SEE ALSO: 40-Man Roster Additions
UPDATED (Dec. 8, 2015): Added Felix Pena and Kris Hall.
Updates (Dec. 9, 2015): Added Kaleb Fleck and Daniel Stumpf.
The 2014 Rule 5 draft class was a historic one.
It will be hard for this year’s group to come close to matching the success of last year’s group. Last year’s 10 successful Rule 5 picks (with an 11th still possible) were the most successful Rule 5 picks of any draft since the new eligibility rules were put in place in 2006. Over the previous eight Rule 5 drafts under the current eligibility rules, just 37 players were retained by their new teams, an average of less than five per season.
Teams are doing a better job of realizing which types of talents are more likely to stick, but beyond that last year was a historically good year for prospects, something that was apparent from the epic rookie class that arrived in 2015. The 2016 prospect class pales in comparison and the Rule 5 eligibles list reflects that as well.
But there are a large number of intriguing arms, many of whom have frightening control problems. It explains why they have been left unprotected but also why a team might be interested in picking them.
This list will be expanded as we get closer to the draft, but here’s a first look at some of the names to watch for the Dec. 10 Rule 5 draft. As a reminder, players who signed at age 18 years old or younger in 2011 or earlier and players who signed at 19 or older in 2012 or earlier are eligible for the Rule 5 draft if they were left off their team’s 40-man roster. Anyone taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft must be kept on the major league roster for all of the 2016 season or be offered back to their original club.
Each players age is listed in parentheses and are as of the Rule 5 draft.
As usual, the prospective picks are divided into different categories separating the type of prospects who usually get taken in the Rule 5 draft. Examples of recent Rule 5 picks from that grouping are also included.
After no catcher was picked in the 2009-2012 Rule 5 drafts, a catcher has stuck in each of the past two drafts (Adrian Nieto in 2013 and Oscar Hernandez in 2014). Rule 5 catchers are usually drafted for their gloves because they are going to have to be good enough to step in and handle big league staffs from day one, and few teams are comfortable carrying three catchers on a 25-man regular season roster.
Willians Astudillo, c, Braves (24): A minor league free agent who just signed with the Braves, Astudillo plays a lot of positions (catcher, first base, third base and left field) poorly. What Astudillo does do is put the ball in play. He struck out 10 times last year in more than 400 plate appearances.
Taylor Davis, c, Cubs (26): Davis is a small (5-foot-9) catcher with an average arm who calls a very good game, blocks the ball well and is a quality receiver. He’s never received regular playing time but he hit .309/.361/.444 in Triple-A last year in 259 at-bats.
Joe Hudson, c, Reds (24): Much like Pena, Hudson is a solid defensive catcher with a very good arm (50 percent caught stealing rate in 2015) and nowhere near the bat to be more than a backup who plays sporadically. He hit .214/.303/.342 at high Class A Daytona.
Roberto Pena, c, Astros (23): It’s easy to think of reasons Pena will slide through the Rule 5 draft again like he did last year. He hit only .237/.284/.288 for Double-A Corpus Christi this year and has a .621 career OPS. But Pena possesses the most accurate throwing arm in the minors—he threw out 49 percent of baserunners this year and gunned down 56 percent of baserunners the year before. He also calls a good game is and moves well behind the plate, although his pitch presentation could be better. He’s athletic enough that he even played a trio of games at second base this year. A team looking for a backup catcher who can field and is willing to live with little offensive production could take a look—he’s much more ready that either Nieto (White Sox’s Rule 5 pick in 2013) or Hernandez (Diamondbacks Rule 5 pick in 2014).
Beau Taylor, c, Athletics (25): Taylor and Pena have very similar profiles. Both are excellent defenders with questionable bats. Taylor threw out 47 percent of basestealers and is very reliable receiver. But he’s never played 100 games in a season and has a sub-.700 OPS in some solid hitting parks.
We’re coming off of one of the best years for Rule 5 outfielders in quite a while as both Delino DeShields Jr. and Odubel Herrera went from the Rule 5 draft to everyday center field jobs.
Aristides Aquino, of, Reds (21): Aquino is still one of the better outfield prospects in the Reds’ farm system. He has a prototypical right fielder’s body and arm, he has significant power potential and he can run well for a big man. But it’s easy to see why Cincinnati left him unprotected. Aquino wasn’t ready for low Class A Dayton last year in an injury-plagued full-season debut, so his swing-at-most-everything approach is really not ready for the big leagues.
