The Rule 5 draft is fascinating because of its timing and its format. Positioned right in the middle of the baseball offseason, it gives everyone a chance to scour rosters and dream on talented players with flaws.
In reality, the change of eligibility rules in 2007 that gave teams an extra year of protection before players become eligible for the Rule 5 draft reduced the importance of the Rule 5 draft significantly. That extra year has made it easier for teams to make decisions on players, and since then, fewer impact players have been nabbed.
With that in mind, here’s an initial list of 10 of the top names to keep in mind for the Dec. 11 Rule 5 draft.
Steven Baron, c, Mariners: An excellent defensive catcher who made it to Double-A last year. His bat is light but he's not completely lost at the plate, so a team in need of a backup catcher could do a lot worse.
Mark Canha, 1b, Marlins: A team looking for a backup corner bat could be interested. Canha has an above-average hit tool with average power. Primarily a first baseman, he can play third base or left field in a pinch, which gives him a potential backup role. He faced a numbers game with the Marlins, as Justin Bour (on the 40-man roster) has a pretty similar profile.
Edgar de la Rosa, rhp, Tigers: Like velocity? The massive 6-foot-8 de la Rosa can run it up to 100 mph at his best and pairs it with a usable changeup. One Florida State League evaluator said he “goes to the mound with a 7 fastball every start." He was a starter in high Class A this past season, but would fit in a big league bullpen.
Delino DeShields, of, Astros: Some teams will be turned off by his well-documented problems with not always showing his best effort—he's been pulled from multiple games over the years for not running out balls. But other teams may be intrigued by some of the best tools in the Rule 5 draft. The minors' only 10-100 man ever (12 home runs, 101 steals in 2012), DeShields plays an adequate center field, can also play second base, has more pop than most speedsters and has shown excellent on-base skills.
Jarlin Garcia, lhp, Marlins: Big arm who would be making a massive jump from low Class A Greensboro to the big leagues; Garcia has earned above-average grades for his fastball (91-94 mph most nights) and curve. He also finished strong, with a 1.03 ERA in his final 35 innings.
Mychal Givens, rhp, Orioles: The converted shortstop has plus velocity (93-95 mph), a solid slider and he throws from a low slot that makes it hard for righthanders to pick up the ball.
Jandel Gustave, rhp, Astros: In a game in which power arms are coveted, Gustave throws as hard as anyone. Up to 100 mph at his best, Gustave would be making a massive leap to the big leagues. He struggled in the low Class A Midwest League. But a team that isn’t going to compete for a playoff spot in 2015 could decide to stash him in a limited role.
Gregory Infante, rhp, Blue Jays: A big league alum (2010 with the White Sox), Infante can’t paint the corners, but his top-of-the-scale fastball (91-97 mph and has touched 100) plus an average slider was effective enough in limited action in Double-A and Triple-A last season. He's throwing well in the Venezuelan League for La Guaira.
Andrew McKirahan, lhp, Cubs: He’s a lefty who has come on lately. A reliever at Texas, McKirahan had Tommy John surgery in 2012 which cost him much of two seasons and has set him back in his development. He started to return to form this season as his fastball jumped up to 92-96 mph this year that he mixes with a fringe-average breaking ball. Just don’t expect him to be a lefty specialist. McKirahan has been tougher on righthanders than lefthanded hitters every where he’s gone since he returned to the mound after his surgery.
Breyvic Valera, 2b, Cardinals: An athletic second baseman who had a great start in high Class A and was OK in Double-A last season, Valera also played in the Arizona Fall League (13-for-39). He has always drawn tons of walks but has zero power. He doesn’t play shortstop effectively, which limits his chances of sticking as a backup utility infielder but he can also play in the outfield. That said, the Cardinals acquired and protected middle infielders Ty Kelly and Dean Anna over keeping Valera.
While those are the 10 most notable names, we’re not stopping at 10. Here’s a look at some other interesting or notable names left unprotected, divided by categories.
