SEE ALSO: Rule 5 Archive
SEE ALSO: 40-Man Roster Additions
Projecting who will get picked in the Rule 5 draft is never easy. No two teams’ Rule 5 preference lists are alike because of teams’ differing needs, willingness to accept risk and the status of their big league roster. But talent is talent, so here’s our first Rule 5 draft preview, our initial attempt to run down the list of players to watch in the 2016 Rule 5 draft.
What is notable is how the explosion of velocity that has overtaken baseball at all levels makes it even harder to sort through the available talent. There are at least nine pitchers who touched 100 mph or better this year who are available in the Rule 5 draft. While a number of them won’t come close to getting picked, the number of pitchers who can light up a radar gun in a bullpen role provides a long list of prospects for scouts to sort through. We’ll have plenty more Rule 5 draft preview information as we get closer to the draft, but here’s a look at some of the most intriguing prospects.
The cream of the crop
The following are players who should rank near the top of teams’ preference lists heading into the Rule 5 draft regardless of position.
Yimmi Brasoban, rhp, Padres: Brasoban ranked 19th in the Padres system a year ago. The Padres’ system is significantly deeper this year, but it is still a surprise that San Diego left the hard-throwing righthander unprotected as he has two major league pitches (a 95-98 mph fastball and an excellent slider) and he has Double-A experience. Brasoban’s control wavers at times, but with an ability to eat up righthanded hitters (who hit .190/.292/.238 against him in Double-A), he is a very intriguing potential pick.
Yonny Chirinos, rhp, Rays: While some of the players on this list have significant control issues, Chrinos will go weeks without walks at times. As a starter, he had a 43-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in May and June and for his career, Chirinos has walked 1.4 batters per nine innings. While Chirinos hits his spots, he’s not a soft-tosser. He sits in the low 90s as a starter and has touched 95 as a reliever. He’s always had a decent changeup and his slider has improved in 2016. Chirinos’ upside is more limited than some of the other Rule 5 candidates, but his combination of solid stuff and big-league ready control makes him more able to contribute immediately than the majority of candidates on Rule 5 unprotected lists.
Phillip Evans, 2b/ss/3b, Mets: Evans won the Eastern League batting title in 2016, hitting .335 for Binghamton. It was a surprising development as he was a career .236/.304/.310 hitter coming into the 2016 season. But Evans has a short, compact stroke with some pop, so his batting title didn’t look as flukish as one might believe. He’s also hitting .333/.418/.521 in the Puerto Rican winter league giving scouts another good look. Evans was a full-time shortstop early in his career. He’s slid to second and third base more regularly as he moved up the ladder (and in deference to Amed Rosario) but he did play shortstop frequently this season and while he’s not good enough defensively to be an everyday shortstop, he is capable enough to contribute as a utility infielder.
Julian Fernandez, rhp, Rockies: Asking Fernandez to pitch in the big leagues right now would be like tossing the keys to a new Ferrari to a 16-year-old and telling them take it for a spin around the Nurburgring. Fernandez walked 7.8 batters per nine innings in short-season Boise–he struck out 19 and walked 20 in 23 innings. He’s yet to throw a pitch in full season ball. But Fernandez has a truly special right arm. As a reliever, Fernandez sits at 98-100, touching 102-103 with outstanding life. He doesn’t really have a secondary pitch he can rely on yet and his fastball misses the zone almost as often as it finds it, but a rebuilding team could take a chance on one of the best arms in baseball, sit him on the bench in all but blowout games and hope that a few years from now, they have a dominant reliever.
Ismael Guillon, lhp, Reds: Because the Reds voided Guillon’s initial contract after a physical found a torn elbow ligament, Guillon was eligible for the Rule 5 draft before he ever threw an official pitch (he missed 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow ligament). Eventually Cincinnati added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the 2012-2014 Rule 5 drafts, but removed him from the 40-man before the 2015 season. He ended up missing all of 2015 with a lat injury, but returned to put together his best season as a pro at high Class A Daytona this year. With a solid average fastball (90-93 mph as a starter) and one of the best changeups in the Reds’ system, Guillon misses bats and with his changeup, he’s not helpless against righthanders. But he held lefties to .133/.233/.222 averages in 2016. Guillon’s control is shaky. He also has one of the best pickoff moves in the minors. He only nabbed six baserunners in 2016, but his reputation now precedes him–only 7 of 16 attempted basestealers succeeded as baserunners stay glued to first.