Wuilmer Becerra, of, Mets (21): It’s hard to see how a team could keep Becerra on the big league roster all year, as he’s a still somewhat raw outfielder who played all year at low Class A Savannah. But Becerra, the Mets’ No. 10 prospect, has a chance for five average tools with a chance for above-average power.
Jeffrey Baez, of, Cubs (22): Baez’s raw approach is simply not ready for the big leagues in any way. But he’s got some power to go with plus speed. He is above-average defensively in left or right field and can play center field in a pinch. One day he could do a solid Marlon Byrd impression, but it likely won’t be in 2016.
Jabari Blash, of, Mariners (26): Blash was left unprotected and unpicked last year, but the Mariners are taking a risk by leaving the toolsy outfielder available this year. Blash hit .271/.370/.576 with 32 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A this year. Blash doesn’t run as well as he did a few years ago, but he has prototypical right field tools and now he has upper-level minor league production as well.
Jake Cave, of, Yankees (23): Cave is more of a well-rounded outfielder than toolsy, but he’s a lefthanded hitting center fielder who could entice a team looking for an inexpensive fourth outfielder. He runs well and has gap power but has lacked the selectivity to produce enough to get protected.
Tyler Goeddel, of, Rays (23): Goeddel’s bat seemed to take off somewhat this year after he moved from third base to the outfield. He’s an athletic, if a little slight-framed righthanded hitter with a smooth swing who is above-average in the corners and playable in center field. Coming off a .279/.350/.433 season at Double-A, Goeddel is one of the more polished hitters available in this year’s Rule 5 draft.
Teoscar Hernandez, of, Astros (23): At a glance, Hernandez appears to check off many of the same boxes as Delino DeShields Jr., whom the Astros lost to the Rangers in last year’s Rule 5 draft. Like DeShields, Hernandez is a center fielder who struggled in Double-A after an excellent season in high Class A. Hernandez’s lack of plate discipline really hurt him in the Texas League, but he can play all three outfield spots, he runs well and he has power (17 home runs in the Texas League last year).
Carlos Tocci, of, Phillies (20): Tocci is a solid prospect as he’s still very young and he’s a plus defender in center field. Tocci got a little stronger and faster this year, although he’s still only a tick-above-average runner. It’s hard to see Tocci being selected because he doesn’t have enough plus tools to make him particularly useful on a big league roster right now with what would be a very overmatched bat.
Taylor Featherston and Marwin Gonzalez parlayed defensive versatility into Rule 5 roles in recent years. Here are a few infielders who could fit at the back of a big league roster as inexpensive Rule 5 picks who help a big league club at a major league minimum price.
T.J. Rivera, 2b, Mets (27): He’s not a particularly sexy pick but Rivera always hits. He has hit .338 combined over the past two years at Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas and he has a career .318 batting average. Combine that with defensive versatility—he’s stretched at shortstop but he can play anywhere in the infield—he’s worth looking at as a potentially inexpensive utility infielder.
Ronny Rodriguez, 2b/3b, Indians (23): An athletic infielder who slugged .491 last year in his third stint at Double-A Akron despite missing time with a broken hamate, Rodriguez was a shortstop who moved to second in deference to Francisco Lindor. He still gets over to shortstop on a sporadic basis, but he’s much more suited to playing second, third and even a little first base.
Eric Stamets, ss, Indians (24): If you know what you’re getting, Stamets could be a smart pick for a team lacking in upper-level shortstop talent. Stamets is an above-average shortstop defensively. But the team picking him would also have to accept that he’s unlikely to hit at all. For his minor league career, Stamets has hit .257/.311/.343.
Jacob Wilson, 2b/3b, Cardinals (25): A righthanded hitter with significant power for a middle infielder (18 home runs last season between Double-A and Triple-A), Wilson has some defensive versatility as he’s an above-average defender at second and third base with an above-average arm. He can play a little bit of outfield as well, adding to his versatility. He did struggle to make contact this past season, but that power could get him picked.
Hard-Throwing Relievers With Control Trouble
It’s fun to speculate about pitchers with top-of-the-scale fastballs and control troubles, but fewer of them get picked in the Rule 5 draft than you may expect. The most notable recent positive example was 2012 No. 1 pick Josh Fields. Fields has tamed his control issues enough to be a productive reliever with the Astros.
Jose Adames, rhp, Marlins (22): Adames is coming off a middling year as a starter at high Class A Jupiter but his stuff (a 94-98 mph fastball and plus changeup) give him projection as a reliever, even if his control (4 BB/9) causes concern.