To stick on a Major League roster as a Rule 5 pick, most players have to be able to provide some sort of usefulness to the big league club. That’s why utility infielders are one of the most appealing phyla of players—pick well and you fill a needed role for very little money.
Gioskar Amaya, 2b, Cubs: With a future major league utility infielder profile thanks to his on-base skills and steady glove, Amaya hasn’t played shortstop lately for Cubs. He has range and just enough arm to play there in a backup role, though a jump from high Class A to big leagues rules against him getting picked.
Johan Camargo, 2b, Braves: Only 20, Camargo is one of the youngest Rule 5-eligible players. The Panamanian utility infielder has to stretch to play shortstop, hurting his profile.
Daniel Castro, ss, Braves: A sure-handed shortstop with average range but an above-average arm, Castro has the defensive ability to play in the big leagues. He may not hit enough to get there though. Castro makes a lot of contact, but he doesn’t walk, so he posts solid batting averages with low on-base percentages. Considering his understandable lack of power and his fringe-average speed, those tools don’t add up to the kind of player who usually gets picked.
Darrell Ceciliani, of, Mets: He went unpicked last year and likely will again, but Ceciliani is a potentially useful lefthanded-hitting backup outfielder with very limited upside.
Taylor Featherston, ss, Rockies: As a shortstop who has some power (double-digit home runs in each of the past three seasons), Featherston isn't the traditional utility infielder. But he can play on either side of second base and he has the arm to play third base if needed as well.
Marco Hernandez, ss, Cubs: Also left unprotected last year, Amaya's running mate has defensive skills at shortstop that are worth a look, but hasn’t hit enough to make it likely a team will try to stash him.
Whit Merrifield, 2b/of, Royals: Merrifield does a lot of things pretty well, but nothing really well. He’s a rare corner outfielder/second baseman who can play center in a pinch. His great Triple-A season in 2014 appears at least in part a function of unsustainable improvement in his average on balls in play (BABIP).
Felix Perez, of, Reds: Perez has plenty of Triple-A time and can play solid right or left field and can play center in a pinch. But his best argument for getting picked is what he’s doing in the Venezeulan winter league. Perez is hitting .347/.374/.547 this winter.
Can’t Take The Contract
Some players are available but won’t get picked because their major league contracts are too expensive.
Ricky Romero, lhp, Blue Jays: He's still owed $7.5 million for 2015 and has a $13.1 million team option for 2016 with a $600,000 buyout, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. He walked 42 in 38 innings at Triple-A in 2014. In other words, he's not getting picked.
Jose Tabata, of, Pirates: Owed $4 million for next year and $4.5 million for the year after that, Tabata could probably be had very inexpensively in trade, so there's no reason to be locked into Rule 5 roster restrictions by picking him.
Suk-Min Yoon, rhp, Orioles: Poor year in Triple-A plus an expensive contract ($1.75 million in 2015, $2.4 million in 2016) virtually ensures he’ll go unpicked, but he was considered one of the better Korean pitchers before jumping to the U.S. in 2014.
Nieto stuck with the White Sox as a Rule 5 catcher last year and Jesus Flores did the same with the Nationals in 2008. Here are a couple of catchers who could interest someone.
Armando Araiza, c, Rays: An excellent defensive catcher but Araiza has significant questions about his bat. Considering he spent last year in the Midwest League, he’s likely too far away to stick.
Jose Briceno, c, Rockies: It would be tough to stash Briceno on a roster all season as he’s likely not ready to handle full backup duties after spending 2014 in low Class A, but he has power and a big arm behind the plate.
Oscar Hernandez, c, Rays: The Rays had a pair of interesting catchers playing for low Class A Bowling Green. Armando Araiza (also available) is a more polished catcher right now with a more accurate arm, but Hernandez has much bigger tools. He has a well above-average arm and he has plus power. If it all develops for Hernandez, he could be a catcher who produces 15-20 home runs a season while limiting running games, but he’ll likely never be even an average hitter and he’d likely be well overmatched it he was picked this year.
