trade for Gonzalez so intriguing. The two shortstops already on the Astros 40-man roster, Brian Bixler and Angel Sanchez, are both out of minor league options. If Gonzalez makes the club, Bixler and/or Sanchez would be exposed to waivers. The possibility also exists that one of the shortstop candidates could be traded.
I don’t think the Astros would have acquired Gonzalez unless they intended to keep him. But I could be wrong. As Alex mentioned in an earlier post, Jeff Luhnow is always thinking one move ahead.
The Astros like what they see in Gonzalez, who will turn 23 prior to Opening Day. Gonzalez is currently hitting .321 with 16 RBIs for Caracas in the Venezuelan League. Gonzalez has been playing in the Cubs minor league system since he was seventeen and advanced to the AAA level in the middle of last season. Gonzalez hit .274/.326/.376 in 60 games at Iowa. Gonzalez is a switch-hitter and has steadily improved his defense at every level. The Astros are said to be very impressed with his glove. Keep an eye on him in Spring Training. If he impresses the coaches Gonzalez could start the season as the Astros starting shortstop. That could be considered a risky move, but the rebuilding Astros have more to gain than lose. It wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. The Florida Marlins took Dan Uggla in the 2005 Rule 5 Draft and that worked out pretty nicely. Uggla was an All-Star in his rookie season and has gone on to have a pretty good career.