Austin Adams, rhp, Angels (24): It’s very easy to understand why the Angels left Adams unprotected, even if they had room to spare on the 40-man roster. Adams walked 47 batters in 54 innings this past season. That wasn’t an aberration as he’s walked nearly seven batters per nine innings during his career. But his combination of a 92-93 mph two-seamer, 94-97 mph four-seamer and an exceptional slider also means he misses bats—he’s struck out 11.3 per nine innings for his career. That plus stuff could still entice a team to take a chance.
Corey Black, rhp, Cubs (24): Black was the Cubs’ No. 16 prospect coming into the 2015 season. There was some expectation that the short (5-foot-11) righthander would end up moving to the bullpen, but the thought was that such a move would help his below-average control and allow his 92-96 mph fastball to play even better. Black did move to the bullpen, but he posted a 7.09 ERA as a reliever last season, his poor walk rate got even worse out of the bullpen, and he fared no better in the Arizona Fall League (19 baserunners allowed in 8.2 IP).
Rafael De Paula, rhp, Padres (24): De Paula has an excellent arm with a mid-90s fastball and a potentially above-average changeup but an inconsistent slider. He was in over his head as a starter but he was much better after a move to the bullpen with a 34-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings after the switch.
Onelki Garcia, lhp, White Sox (26): Garcia briefly made it to the majors with the Dodgers before they lost him to Chicago in a waiver claim. Garcia pairs a mid-90s fastball with an inconsistent slider. His lack of control has caused issues for him but he misses bats.
Kaleb Fleck, rhp, Diamondbacks (26): A non-drafted free agent the Diamondbacks swiped after he went undrafted as a junior because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, Fleck’s fastball has taken off as a pro. He mixes a plus fastball and an average slider, which explains how he’s struck out 11 per nine in each of the past two seasons. Fleck missed time at the end of the Arizona Fall League season in 2014 with a stress reaction in his elbow. He didn’t return to action until May and he was handled gently after that, pitching roughly every third day until he finally went out for back-to-back outings in the final week of the season. Fleck’s control numbers look a little shaky when you look at his walk rate, but he generally is an excellent strike thrower (65 percent strikes in 2015). Away from Reno, Fleck had a 1.16 ERA last season and he was especially tough on righthanders (.215/.285/.278).
Reymin Guduan, lhp, Astros (23): Armed with a fastball that can touch 100 mph, Guduan is one of the safer bets in this year’s Rule 5 draft to be picked as he’s one of the 10 hardest-throwing lefthanders in the world. But he’s much less certain to stick. Guduan’s fastball/slider combo gives him the building blocks to be an excellent reliever one day, but he has significant control troubles that became more apparent as he climbed the minor league ladder and faced tougher hitters and smaller strike zones.
Kris Hall, rhp, Athletics (24): Throughout his career Hall has piled up strikeouts thanks to his mid-90s fastball and an above-average breaking ball. He’s coming off his best year as a pro (5-0, 2.50 in 72 innings with Double-A Midland) and he was tough on righthanders (.185/.314/.269 in Double-A). But Hall has always had well below-average control (6.1 BB/9 for his career) and it has gotten no better (62 walks in 85 innings this year between Double-A, Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League). After an up-and-down Arizona Fall League season, Hall has to hope that a team likes the arm enough to take a risk on the shaky control.
Zack Jones, rhp, Twins (25): Jones is yet another two-pitch reliever with a 94-98 mph fastball and a plus slider (at its best). Jones’ control is iffy, but his stuff is, like many pitchers in this category, excellent.
Parker Markel, rhp, Rays (25): Markel has two potentially above-average pitches (94-97 mph fastball and slider) but his control troubles have always gotten in the way. His walk rate has gone up to 4.7 BB/9 IP since he reached Double-A.
Yunior Marte, rhp, Royals (20): Marte brings plenty of velocity (95+ mph fastball) and has a developing changeup, but he’s far from ready to help a big league club. His control was overtaxed by a jump to low Class A Lexington in 2015.
Jose Martinez, rhp, Diamondbacks (21): Martinez has less than 40 innings of full-season time thanks to injuries, including a stress reaction in his elbow in 2014. He has a great arm (he’s touched 99 mph at his best) and was once among the Diamondbacks’ Top 10 prospects but has little full-season track record and already has shifted to a relief role.
Juancito Martinez, rhp, Marlins (26): Martinez only converted to pitching last year, but he was excellent in high Class A Jupiter as its closer before falling apart (30 walks in 38 innings) in a second-half promotion to Double-A. Martinez pairs a 93-97 mph fastball with an 85-87 mph slider.