Roberto Pena, c, Astros: Pena has some of the best defensive skills in the minors and can likely handle the defensive portion of a backup catcher role. The bat is a much bigger question, but a catching-poor team could pop him and keep him, just as the White Sox did last year with Adrian Nieto.
What Once Was
There are a number of available players in this year’s Rule 5 draft that have been prominent prospects in the past, but who have struggled recently, usually because of injuries.
Jason Adam, rhp, Twins: He's shown a plus fastball at his best, but his delivery has varied from good to very bad and his stuff has similarly varied from excellent to average. Lately it's been average, which makes it less likely he'd be picked.
Jed Bradley, lhp, Brewers: Call Bradley the lefthanded Deck McGuire as a former Georgia Tech ace drafted in the first round whose stuff backed up in pro ball. Finally had some success going to a groundball-oriented approach in 2014, but doesn't appear to have the control to stick yet.
Keith Butler, rhp, Cardinals: Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for much of 2015 means he’ll likely go unpicked, but he has big league time and was a legitimate prospect just a year ago.
Kaleb Cowart, 3b, Angels: A first-round pick in 2010, Cowart has struggled in two seasons at Double-A. Many scouts considered him a better pitching prospect than position prospect coming out of high school. After he’s posted back to back sub-.650 OPS seasons in the Texas League, he’s not making a convincing argument that they were wrong.
Cito Culver, ss, Yankees: The 2010 first-round pick was seen as a reach at the time and hasn't hit as a pro (.233/.316/.321). He can defend, and he posted a .783 OPS in August at high Class A Tampa with a revamped offensive approach.
Kentrail Davis, of, Brewers: Signed for $1.2 million as a supplemental first-round pick, Davis has some on-base skills, but his power has never developed and the former center fielder is now a corner outfielder without the power teams want from a corner.
J.R. Graham, rhp, Braves: Once a premium prospect, injuries have turned his plus-plus fastball into a merely average offering.
Robby Hefflinger, of, Braves: Showed massive power in 2013, but fell apart in 2014 and missed most of the year with a wrist injury.
Matt Hobgood, rhp, Orioles: The fifth overall pick in 2009 has shown flashes of premium velocity (up to 95-96 mph this past season) but those flashes have been outweighed by too many injury issues.
Levi Michael, 2b/ss, Twins: The 2011 first-round pick was once seen as a better version of Joe Panik, but groin injuries from his college days robbed him of quickness, power and confidence. He finally reached Double-A in 2014 and had success in a small sample size.
Jared Mitchell, of, White Sox: A 2009 first-round pick who has posted a .725 career OPS, Mitchell has always struck out way too much. But his 2014 season was his best ever, as he posted .360+ OBPs in Double-A and Triple-A and scouts have long believed he may be a late-bloomer, if he ever blooms.
Mark Montgomery, rhp, Yankees: His slider remains effective, but he's lost 5 mph on his fastball, which makes him not nearly as intriguing as he was a year ago.
Adrian Salcedo, rhp, Twins: Once a prominent prospect, Salcedo has backed up thanks to shoulder problems, but he still has at least an average fastball (91-93 mph) and flashes a usable slider that could fit in a major league bullpen.
Matt Skole, 3b, Nationals: A serious wrist injury ruined his 2013 season and seemed to carry over into 2014, but pre-injury he was a significant power prospect who had enough pop to profile at first base.
Jordan Swagerty, rhp, Cardinals: Two years ago it would be hard to believe he'd be on this list, but he's thrown 10 innings in the past three seasons because of recurring elbow problems.
Donavan Tate, of, Padres: The third pick in the 2009 draft has yet to reach Double-A and didn’t play a game in 2014.
Two of the top five picks in last year’s Rule 5 draft were lefty relievers whose specialty was retiring lefthanded hitters. Here are a few available players who fit a similar profile this year.