Justin Haley, rhp, Red Sox: Haley is the owner of possibly the coolest pre-pitch setups in the minors. He sets up on the third-base side of the rubber, with his other foot straddling the rubber. With the ball in his glove raised in front of his face, he looks in for the sign with his pitching hand cocked at his waist, fingers dancing back and forth like Wyatt Earp ready to draw. He gets the sign for the pitch and then locks, loads and fires. As a starter, Haley’s velo ticked up as the season warmed up. Late in the season he was sitting 90-92, but his fastball plays up because he locates it well. He also has an above-average slider as well as a useable curveball and changeup. He was dominant in Double-A this year and solid in Triple-A as a starter. Because he has Triple-A experience and feel, and he’s been impressive in the Dominican Republic this fall with Escogido (2-0, 0.38, 24 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 14 SO), Haley has made a pretty strong case to be picked.
Drew Muren, rhp, Diamondbacks: Muren was a two-way player in college who tried to make it to the big leagues as a hitter, but he flamed out in Double-A. After spending two years in indy ball as a hitter, the Diamondbacks took a chance on his arm, moved him to the mound and saw him make it to Triple-A briefly in his first pro season as a pitcher. Muren’s stuff has helped make up for lost time. He sits in the mid-to-high 90s and touched 100 mph this year. He struck out 61 in 41 innings between three stops although he also showed below-average control. Muren’s delivery is a little unconventional as might be expected for a converted hitter. His release point is nearly sidearm giving hitters a very odd look for a pitcher with a near-top-of-the-scale fastball. His secondary stuff is still primitive.
Joel Payamps, rhp, Diamondbacks: Payamps’ stats at high Class A were rather pedestrian (7-5, 4.75, 2.7 BB/9, 8.8 K/9), but Payamps showed plenty of arm strength, as he’ll sit 92-94 mph and touch 97 mph. And he has a slurve he’s confident in and a usable changeup. As a Rule 5 pick, he’d slide to the bullpen where everything would likely play up. Payamps has big league-caliber stuff and his control is reasonably advanced, which makes him worth investigating. He has not pitched well in the Dominican winter league, hurting his chances of being picked.
Wei-Chung Wang, lhp: In 2014, Wang become one of the unlikeliest Rule 5 picks to stick in recent history. The Pirates understandably left him unprotected, believing no one would take a lefthander whose entire pro career had been spent in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Forget jumping from a stadium with two decks to big league stadiums with three decks, Wang went from chain-link fences to the majors. And then when Wang fulfilled his Rule 5 eligibility requirements, the Brewers sent him back to Class A and eventually dropped him from the 40-man roster (he went unclaimed through waivers). Wang was not ready in 2014 to contribute to a big league club, but that’s no longer the case. Wang could get a chance to see if he can lower that career 10.90 big league ERA. Wang doesn’t throw as hard as he did a few years ago–his fastball is average at best and gets some fringe average grades, but his changeup is excellent and his slider is solid and he hits his spots. Pitching for Double-A Biloxi, Wang held lefties to a .220/.257/.280 stat line.
Tyler Webb, lhp, Yankees: Teams looking for a lefty specialist should take a good look at Webb. He has enough velocity (90-92 mph) with a slider and a changeup. Webb held lefties to a .559 OPS in 2016. It’s no fluke as he held lefties to a .525 OPS with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015 as well.
Zack Weiss, rhp, Reds: Weiss ranked as the Reds’ #22 prospect after last season. If not for an elbow injury, Weiss would have likely spent much of 2016 in the big leagues, as he was expected to be big league ready. But the former UCLA star’s elbow injury lingered, even if it didn’t require surgery. Teams will have to be flying somewhat blind with Weiss as he didn’t pitch in an official game anywhere all season, but if he can return to his 2015 form (11.8 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 at Double-A Pensacola), he’s close to big league ready. Before his injuries he had a plus fastball and a pair of potentially plus breaking balls.
Eric Wood, 3b, Pirates: Wood creates an interesting debate for scouts and front offices. If you believe his 2016 season was a breakout, there’s a lot to like. Wood hit 16 home runs with plenty of walks in a .249/.339/.443 season with Double-A Altoona and he was even better in the Arizona Fall League (.330/.388/.489). But that season was dramatically better than anything he’d done before–he came into the season with 15 home runs in his first four pro seasons. Wood is headed to the Dominican Republic after his AFL stint, so scouts will get some further pre-Rule 5 looks.