Updated: 12/14/17 2 a.m. Added another name to sluggers category.
As everyone heads to bed before the Rule 5 draft, the same names keep popping up. It would be a surprise if Nick Burdi (Twins) and Burch Smith (Rays) don’t hear their names called relatively early. Beyond that, there are a lot of names floating around and few certainties.
Updated: 12/14/17 12 a.m. Added another name to sluggers category.
Updated: 12/13/17 10 p.m. Added one more name to the “nearly ready relievers.”
Updated: 12/13/17 9 p.m. Added one more name to the “fireballers with work to do.”
Updated: 12/13/17 3:45 p.m. Added three more names, one to a new “hard to categorize list,” one back-end starter and one nearly ready reliever.
Updated: 12/13/17 10:30 a.m. Added two more names to the “fireballers with work to do.”
Updated: 12/13/17 12:30 a.m. Added three more names.
Updated: 12/12/17 5:45 p.m. Re-ranked the top five candidates and added one more potential center fielder. More names coming later tonight.
Updated: 12/8/17 9:30 a.m. Added three more relievers for subscribers.
Depending on which scout you talk to the 2017 Rule 5 eligibles class is either great, good, mediocre or bereft of talent. In other words, it's like every Rule 5 class. This is the draft where there is very little consensus. When teams get around to putting together their final Rule 5 draft pref lists next week, there will likely be little overlap. A player one team may love to have would have zero chance of making a different team.
So with that in mind, as always, Baseball America has cast a wide net. We'll keep adding names to this list as we hear them over the next week.
Top Five Rule Five Candidates
1. Burch Smith, RHP, Rays
Smith missed all of 2015 and 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery but came back looking like the player who was once an intriguing prospect. Both at the end of the season at Triple-A Durham and in the Arizona Fall League, Smith sat 94-96 mph with his fastball, flashed a knee-buckling 74-76 mph curveball and showed a swing-and-miss 79-81 mph changeup. Though he’s 27 and has had serious arm health issues, Smith is major league ready and has the stuff to help a team as a back-end starter or move to the bullpen.
2. Nick Burdi, RHP, Twins
If not for the Tommy John surgery that ended his 2017 season in May, it's possible that he would have made it to the majors last year. At the time of the injury, Burdi was 2-0, 0.53 with 20 strikeouts and only 4 walks in 17 innings with Double-A Chattanooga. The 2014
first-second-round pick made some strides with his control last year before the injury and he's long had a 95-100 mph fastball to go with a usable slider. Burdi's injury means he can begin the 2018 season on the disabled list, and he can be sent to the minors for up to 30 days when he returns on an injury rehab assignment. That could give a team a chance to pick up an excellent arm while only needing to carry him on the active roster for the tail end of the 2018 season. If he doesn't get to 90 days on the 25-man active MLB roster in 2018, he would need to start the 2019 season on the 25-man roster to complete the remainder of his required 90 days. There’s a general expectation that someone will take a chance on an arm this good.
3. Mason McCullough, RHP, Diamondbacks
McCullough is big, hefty reliever at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds with a protruding belly and power stuff, a la Bob Wickman. McCullough's fastball consistently sits 97 mph with such heavy downward movement it's been called a “bowling ball" and he backs it up with an above-average if inconsistent slider. McCullough's main issue is because he is so large, his delivery is so big and wild it hurts his command. Having consistent control and command has long been a challenge, and he has walked 6.5 batters per nine innings in his career, although he has also allowed only 5.9 hits per nine and notched 11.9 strikeouts per nine.
4. Cale Coshow, RHP, Yankees
The Yankees have an enviable stable of hard-throwing righthanders, and Coshow has touched 100 mph with his fastball. He couples the pitch with a slider that will flash 55-grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He's big, strong guy at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, but his delivery is pretty clean too.
5. Nick Ciuffo, C, Rays
As a lefthanded hitting catcher with developing power, Ciuffo could be picked as a backup catcher much like Stuart Turner, who stuck with the Reds all year last year in a backup role. Turner is a little better than Ciuffo defensively, but Ciuffo has more offensive upside, as he started to show signs of hitting for more power in 2017. Ciuffo has an average arm, is a steady pitch framer and calls a solid game, but his feet limit his blocking ability.
For subscribers, here is a much deeper dive looking at the variety of categories that normally produce Rule 5 picks.