Matt Milroy, rhp, Marlins (25): See Milroy on the right night and it’s easy to project him as being able to help a big league club right now. When he’s repeating his release point and staying on top of his slider he can show a plus fastball and a plus slider. He struck out 33 and walked seven in 22 innings in June and July. But when his release point wanders, his control falls apart and he struggles to get out Class A hitters.
Felix Pena, rhp, Cubs (25): A starter at Double-A Tennessee this year, Pena can touch 95-96 mph with his four-seam fastball as a starter and gets ground balls with a two-seam fastball that good depth. His breaking ball has improved as well. He struck out 140 batters in 130 innings this year as a starter (9.72 K/9). Pena has fringe-average control as a starter. If picked in the Rule 5 draft, Pena could move into the bullpen where his fastball should gain even a further tick.
Sam Selman, lhp, Royals (25): Going back to his days at Vanderbilt, Selman has always had a great arm and inconsistent control. A full-time move to the bullpen hasn’t helped fix that issue. Selman held lefthanded hitters to a .211 batting average this year, but it’s hard to project him as a reliable lefty reliever when he allowed a .400 on-base percentage to those same lefties because he allows so many walks. Selman still has an excellent arm but he’s never stitched together three straight months of even fringe-average control.
Peter Tago, rhp, White Sox (23): A minor league Rule 5 pick last year, Tago responded with a some of the best work of his career. Tago has a mid-90s fastball and a solid breaking ball but struggles to throw strikes.
Alberto Tirado, rhp, Phillies (20): Tirado qualifies for two categories: he’s a power arm with control troubles and an inexperienced pitcher with a great arm. Acquired in the Ben Revere trade at the deadline, Tirado has an outstanding arm. He’s touched 100 mph at his best and can sit in the high 90s as a reliever. But he also has extreme control problems–he walked more than 10 batters per nine innings in his 16 innings with the Phillies high A Club, even though he also had a sparkling 0.56 ERA.
Inexperienced Pitchers With Great Arms
Most years there will be at least one pitcher taken on the basis of a great arm even though the selecting team knows that the pitcher’s lack of experience will be a significant handicap in allowing them to contribute immediately. Recent examples include RHP Jason Garcia (Orioles) and RHP Jandel Gustave (who was picked in last year’s Rule 5 but was eventually offered back to the Astros).
Yimmi Brasoban, rhp, Padres (21): Brasoban returned for a second season in low Class A Fort Wayne and his stuff took off in a move to the bullpen. Brasoban has shown a good sinking 92-93 mph fastball and touched 96-97 seemingly whenever he wanted it as a reliever, and his slider projects as a potential out pitch as well.
Luis Perdomo, rhp, Cardinals (22): Perdomo has no time above high Class A and then struggled in a late-season stint with high Class A Palm Beach. But Perdomo has pitches—a 93-95 mph fastball and a tight slider that darts downward—that flash plus to go with a clean delivery and average control. A team picking him would be hoping that a move to the bullpen would let him focus on those two pitches.
Michael Heesch, lhp, Cubs (25): A 6-foot-5 lefty with a 91-94 mph fastball that plays up even a little more because he does a good job of hiding the ball in his delivery, Heesch held lefthanders to a .197/.267/.265 line last season. He’s yet to reach Double-A and his delivery isn’t always in sync, but he has has potential as a lefty matchup reliever.
Phillips Valdez, rhp, Nationals (24): Like most of the pitchers in this category, Valdez has yet to pitch in Double-A, but he has had solid success in Class A. Valdez has a mid-90s fastball that will touch 96-97 mph and he has shown solid control. Valdez’s breaking ball is slurvy in its break but it tightens up at times and he’s developed his changeup that has become a viable third pitch.
Solid But Unspectacular Stuff
Logan Verrett and Sean Gilmartin were picked last year because they can locate with fringe-average to average stuff. There aren’t many success stories from this group over the years, but here are a few pitchers who could try to emulate their path to the Rule 5 draft.
Dakota Bacus, rhp, Nationals (24): Bacus has a two-pitch combo that serves him very well. He has a 91-94 mph fastball to go with an at times wipeout slider. Bacus has reached Triple-A despite a modest 6.65 strikeouts per 9 IP ratio.
Matt Bowman, rhp, Mets (24): There’s not much to like about Bowman’s 5.53 ERA and his .321 average against. But Bowman has a long track record of success before last year. He throws strikes with four average or fringe-average offerings.
