Image credit: Jon Duplantier (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
As the baseball world sits on layaway during the Holiday season, a seasonal favorite made its way to the mouths of hungry prospect hounds in the form of the MiLB Rule 5 draft.
In the end, 51 players were selected during the five-round draft, including a handful of players with major league service time. The draft format itself heavily favors pitching, and speculative bets on arms with loud stuff and unique characteristics rule the roost. Even still, 16 positional players were selected in total, plenty with loud tools and fatal flaws.
In the following we’ll review some of the intriguing picks you should know and hand out a number of superlatives to deserving candidates at the end.
One item to note: I’ll be focusing more heavily on players we didn’t cover in yesterday’s preview. We were able to identify a baker’s dozen of the 51 selections. Those picks are listed below, with yesterday’s preview linked here, and MiLB Rule Five Tracker listed here.
Round 1, Pick 1: Baltimore Orioles – Nolan Hoffman, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Round 1, Pick 10: Colorado Rockies – Gabriel Rodriguez, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Round 1, Pick 12: Los Angeles Angels – Kenneth Rosenberg, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Round 1, Pick 15: Cleveland Guardians – Erik Sabrowski, LHP, San Diego Padres
Round 1, Pick 21: St. Louis Cardinals – Ben DeLuzio, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Round 1, Pick 27: Houston Astros – Ruben Garcia, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Round 1, Pick 29: Los Angeles Dodgers – Kekai Rios, C, Milwaukee Brewers
Round 2, Pick 1: Baltimore Orioles – Cole Uvila, RHP, Texas Rangers
Round 2, Pick 20: Seattle Mariners – Walking Cabrera, OF, Colorado Rockies
Round 2, Pick 23: Boston Red Sox – Brian Keller, RHP, New York Yankees
Round 3, Pick 5: Washington Nationals – Matt Brill, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Round 3, Pick 19: Atlanta Braves – Allan Winans, RHP, New York Mets
Round 4, Pick 5: Washington Nationals – Dakody Clemmer, RHP, Cleveland Guardians
The Ones The Got Away
Over the course of a frantic four-day process there were numerous players that we identified as interesting. Unfortunately, while we wrote up a majority of them, there were a few names left on the cutting room floor that ultimately ended up as picks.
We do offer a reminder that the vast majority of MiLB Rule 5 picks will be depth acquisitions for their new teams. Every now and then a pick emerges as a future big leaguer, but in most cases, if the selected players are productive MiLB players, that’s a positive outcome.
Round 2: Pick 15 Cleveland Guardians – Brett Daniels, RHP (selected from Houston)
A senior sign out of North Carolina, the Astros drafted Daniels in the 17th round of the 2018 draft. He spent 2021 at Double-A Corpus Christi, logging 90.1 innings across 22 appearances. After a standout campaign with Low-A Quad-Cities in 2019, Daniels struggled in his first taste of Double-A with a 6.58 ERA to show for it. He struggled to command the zone, and would often lose his release point on his fastball, leading to bad misses glove-side. To further complicate matters, Daniels began serving up home runs at a higher rate leading to some truly ugly innings. But there are still elements of his pitch mix and operation that point to potential, even despite the lost season.
His smooth, athletic operation, and strong leg block allow him to get out over his front leg at release, playing up the deception and extension of his vertical over-the-top arm slot. This allows his fastball to play flatter despite a fairly vertical arm slot. His fast arm and good use of his lower half lead to consistency within his velocity and operation. He’s prone to fall off from time to time and spin a little, but overall he’s fairly direct to the plate. His arm will speed up when he gets out of rhythm and will crossfire a bit, particularly when working gloveside.
A five-pitch mix, Daniels pairs a four-seam fastball at 91-94 mph, with an above-average changeup, a high-70s sweeper slider, a mid-80s cutter, and a slow, loopy mid-70s curveball. He’ll mix all five pitches in any given at bat, move the ball around the zone and work off of the sum of his parts. His fastball is fringe-average, with only his changeup standing out as a truly above-average to plus offering. The off-speed features 10+ mph of velocity separation, while snapping off heavy armside run and tumble.
Cleveland loves vertical arm slots, and the combination of a vertical slot, lower release and a kitchen sink of pitches might have been too much for the Guardians to pass up.
Round 2: Pick 18 Oakland Athletics – Vince Fernandez, OF (selected from San Francisco)
This was Fernandez’s second consecutive year as an MiLB Rule Five selection. One of the better power bats in this year’s available pool, Fernandez has 74 career minor league home runs and has hit .265/.355./.505 over the course of his professional career. He also served a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test back in 2019.
In 2021 Fernandez struggled at Double-A Richmond, a notoriously difficult hitter’s environment hitting .229/.331/.470 on the season. Fernandez hit 248/.350/.554 on the road, but he hit just .211/313/.391 at home. With plus raw power and average skills in an outfield corner, Fernandez has a shot to put the last two years behind him with Oakland in 2022.