Sean Gilmartin, lhp, Twins: Gilmartin's profile isn’t all that dissimilar to recent Orioles’ Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland. He's a lefty with a good changeup, a below-average fastball and some feel for pitching. He has very limited upside, but a team in need of lefty help could figure he’s worth a $25,000 gamble.
Ryan O’Rourke, lhp, Twins: O’Rourke’s overall numbers say stay away: 2-4, 4.02 with Double-A New Britain with 51 strikeouts and 16 walks in 40 innings. But O’Rourke was awesome against lefthanded hitters (.105/.159/.123 with 42 strikeouts among the 74 lefthanded hitters he faced) and awful against righthanded hitters (.326/.398/.573). Those numbers aren’t a one-year fluke. O’Rourke struck out 53 of the 137 lefthanded hitters he faced the previous two seasons and held them to a sub .450 OPS. He does it with a below-average fastball (87-90 mph) and a slurvy breaking ball that he can tighten up or slow down to vary the size, speed and break. It’s easy meat for a righthanded hitter, but it’s a baffling assortment for lefties.
Robby Scott, lhp, Red Sox: A former indy baller (who was managed by Jose Canseco), Scott has pronounced reverse splits in the minors thanks to a quality changeup and tailing action on his average fastball.
Patrick Schuster, lhp, Diamondbacks: Last year’s No. 1 pick in Rule 5 draft is eligible again. He had a disappointing season overall, but his numbers against lefties were once again excellent (.565 OPS against in Double-A and .632 OPS in Triple-A), so a team looking for a lefty who only faces lefties could be interested once again.
Too Far Away
Sometimes there are legitimate prospects who are solid bets to go unpicked because they simply aren’t ready to contribute to a big league club. And if they are stashed on a big league roster for a year, it may negatively affect their development.
Victor Araujo, rhp, Dodgers: He had one of the best sliders in the Midwest League to go with a 90-92 mph fastball. It's hard to see that pairing working against big league hitters at this point.
Junior Arias, of, Reds: An intriguing power-speed prospect, Arias is close to undraftable after missing almost the entire season with a broken ankle.
Zach Borenstein, of, Diamondbacks: He probably would have been protected were he still with the Angels, who traded him for Joe Thatcher. The corner outfielder with solid numbers and performance would be facing a difficult jump to majors and lacks massive upside.
Esmerling de la Rosa, rhp, Marlins: De la Rosa slings the ball from a low three-quarters arm slot with plus velocity (93-95 mph) and a useful changeup, but too far away from the big leagues to be picked this year.
Jordy Lara, 1b/of, Mariners: His poor speed and agility negate his plus arm, having moved him off third base. But he's a pure hitter who posted crazy numbers in a crazy High Desert park (.353/.413/.609) and wasn't bad after a promotion to Double-A.
Here’s a sampling of pitchers who are worth noting because of their ability to light up a radar gun.
Yhonathan Barrios, rhp, Pirates: The converted infielder joined the club of pitchers who have touched 100 mph—in his first full year as a pitcher.
Luis Cessa, rhp, Mets: Another conversion project, Cessa has been a slow-mover as he's been used as a starter. He has an athletic delivery, with a big arm (93-95 mph fastball) and a fringe average breaking ball and changeup, and he throws a lot of strikes (1.78 BB/9 in 374 IP).
Rafael De Paula, rhp, Padres: Traded for Chase Headley this season by the Yankees, De Paula hasn't added enough polish to remain a starter. Scouts who see him at the right time can be intrigued by his big arm, but with a poor delivery, fringy control and no plus second pitch, he's likely a reliever.
Jacob Esch, rhp, Marlins: After a slow start in high Class A Jupiter, Esch finished strong. He struck out 27 and walked only 4 while posting a 1.30 ERA in August. Esch has a plus fastball (91-95 mph) and a hard slider that sometimes looks more like a cutter as well as a downer curveball. He’s more of an interesting name to watch for the long-term, but with excellent athleticism and steady development, he’s turning into something interesting.