Chris Devenski, rhp, Astros (25): Devenski has the coolest pitch in the Rule 5 draft, as he gets his strikeouts with what he calls his “changeup of death.” Devenski profiles as a spot starter, low-leverage reliever after a very solid season (7-4, 3.01) at Double-A Corpus Christi that he capped with a win in the Triple-A National Championship for Fresno.
Kyle Drabek, rhp, Diamondbacks (28): A one-time top prospect whose stuff has been diminished by injuries, Drabek was available as a minor league free agent, so an argument can be made that any team that really wanted him could have signed him a week ago without worrying about the roster hassles of a Rule 5 pick. But Drabek does have big league experience and had a 2.79 ERA in 90 innings away from Triple-A Charlotte’s cozy confines. What he doesn’t have (or at least didn’t in 2015) was the plus fastball he used to show.
Myles Jaye, rhp, White Sox (23): Jaye succeeds by locating solid average stuff. He can run his fastball up to 94 mph at times, but he’ll also sit in the high 80s for other stretches. He mixes in an above-average changeup and a fringe-average slider, and he can throw all three for strikes. He’s coming off a 12-9, 3.29 season at Double-A Birmingham where he showed durability and generally kept the ball in the park.
Luis Lugo, lhp, Indians (21): A 6-foot-5 lefthander with four pitches that project as potentially average or better, Lugo has plenty of feel for setting up hitters. What he doesn’t have is the experience to succeed if he was pushed to the big leagues by a Rule 5 selection. Lugo survived (8-10, 4.45) in the Carolina League this year, but the Indians are taking only a modest risk by leaving him unprotected.
Richard Rodriguez, rhp, Orioles (25): There’s nothing sexy with Rodriguez, but he has a solid-average 90-93 mph fastball and curveball to go with some deception. More importantly, Rodriguez has a solid track record of success. He was solid in three stops last year and has Triple-A experience each of the past two seasons.
In recent years, one or two slugging first baseman usually gets picked. Last year Mark Canha provided value to the A’s, and the Marlins managed to get a regular from the 2013 minor league Rule 5 draft pick with Justin Bour.
Zach Borenstein, of, Diamondbacks (25): Borenstein is a corner outfielder who hit .314/.394/.511 for Double-A Mobile, doing almost all of his damage against righthanders. Borenstein has a track record of hitting (a .499 career slugging percentage) and he cut his strikeout percentage significantly this year. He’s stretched in right field but is an average defender in left.
Balbino Fuenmayor, 1b, Royals (26): One of the best stories around, Fuenmayor signed for big money ($750,000) with the Blue Jays as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. Fuenmayor’s power never appeared in his time as a Blue Jay; he ended up being released and seemingly washed up as a 23-year-old. But he rebuilt his career in the independent leagues and was Baseball America’s 2014 Independent Leagues Player of the Year. The Royals signed him and he responded by having one of the best year’s in the minors. Fuenmayor hit .358/.384/.589 between Double-A and Triple-A (and played in the Futures Game) before he tore his ACL in late July. Fuenmayor has plus to plus-plus power potential and he’s hit for average despite a swing-at-everything approach. He’s limited to first base defensively and fits best in the American League where he could also DH. Fuenmayor’s injury will make it a little tougher for him to earn a job in spring training, but some team could take a chance on acquiring some significant power cheaply.
Ronald Guzman, 1b, Rangers (21): Signed for $3.45 million in 2011, Guzman still has loud tools, but a team picking him is going to have to be well aware that Guzman lacks the present skills help a big league club right now. Guzman is limited to first base only, and while he has power potential, it’s yet to show up in games. However, he hit .283 while reaching high Class A in 2015 and had 47 extra-base hits.
Two years ago lefty specialists were the Rule 5 rage as Patrick Schuster went No. 1 overall and Brian Moran followed soon after. Neither stuck and the lefty one-out reliever was less in demand in the 2015 Rule 5 draft.
Daniel Stumpf, lhp, Royals (24): In 2013, teams spent a lot of effort trying to find lefty matchup relievers who could fill that niche role. Neither Patrick Schuster and Brian Moran ended up sticking with the teams that picked them. But a team looking for a similar lefty specialist might take a chance on Stumpf. Stumpf’s low 90s fastball and slider are excellent against lefties–he held them to a .151/.272/.236 average (16-for-126 with 17 BB and 40 Ks) in 2015. He struggles much more against righthanders and his control is at times shaky, but he could fit a team looking for a lefty specialist.