It's literally looking for diamonds in the rough.This year perhaps a team will draft Brody Colvin because a scout sees the flaw in Colvin's delivery and believes an MLB Pitching Coach can fix it and return some better control. Maybe a team which emphasizes platoons will snatch up Anthony Hewitt and plug him into the short side of a platoon and use him as a power bat off the bench. The Rule 5 tends to see around a dozen guys get selected most years, meaning many teams pass on the opportunity to waste a spot on their active roster on a kid unlikely to develop into much more than a role player anyway.
Still, the Rule 5 has it's successes both large (Victorino, Soria, Uggla, Johan Santana) and small (David Herndon, Jesus Flores, Evereth Cabrera, Scott Diamond). A good Rule 5 draft might have a guy like those above, a great one may have 2. Most of the Rule 5 draft though are guys you have never heard of before and will likely never hear of again.
For a full review of interesting guys in this year's draft Baseball America does this better than I can. If you have a membership you can read their take here.
There are some strategies you can take to drafting guys in Rule5 that we can take a look at:
1. The Mini-Mart Plan - Pickup a guy with classic Utility player tools. You know this player will never be a star and is quite unlikely to ever be a regular either, but you also know he's low risk. At minimum his glove and versatility make him easy to have on your bench a full season, even if he never crosses 100 AB. There are plenty of guys available every year who roughly fit this role, though honestly most teams also have a guy like this in their own system already. Who may fit this role this year? Mike Freeman is a name that could fit here. He's more in the Kevin Frandsen mold, in that he would best cover 2nd base, but could play 3rd or SS in a pinch. Like Michael Martinez he's an older player (26) so there isn't really any ceiling left, you're basically drafting the 25th guy on your roster and hoping that 2 years from now he's good enough to be the 25th guy on your roster.
2. The David Herndon Plan - Draft a guy who is unspectacular, but solid enough to reliably step in and contribute right away. This is similar to the Mini-Mart Plan, but there you are picking a guy because he's versatile, here you're picking a guy who's overall competent. Similarly, you don't expect the guy to ever be a star or even a regular, but his tools are good enough to make him a reliable bench player or bullpen arm. Who might fit this bill this year? Among Pitchers you can take a shot on RHP Steven Kohlscheen, who has a similar profile to Michael Schwimer. Perhaps Boone Whiting an RHP with 3 average Pitches, but enough control to survive as a long man/6th starter type. Or you could take a shot on Marcus Hatley, a big RHP with a Plus Fastball and a Slider and Curve combo that is useable. His control is a little spotty, but he could step into a long relief/6th Starter role right away and probably maintain that role or even back of the rotation Starter for a few years until he gets more expensive. A similar but better profile is there for Jose de Paula, a Lefty with Starting ability (and a bad Left shoulder). For Position player you could look at Darrell Ceciliani an OF in the Mets system who is essentially a poor man's Kelly Dugan. Or the Phillies could go Carlos Perez a reliable Defense first Catcher with virtually no power, similar to Ryan Hannigan.
I don't think either of those plans make a ton of sense for the Phillies. The Phillies have a glut of utility types with Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis and don't need to go the MiniMart route. Similarly if there's anything else the Phillies have a glut of it's bullpen arms with iffy control histories and non-desript reserve Outfielders. You could make a case for Carlos Perez (if he lasts that long in the draft), as it never hurts to have a reliable young Catcher. Sure the Phillies have a glut of backup Catcher types, and you'd be drafting him from a team which used Tuffy Gosewich in a few MLB games this year. Still, if the Phillies ended up with a cost controlled Ryan Hannigan clone, that's a very, very nice return from a Rule 5 draft pick. So what plan should the Phillies take instead?
3. The Joakim Soria plan - I would have named this after a Phillies pick, but this isn't a track the Phillies go very often. The idea here is to grab a Pitcher with Plus-to-Elite velocity, shove him in the bullpen and hope you can fix whatever problems the last team had with him (control, Tommy John Surgery, behavioral issues, no secondary pitch of any value, etc.). This is a big scouting play. You aren't going for a guy who you hope can be a cheap bullpen part, you're looking for a high leverage reliever or future top of the rotation Starter (the rarest of Rule 5 prizes). This pick is all boom or bust. Who fits the bill this year? Kevin Munson, RHP. He was ranked as high as 13 in the Diamondbacks system recently, he has a Plus Fastball and his Slider is probably a bit above average, that's a solid relief profile. A more intriguing name is Matt Lollis who sports a Plus-Plus Fastball at close to 100 mph and pretty much nothing else. You would pick him and know you'll spend the year working on his Changeup or Slider or scraping both and teaching him a new secondary pitch.
4. The Shane Victorino Plan - Grab a guy with a carrying tool who has either suffered injury problems impeding his development time or some stubborn element to his game that has failed to develop that your scouts think can be fixed. Vic had injury issues, while the Orioles at one time drafted a renowned masher of taters from the Pirates who's in-game production was awful. Drafting Jose Bautista didn't work out for the Orioles (wrong bird to fix that problem apparently), but that's the type of gamble we're talking about here. For a team unlikely to compete for the World Series this year, this could be a valuable strategy (of course, it's also possible that with so many old position players you can't afford to carry a guy you can't play semi-regularly). Who might fit the bill in 2013? Junior Arias is this year's Shane Victorino (though, in fairness I don't know what Arias' affinity is for ugly MMA/Ed Hardy all-over-print T-shirts). If Arias were to reach his ceiling he has 20/20 potential like Vic, with a good glove and arm in the OF. The trick is, he's never played above A-ball. The Reds gamble here is that Arias either goes unpicked due to being so green or is green enough that a team can't carry him all year and offers him back.
Of course, there are other names the Phillies could pick and I fully anticipate firing up my Google machine on December 12th when the Rule 5 Draft occurs to figure out who the hell just got picked. For an Org that is currntly a bit thin on talent ready to join the MLB club, this draft represents an opportunity to make a diference long-term. Sure, you're likely to get a guy you end up offering back at the end of Spring Training who is never heard of again by most fans, but maybe you get Jose Bautista and figure out how to unlock his ingame power or teach R.A. Dickey to master his Knuckleball. It's worth a gamble.