Jason Garcia, rhp, Red Sox: Garcia seemed pretty ordinary as a starter, but his velocity spiked significantly after a late-season move to the ‘pen. He's touched 100 mph at his best, but has no real plus secondary pitch and has not pitched above low Class A.
Reymin Guduan, lhp, Astros: The bad news? He’s a lefthander who’s yet to pitch above the Appalachian League in five pro seasons. The good news? He’s the rare lefty who can throw 100 mph and he struck out 11.7 per nine, albeit with 5.5 walks per nine.
Marcus Hatley, rhp, Cardinals: Just signed by St. Louis as a minor league free agent, Hatley's stuff has been excellent for several years (plus fastball, with flashes of a plus slider), but his ERA hasn’t matched his stuff or ratios. With plenty of Triple-A time, a team who likes the stuff could take a chance.
Williams Louico, rhp, Orioles: The rare Haitian pro, Louico has poor results in full-season ball (5.35 ERA, 113-114 BB-SO in 143 IP). He has touched 100 mph but hasn’t missed bats in three tries at low Class A.
Carlos Melo, rhp, Indians: He struggled in low Class A last year, walking nearly a batter an inning. He has one of the better raw arms around with an 80 fastball at his best.
Dustin Molleken, rhp, Indians: The well-traveled minor league veteran has seen time in Japan. He has control issues but he has a high-90s fastball at his best.
Jochi Ogando, rhp, Mariners: The big righthander has massive arm strength (94-97 mph at his best) and two potentially average secondary pitches, but he's been way too wild and inconsistent to get picked this year.
Adys Portillo, rhp, Padres: Signed for $2 million in 2008, Portillo retains a top-shelf fastball (93-98 mph) and his power breaking ball works well at times. But his inability to throw strikes (6.95 walks per 9/IP in 2014) makes it unlikely any team will bite.
Josh Ravin, rhp, Dodgers: Not consistent or healthy enough to pick, but when healthy, Ravin can run it up to 100 mph.
Montreal Robertson, rhp, Tigers: One of a number of hard-throwing Tigers relievers in Class A. Robertson doesn’t have the resume to get picked, but he does have a high-90s fastball.
Domingo Tapia, rhp, Mets: Midway through the 2013 season, Tapia seemed unlikely to be on a list of Rule 5 unprotected players. He had touched 100 mph and was stifling high Class A hitters. But his stuff has backed up since then while his control remains below-average, which explains why he's still in high Class A.
Tyler Ybarra, lhp, Blue Jays: If a team wants to dream on a lefthander with a great arm, Ybarra fits the bill. He'll sit 94-97 mph when he lets it loose. Unfortunately he never seems to know where it's going, which is why teams will probably pass.
Some players are solid minor leaguers who might eventually make the big leagues, but their profiles just don’t fit what teams are looking for in the Rule 5 draft.
Willians Astudillo, c/1b, Phillies: The bad-bodied Astudillo might have the best contact skills among Rule 5 eligibles, but he can’t really catch and doesn’t have enough power to entice, especially as he spent last year in low Class A.
Jabari Blash, of, Mariners: Blash looks like an all-star as he strides to the plate and during batting practice when he puts on displays of raw power. But his contact issues have kept him from ever fully reaching his power. He went unpicked last year off of a 1.061 OPS season in Double-A, so unlikely he'll get popped after falling flat at Triple-A, especially after getting hit with a 50-game suspension in June for a drug of abuse.
Cody Decker, 1b, Padres: Decker has a career .530 slugging percentage and he’s hit more than 25 home runs three different times. So why is he unprotected and why hasn’t he reached the big leagues? Scouts question his defense and generally frown on sub-6-foot first basemen. Decker has some position versatility as he filled in at catcher and third base last season, but he’s primarily a first baseman.