Round 2: Pick 24 New York Yankees – Manny Ramirez, RHP (selected from Houston)
While his much older namesake (no relation) seeks a comeback overseas, this Manny Ramirez is a talented but undersized righthander that experienced a breakout season in 2019 before spending the entirety of the 2021 season on the 60-day IL for Low-A Fayetteville.
The last time we saw Ramirez he deployed a three-pitch mix, led by a four-seam fastball at 93-95 mph with more than 19 inches of induced vertical break on average, and a sub-4.5 degree vertical approach angle. This combination of characteristics allowed Ramirez to own the upper quadrants of the strike zone, missing bats at a high rate when elevating his fastball. His primary secondary is a high-spin low-80s curveball with slurvy shape. The pitch held batters to a .511 OPS in 2019 with a whiff rate near 45%. He’ll mix in a firm high-80s changeup from time to time, but the pitch was very much a work in progress the last time he pitched competitively. Ramirez is a youthful upside play with an intriguing analytical pitch mix.
Round 3: Pick 4 Pittsburgh Pirates – Jacob Gonzalez, INF (selected from San Francisco)
The son of former Arizona Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez, Jacob was a 2nd round out of the Arizona prep ranks back in 2017. The infielder showed well in his pro debut out of the draft but has struggled to find any semblance of consistency since. Dating back to his full season debut back in April of 2018, Gonzalez has hit .238/.307/.361 in 322 games and is yet to reach Double-A after his third full-season.
That said there are positives. Gonzalez shows above-average bat to ball skills with a 76% contact rate over the course of his last two seasons. He pairs that with average raw power and solid barrel control. If an organization believes they can unlock untapped power, he has a chance to click as a bat first emergency depth type.
Round 3: Pick 21 St. Louis Cardinals – Jonah Davis, OF (selected from Pittsburgh)
Davis is here simply because of his power. He was a late cut off of our preview mostly due to his extreme contact struggles. When it comes to contact rates, anything below 60% is a 30 grade. It’s rare you see a hitter with a contact rate in the mid-50s, but that’s Davis. He provides plus raw power, above-average on-base skills, and lots of whiffs. He fits the three true outcomes archetype to near perfection. Despite a feast-or-famine profile he’s a useful player in other areas, providing outfield flexibility by playing all three outfield spots. He was primarily a center fielder in 2021, but his defense there is below average and projects best in a corner.
As a power-hitting corner outfielder with on-base skills and extremely poor bat-to-ball ability, Davis represents a high-upside gamble in a low-risk setting. At 24 years old, he still has time to click if he can improve his rate of contact even incrementally.
There were six players selected with prior MLB experience: Infielder Andrew Young, lefthander Connor Menez, first baseman John Nogowski, outfielder Ronnie Dawson, righthander Carson Fulmer, and righthander Jon Duplantier. Among these picks, the two that seemed to have simultaneously piqued my interest and the imaginations of the Dodgers fans are former Top 100 Prospects Carson Fulmer and Jon Duplantier. Let’s look a little deeper and see what may have intrigued the Dodgers. We covered the Dodgers cleverness here.
Round 2: Pick 29 Los Angeles Dodgers – Carson Fulmer RHP – Cincinnati Reds
The former Vanderbilt standout and No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft by the White Sox, Fulmer is on his sixth major league organization, and fifth in the last two years. While he has seen MLB service time in every season dating back to 2016, the results have been poor and he’s rarely stuck anywhere over the past 24 months. Now Fulmer heads to the greenest of pastures hoping he can discover a spark to save his once-promising career.
While Fulmer has a kitchen sink of pitches, nothing truly stands out. His four-seam fastball has above-average hop, but a generic release and vertical approach angle. None of his secondaries move a tremendous amount and his breaking balls, despite above-average raw spin, lack spin efficiency (how much spin contributes to movement) and subsequently shape. Can the Dodgers identify Fulmer’s best arsenal and tighten his fastball shape? That’s the $24,500 question they want to answer.
Round 3: Pick 29 Los Angeles Dodgers – Jon Duplantier, RHP – Arizona Diamondbacks
Duplantier ranked as the top player in Arizona’s system and No. 73 prospect in baseball entering the 2018 season, but injuries and inconsistency have marred his career since. The righthander has dealt with forearm, lat, and hand injuries just in the course of the last few years, and he had a murky medical history entering pro-ball from Rice. Can Duplantier stay healthy and rediscover his once ferocious stuff? That’s the question attached to this pick, another low-risk, high-reward scenario for one of the savviest organizations in professional sports.
At his best Duplantier mixed a mid-90s fastball with two distinct breaking balls and a changeup with hard tumble and fade. But it was his ability to command his arsenal at his best that separated him from other pitching prospects at the time. With a laundry list of physical ailments, that crispness has never quite returned to Duplantier’s in-game execution.
Names Of Distinction
A group of interesting players we hadn’t previously covered in our preview were selected, here’s a few we took particular note of and further explanation on why they’re of interest.
