The Astros used the top overall pick in Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft to select hard-throwing right-hander Rhiner Cruz from the Mets' farm system, then swung a trade with the Red Sox to pick up Boston's Rule 5 pick, shortstop Marwin Gonzalez.
Both players will have to spend the entire season on the Major League roster or be offered back to their original organizations. If Cruz can take the momentum from his winter ball season into Spring Training, that might not be a challenge.
The 25-year-old Cruz split this past season between Class A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, combining for 69 strikeouts over 71 2/3 innings in 44 games. He caught the Astros' attention, however, in the Dominican League with the Gigantes, where Astros official Rick Aponte serves as pitching coach.
Cruz has been wild, but overpowering in the Dominican, allowing just two earned runs and five hits over 14 innings with nine walks and 14 strikeouts. The walks are a risk, but the arm makes it a risk worth taking.
"He has a power arm and a breaking ball that is improving," Astros assistant general manager Dave Gottfried said. "We know him fairly well since Rick Aponte is his pitching coach in winter ball. Rick said in addition to a great arm, he has good character and a strong work ethic. He throws 95-plus [mph], and even hit 100 this winter. We project him as a back-of-the-bullpen type reliever."
Gonzalez, too, has made an impression in winter ball, batting .321 (36-for-112) with 16 RBIs for Caracas in the Venezuelan League. He batted .288 with four home runs and 39 RBIs between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. His glovework had a strong appeal.
"Gonzalez has above-average defensive skills," Gottfried said. "He's a switch-hitter, will play the season at 23 years old and is having a real solid season in winter ball."
In return for Gonzalez, the Red Sox received right-hander Marco Duarte, Houston's first pick in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft. He spent this past season in the Rockies' farm system.
The picks represented a low-risk method for the Astros to try to add young talent from other organizations. During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, eligible players left unprotected from their clubs' 40-man rosters may be selected for $50,000. A player selected must remain on his drafting team's active Major League roster during the following season or be offered back to the original club for $25,000.
Teams can trade picks, but the rules for carrying players remain the same.