Matt Fields, 1b, Royals: Fields' massive raw power ranks among best in the Royals system, but his profile—power, limited hit tool first baseman–is not the kind of player that gets taken in the Rule 5 draft. Clint Robinson won a PCL Triple Crown with a similar profile and barely got a big league cup of coffee.
Seth Frankhoff, rhp, Athletics: Frankoff knows how to pitch and had a great first half in Double-A, but relievers without a plus fastball have trouble getting picked in the Rule 5 draft.
Chris Garia, of, Rangers: Garia can play a solid center field and is a top-of-the-scale runner, but his bat is not ready to contribute significantly at the big league level.
Cody Martin, rhp, Braves: Martin is an intriguing name because he’s had plenty of success at the Triple-A level. Last season, Martin finished sixth in the International League in ERA (3.52), third in strikeouts (142) and fifth among starters in strikeout rate (8.12 K/9). In some ways, he’s a surprising omission from the 40-man roster because players with his track record of success and youth (he just turned 25) aren’t usually available. On the other hand, Martin doesn’t really have a plus pitch and doesn’t have a whole lot of average offerings. A team who likes him could see him as an inexpensive pickup for both rotation and bullpen insurance, but with the understanding that very few pitchers with Martin’s profile end up being much more than useful inventory.
Rico Noel, of, Padres: Noel has plenty of Triple-A time, can play center field, gets on base and has outstanding speed. But he has bottom-of-the-scale power and a fringe-average hit tool at best.
Mike O’Neill, of, Cardinals: He's already been available to everyone when he was designated for assignment in July. O’Neill has a walk-first approach that has worked throughout the minors (career .400 minor league OBP). Working against him is that he doesn’t play center field well enough to be out there in more than a fill-in role and he lacks power (.391 career SLG). That leads many scouts to question whether his approach would play in big leagues.
Greg Peavey, rhp, Mets: The former Little League star threw 90 mph as a 14-year-old and has gained 2-4 mph since. Coming off an excellent season in Double-A Binghamton, the Oregon State alum doesn't fit normal profile of type of pitcher who sticks in Rule 5.
Henry Ramos, of, Red Sox: Ramos hit .326/.368/.431 last year in a Double-A last year, but that came in only 168 at-bats. It’s not clear that Ramos took a big step forward. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) skyrocketed last year, but hsi strikeout rate, walk rate and isolated power were were than they had been in the past. Ramos is a solid defender in the corner outfield spots who is an average runner.
Logan Verrett, rhp, Mets: The four-pitch Baylor alum has above-average control that has helped him succeed at Triple-A (11-5, 4.33 at Las Vegas in 2014), but he lacks a true plus pitch and he's always been vulnerable to lefthanded hitters.
Stash ‘Em Away?
Major League Rule 5 picks can’t be sent down to the minors, but they don’t have to be on the big league roster all year. A player has to spend 90 days on an active big league roster, but he can spend the rest of the time on the disabled list (and some of that DL time can be spent on minor league rehabilitation assignments). Teams usually don’t want to be on the hook for the potential costs of further surgeries for a recently injured players, but here are a couple of interesting prospects who could garner a look.
John Stilson, rhp, Blue Jays: Stilson likely wouldn't be available if not for shoulder surgery that he'll still be recovering from when the 2015 season begins. He had a 93-97 mph fastball and a plus changeup before the injury.
Daniel Winkler, rhp, Rockies: On a Double-A Tulsa staff that included Jon Gray and Eddie Butler at the start of the year, Winkler was the most effective pitcher. The 2013 minor league strikeout leader posted a 1.41 ERA in 12 Double-A starts while striking out more than a batter an inning. But Winkler blew his elbow out during the season and underwent Tommy John surgery. That injury would likely keep him from getting drafted by itself, but his lack of pure stuff (he sat at 89-91 mph pre-injury) would also work against his selection.