Round 1, Pick 4: Pittsburgh Pirates – Zach Matson, LHP, Colorado Rockies
After being released by the Orioles in March, Matson signed on with the Rockies and spent the entire 2021 season with their Double-A Hartford affiliate. Matson struggled with the Yard Goats, allowing 21 earned runs in 33 innings of work out of the Hartford bullpen. He did, however, miss bats at a high rate with 57 strikeouts.
What Matson lacks in pure stuff he makes up for with movement. His fastball sits a pedestrian 88-91 mph, but features more than 19 inches of vertical break on average. His mid to high-70s curveball plays off the fastball with serious depth and vertical drop. With an average induced vertical break of greater than 13 inches, that’s a 32-inch difference between the two pitches, a perfect recipe for changing the hitter’s eye level. If Matson can further refine the command of his fastball and curveball combination, and keep more balls in the park, he has a shot to click as a low-leverage reliever.
Round 1, Pick 6: Miami Marlins – Charles LeBlanc, 2B, Texas Rangers
Of all the position players taken in yesterday’s draft without MLB experience, LeBlanc displays the greatest offensive upside. A former fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh, LeBlanc remade his swing over the shutdown and returned as a power hitter with a pull-side flyball-driven approach. His flyball rate jumped 28% from 2019 to 2021 and the over-the-fence power followed. He hit 17 home runs with Triple-A Round Rock, just five less long balls than his career total. Unfortunately his strikeouts spiked, his rate of contact dropped, and ultimately the added power detracted from the rest of LeBlanc’s profile. That said, he still hit .229/.313/.455 across 374 Triple-A plate appearances, a fairly good line for hitters available in the MiLB Rule 5 Draft, and especially for one who can play in the middle of the infield.
Round 1, Pick 11: Detroit Tigers – Elvis Alvarado, RHP, Seattle Mariners
The second Seattle pitcher selected in the first-round of this year’s draft, Alvarado features a mid to upper-90s four-seamer with above-average hop, a mid-80s cement-mixer slider and an infrequently-used changeup. His hard four-seamer with over 2,500 rpms of raw spin on average is a borderline plus offering that he uses nearly 75% of the time. He pairs it with his slider, which does an excellent job of generating whiffs as well as driving ground balls. The Tigers would be savvy to insist that Alvarado up his slider usage in 2022. The one-two punch of Alvarado’s fastball-slider combination allows for high-leverage relief upside. But it’s a matter of honing his poor command and adjusting his fastball release slightly to improve his attack angle.
Round 1, Pick 13: New York Mets – Alex Valverde, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
A deep arsenal of pitches, Valverde’s upside lies in a variety of average secondaries that help his below-average fastball play up. His four-seamer sits 92-94 mph and touches 95 mph, but his dead-zone shape is easy to spot, and thereupon gets hit hard. This is why a variety of pitches including a cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup are all the more valuable. The changeup is the standout of his arsenal, driving whiffs at a rate greater than 50% while limiting hard contact.
The righthander started the season in the Double-A Montgomery bullpen before joining the rotation in late July. Valverde pitched well over a 10-start stretch, pitching to a 3.14 FIP, 28.7% strikeout rate, and a 21.3% strikeout-to-walk rate.
Round 1, Pick 16: Philadelphia Phillies – Matt Seelinger, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Seelinger is a 26-year-old journeyman righthander with a big vertical fastball that has plus hop and an average velocity of 90 mph. He technically deploys a four-pitch mix, but his cutter and changeup are rarely used. Instead, he relies on his four-seam fastball with a cutter-like axis, above-average spin, and nearly 19 inches of induced vertical break. His slider is a slurvy gyro offering in the mid-70s that induces whiffs at a near-50% rate. Now with his fourth organization, Seelinger provides a low-leverage relief ceiling with a unique fastball look.
Round 1, Pick 23: Boston Red Sox – Austin Lambright, LHP, Kansas City Royals
A lefthanded spin king, Lambright features two distinct breaking balls with more than 2800 rpms of raw spin. His four-seam fastball is really a high-spin cutter that induces whiffs nearly 30% of the time. His go-to secondary is his slurvy high-spin slider that generates whiffs at a rate greater than 50%. Despite a deep arsenal of pitches, Lambright will make his name by refining a high-spin cut fastball and slider combination from the left side. The lefthander didn’t pitch competitively in 2021 due to injury. An absolute nightmare for lefthanded hitters, the Red Sox will look to develop Lambright as a bullpen weapon versus lefty-heavy lineups.
Fastest Runner: Tanner Kirwer, OF, Toronto
Best Draft: Los Angeles Dodgers
Best Fastball: Ruben Garcia, RHP, Houston Astros
Best Slider: Carlos Ocampo, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Best Curveball: Zach Matson, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Best Changeup: Brett Daniels, RHP, Cleveland Guardians
Best Power: Andrew Young, 2B, Washington Nationals
Best Hit Tool: John Nogowski, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Biggest Snub: Braden Webb, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers