2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft Preview: Version 3.6
UPDATED: Dec. 12. Final update makes a prediction on who will go 1-1.
Welcome to Baseball America’s 2019 Rule 5 Preview.
This story will continue to grow and grow as we get closer and closer to the Rule 5 draft, which will be held in San Diego at 9 a.m. PT on Dec. 12, the final day of the Baseball Winter Meetings.
What is notable is this year there is not an obvious No. 1 pick as there was last year when the A’s left Richie Martin unprotected. But there are some players who make strong cases to hear their names called on Dec. 12. And we've now reorganized it to spell out who we see as most likely to be picked, as well as adding a number of names in a number of categories.
With two days until the draft, here are some of the names we've heard from scouts and other front office offcials while working the Grand Hyatt lobby. Full reports for these players are included below in the different categories.
The Crazy Mock Draft
This is speculation as there is not certainty but there is a lot of smoke that the top two picks may be:
1. Rony Garcia, RHP, Yankees
2. Brandon Bailey, RHP, Astros
After that, all bets are off.
Getting Some Buzz
1. Dany Jimenez, RHP, Blue Jays
2. Dauris Valdez, RHP, Padres
3. Joe Barlow, RHP, Rangers
4. Oscar Gonzalez, OF, Indians
5. Ka'ai Tom, OF, Indians
6. Brandon Bailey, RHP, Astros
7. Rony Garcia, RHP, Yankees
Big League Ready Bats
With rosters expanding to 26 players, teams have a chance to take a look at hitters with less defensive value who have the bats to help as a pinch hitter, DH and bench bat.
Jose Rojas, 2B/3B, Angels
Rojas is a career .292/.350/.502 hitter who had 31 home runs and 107 RBI at Triple-A Salt Lake last year. The Angels front office has long been lower on him than his minor league coaches and opposing scouts, who like his high-quality at-bats, knack for barreling the ball in the zone and hitter’s instincts from the left side. Rojas is a below-average defender at third base, second base and first base and will be 27 next year, but there is a lot of conviction in his ability to hit.
Connor Joe, 1B, Dodgers
If Joe was an appealing Rule 5 pick last year (he was selected by the Reds), his case this year is just as strong. Joe hit .300/.426/.503 with nearly as many walks (72) as strikeouts (81). Joe’s lack of defensive versatility is a problem -- he is really overmatched at third base and is a stretch in right or left field as well. But with a 26-man roster, a team looking for a four-corners backup/pinch hitter could do worse.
Ka’ai Tom, OF, Indians
When Tom was playing at Kentucky, there was speculation that he might fit better in pro ball as a second baseman. That never happened, but he did play all three outfield spots in 2019 and hit .290/.380/.532, reaching double digits in doubles (27), triples (10) and home runs (23). Tom doesn’t play center field well enough to be more than a very limited fill-in there, but he is very solid in the corners and has a very solid hitting approach. Tom has over 1,000 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A. He’s as ready as he will be, so if a team wants to see if he can be a lefthanded hitting backup outfielder who can pinch hit, he has a pretty compelling case.
Vimael Machin, UTIL, Cubs
Machin doesn’t really do anything great. He’s limited at shortstop and as a fringe-average runner, he doesn’t have much value as a pinch runner. But he is a lefthanded hitting utility infielder who can play all four infield spots to varying degrees of ability and he hit .295/.390/.412 for Triple-A Iowa last year. He likely won’t be picked, but he’s a better hitter than a few of the players who will be picked.
Josh Palacios, OF, Blue Jays
Palacios fits the fourth outfielder profile for a team looking for a hitter who strings together consistent at-bats. He has only gap power, but he draws walks and posts solid on-base percentages while limiting his strikeouts. He’s an above-average runner who stole 15 bases in 20 tries with Double-A New Hampshire in 2019.
If a team decided it wanted to take a chance on massive power, there are plenty of options, although in many cases, the players they could pick would also make a run at the MLB strikeout record if given regular at-bats.
Ibandel Isabel, 1B, Reds
Isabel hit a home run once every 14 plate appearances last year. That wasn’t much of a surprise because he hit one every 12.3 plate appearances in 2018. No one in the minors has more power and the argument can be made that he hits the ball as hard as anyone in the majors, too. And that’s pretty much all Isabel does. He struck out in 41 percent of his plate appearances last year. He hit twice as many home runs as doubles and triples combined. Isabel has settled on first base, where he’s adequate after playing a below-average outfield in the past. If someone picks Isabel he will be easy money for a pitcher who executes his plan, but if a pitcher leaves a breaking ball hanging, he will hit it out.
Curtis Terry, 1B, Rangers
Unlike most of the sluggers on this list, Terry actually has a plan he can execute in the batter’s box. He hit .293/.362/.537 with 25 home runs between low Class A Hickory and high Class A Down East. He sees spin well and can catch up to fastballs, but he’s also yet to play above Class A, which works against a team picking him.
Dylan Cozens, OF, Rays
Cozens has some MLB time, which is best not mentioned in polite company (.158/.273/.289 with 24 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances). But Cozens has massive power. A foot injury caused him to miss most of the 2019 season, but the Rays signed him to a two-year minor league contract with the focus on seeing what a healthy Cozens could do in 2020. He hit 40 home runs with Reading in 2016 and posted an .857 OPS with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2018 with the older, less lively Triple-A ball. His power potential is massive, and so are the strikeouts.
Roberto Ramos, 1B, Rockies
Ramos hit 32 home runs between high Class A and Double-A in 2018 and hit 30 more for Triple-A Albuquerque in 2019. He’s a first-base only profile and there are concerns that his strength-based swing won’t work as well in the majors because of below-average bat speed, but Ramos has massive power and he’s shown he can make it play in games.
Dermis Garcia, 1B, Yankees
Garcia has massive all-fields power. He hit 17 home runs in just 75 games in the power-sapping Florida State League before he broke his foot in mid-July. He’s still fringy at first base but he has improved there and he does a better job of laying off of high fastballs, although he still struggles with breaking balls.
Vince Fernandez, OF, Rockies
Fernandez hit 24 home runs at high Class A Lancaster in 2018. He hit 15 home runs for Double-A Hartford in 74 games last season, sandwiched around a 50-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine. He has significant power but he doesn’t have any real defensive value in the outfield.
Seuly Matias, OF, Royals
Matias hit 31 home runs for low Class A Lexington in 2018. He has a right field arm and 80-grade raw power. However, he swings at everything, which explains why he struck out in 44 percent of his plate appearances in 2019 (while hitting .148). A hand injury helps explain his awful 2019 season, but he’s in no way ready to help an MLB team, and it’s an open question if he ever will be.
Cristian Santana, 3B, Dodgers
A corner infielder who is competent at both first and third, Santana has a big arm and impressive power that stretches to center and right center field. Santana is massively overaggressive—he walked 10 times in 102 games last year—but everyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft has a flaw or two. He did hit .301/.320/.436 last year and had 26 home runs in 2018.
Potentially Useful Relievers/Swingmen
Relievers are always in demand for the Rule 5 draft, even if the success rate of the players picked is generally relatively minimal. The hope of finding a Joakim Soria remains alluring.
Brandon Bailey, RHP, Astros
There’s nothing particularly sexy about Bailey’s stuff. He’s a short (5-foot-10) righthander with a 92-94 mph fastball and a plus changeup. His pair of breaking balls are both fringy at best. But he competes very well, he’s coming off of a very solid season with Double-A Corpus Christi and he has the craftiness and feel to potentially succeed as a swingman.
Joe Barlow, RHP, Rangers
Barlow is an extremely logical Rule 5 pick.
Role: Power Reliever (a role teams like to acquire in the Rule 5 draft)
Stuff: Mid-90s fastball, above-average to plus curveball. Stuff to be a back-end reliever.
Upper Level Experience: 32 appearances in Double-A/Triple-A last season.
Success: 6-2, 3.16, 49 G, 57 IP, 39 H, 3 HR, 42 BB, 93 SO between high Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.
Barlow’s massive struggles at Triple-A (1-1, 8.83 with 21 walks in 17 IP) and his control troubles provide some risk, but his stuff and potential make him a useful Rule 5 pick and his control wasn't dangerously poor until the second half of the season.
Lake Bachar, RHP, Padres
Bachar is a fresh-armed righthander who primarily played football in college and is continually improving. He started at Double-A Amarillo this year and held his own, but most see his 92-93 mph fastball and above-average slider ticking up in the bullpen.
Dany Jimenez, RHP, Blue Jays
Jimenez was outstanding in 2019. He struck out 14 batters per nine innings between high Class A and Double-A while allowing only a 1.12 WHIP. Jimenez has a high-90s fastball with arm-side run, a plus slider and a low-80s changeup that shows promise. Most power arms with his kind of stuff who are available in the Rule 5 draft either have zero upper level minor league experience or well-below-average control. Jimenez spent half of the year in Double-A and has average control (3.2 BB/9). He is one of the more well-rounded prospects available with fewer drawbacks than most available arms.
Dauris Valdez, RHP, Padres
Valdez is a massive 6-foot-8 righthander with a 98-101 mph fastball and inconsistent 84-87 mph slider that is improving. His below-average control makes him less than ideally reliable for a leveraged role.
Griffin Jax, RHP, Twins
There’s a thought that the typical Rule 5 pick is a flame-throwing, fire-breathing monster of a pitcher with a 100 mph fastball and little idea of where it’s going. And some of those players are picked in the Rule 5, but very few of them stick. Jax is the opposite. The former Air Force star locates an average fastball with plus control and command. That and his slider could get him picked as a long reliever/spot starter with a chance to develop one day into something a little more. It’s not a sexy pick, but it is the type that sometimes provides useful value.
Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Dodgers
Sheffield flashes huge stuff out of the bullpen with a fastball up to 98 mph and a curveball and changeup that each flash plus. However, his poor control and inconsistent pitch quality means you never know what you’ll get from outing to outing, or even pitch to pitch.
Thomas Burrows, LHP, Braves
Burrows has a plus slider to go with an average fastball and he eats up lefties. His combination of upper-level minor league experience and a plausible MLB role makes him a potentially useful Rule 5 pick, although if new rules require relievers to face three straight batters, it would decrease his usefulness.
Andre Scrubb, RHP, Astros
Scrubb has a mid-90s fastball and hard curveball which helped him strike out 10 batters per-nine in the Texas League with the Dodgers and Astros after he was acquired in the Tyler White deal. His iffy control will make it a challenge for him to stick all season on an MLB roster.
Anthony Gose, LHP, Indians
Want to get creative? Gose has already been a Rule 5 pick once. He made the majors as a speedy outfielder then converted to pitching. The Astros picked him in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, but he had only 10.2 innings of pro experience as a pitcher at that point and was not nearly ready. This past year, he missed some time with shoulder soreness and a calf strain, but he held hitters to a .165 average while striking out 29 in 29 innings, mainly with Double-A Akron. WIth a 94-98 mph fastball and an inconsistent slider that shows depth and bite at its best, Gose has an intriguing arm for a lefty reliever. And if a team wants to be creative, he also was once a speedy center fielder who stole 70 bases in a minor league season. So he could also be a useful deep bench option as a pinch runner/defensive replacement. As an aside, two-time Rule 5 picks can opt for free agency if they don’t stick as a Rule 5 pick because that will be their second outright assignment. Daniel Stumpf decided to stick with the team who had drafted him, re-signing with Detroit after they dropped him from their 25-man roster. So the Tigers effectively got to try out Stumpf and also show him how he fit in their plans. They then managed to retain him without Rule 5 roster limitations. In cases of two-time Rule 5 picks, the spring training can be somewhat of an audition for team and player.
Yohan Ramirez, RHP, Astros
Ramirez is one of the seemingly multitude of Astros pitchers who sits 94-97 and touches 99 mph. Ramirez spent half the season at high Class A Fayetteville and the other half of the year with Double-A Corpus Christi. He ate up righthanded hitters (.113 with one extra-base hit in 97 at-bats in high Class A and .162 with seven extra-base hits in 99 at-bats at Double-A). Ramirez also throws a low-80s hard curveball that flashes above-average. His control at Double-A was frightening (7.9 BB/9) but his strikeout rate was also impressive (13.5 K/9 between the two levels).
Carlos Sanabria, RHP, Astros
Sanabria doesn’t throw as hard as Ramirez, but like his Corpus Christi teammate, Sanabria misses bats but also misses the strike zone. Sanabria mixes a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s straight change that can lock up hitters thanks to solid deception and a low-80s breaking ball. Sanabria walked 5.4 batters per nine innings (while striking out 11.6 K/9), but he did show control improvements as the season wore on.
Raffi Vizcaino, RHP, Giants
Vizcaino saw his velocity pick up significantly in 2019 as he added a couple of ticks to his fastball. His now plus 94-97 mph fastball’s improvements have also made his low-80s and low-80s changeup better as well. His changeup will fall off the table at its best, giving him a second true weapon and he can spike his slider in two-strike situations.
Connor Jones, RHP, Cardinals
Jones was a workhorse at Virginia, but the concerns he faced at that time about his control and command have proven accurate. Jones still a slider that flashes plus and a fastball than can sit at 94-96 mph in short stints, but his control (6.1 BB/9 in 2019) works against him being selected.
Jackson McClelland, RHP, Blue Jays
McClelland was on the Rule 5 available list last year thanks to his upper-90s fastball that has touched 100 mph. That’s still true and unlike last year, he has significant upper-level minor league experience. But he had an unspectacular season with Double-A New Hampshire and struggled badly in a late promotion to Triple-A Buffalo. McClelland throws as hard as almost anyone, but his fastball has not played as a 70 pitch and his secondaries aren’t overwhelming.
Reed Garrett, RHP, Rangers
Garrett was picked by the Tigers in last year’s Rule 5 draft and then walked pretty much everyone he faced in his rough 13-game MLB stint. He was sent back the Rangers in May. Garrett survived the Triple-A ball better than most upon his return to Triple-A Nashville. He still has a 93-97 mph fastball, cutter and slider. If another team picks him, they have to hope he’s better prepared for MLB in his second exposure.
Ljay Newsome, RHP, Mariners
Newsome had one of the best 2019 seasons of anyone left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft. He struck out 169 batters in 155 innings across three levels (high Class A, Double-A and Triple-A). The reason he’s available is because he doesn’t really have a plus pitch. He succeeds based on excellent command of an 88-92 mph fastball. His slider, curveball and changeup are all fringe-average to average. He generates plenty of deception.
Jordan Guerrero, RHP, Padres
A massive (6-foot-5, 296 pounds) righthander, Guerrero has moved very slowly through the Padres system. He was available in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, but at that point, he didn’t have any full season experience. Now, he has successfully handled high Class A. He has a 95-100 mph fastball and a short, hard slider. He held righthanders to a .168 average.
Reid Anderson, RHP, Rangers
Anderson’s 2019 season with high Class A Down East was solid but unspectacular. As a starter, Anderson generally sat 93-95 mph but he did reach the upper 90s on occasion and both his slider and changeup flashed plus but were inconsistent.
Ryder Ryan, RHP, Mets
Ryan has sharpened his sweepy slider and gets plenty of armside run on his 92-96 mph fastball. He’s coming off of a solid season with Double-A Binghamton, but his lack of top-end velocity and modest strikeout numbers make it hard for him to stand out from the pack. It would not be surprising at all for Ryan to pitch in the majors in 2020, but it would be somewhat surprising for a team to carry him on their roster all season.
Zack Brown, RHP, Brewers
Webb was impressive in 2018 thanks to a 92-95 mph fastball and a plus curveball. He changed to more of an east-west approach with more two-seamer usage and a sweepier breaking ball. It didn’t work for Webb, but a team who liked Webb’s work in 2018 could be enticed to see if they can quickly get him back on track.
Dakota Mekkes, RHP, Cubs
Mekkes walked too many hitters in 2018, but that was about the only blemish in a season where he went 4-0, 1.17 between Double-A and Triple-A. He allowed only 36 hits and 29 walks in 53.2 innings while striking out 71. Opponents hit only .181 against him. If he had come close to matching that production in 2019, he would have been protected. But he went 4-2, 5.29 with a 1.58 WHIP in 2019. Mekkes doesn’t have dominating stuff, but until 2019 he had plenty of deception to his average fastball.
Joel Peguero, RHP, Rays
Peguero has yet to play above Class A. It’s always a big ask to see any pitcher leap from the Midwest League to the majors. If someone is going to do it, having a high-90s fastball that has touched 100 is always a good starting point, especially when a pitcher also throws strikes -- he walked only two batters per nine innings last season.
Trevor Megill, RHP, Padres
Megill is more MLB ready than most available Rule 5 prospects. He has nearly 75 innings in Double-A and Triple-A, he throws strikes (2.7 BB) and he has three average or better pitches with a 93-96 mph fastball, slider and change.
Bailey Falter, LHP, Phillies.
When Falter was in high school, he was a projectable, skinny 6-foot-4 lefty who knew how to pitch and threw strikes with a high-80s fastball. Five years later, the fastball hasn’t really taken off -- he still throws 88-92, but he locates it well, spins a solid curve and slider and has plus control. He missed the second half of the season with an elbow injury.
Braden Webb, RHP, Brewers
At his best, Webb has shown a plus fastball and a plus curveball. He missed significant time in 2019 with forearm soreness but did not have surgery. His control is well below average, which limits his upside as a Rule 5 pick.
Wandisson Charles, RHP, Athletics
Charles is a regular member of Baseball America’s 100 mph club. He’s a mountain of a man--6-foot-6, 220 pounds. He’s long struggled to throw strikes, but his control, which began the season as bottom-of-the-scale wildness ended the year as fringy. He went 4-0, 2.89 with 93 strikeouts in 62.1 innings between low Class A, high Class A and Double-A last year.
Oliver Ortega, RHP, Angels
Ortega ranked third in the high Class A California League last season in both opponent average (.198) and strikeout percentage (30.8) behind only Top 100 prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino. Ortega’s fastball sits 93-96 mph as a starter and 95-98 mph as a reliever, and he backs it up with a high-arcing knuckle-curveball that shows plus. He has also flashed an average changeup and developing slider and strikes the right balance of aggressiveness and poise on the mound. Ortega’s below-average control makes him a likely reliever, but he reached Double-A this year and has the stuff to potentially survive in a big league bullpen.
Nathan Bates, RHP, Angels
Bates’ 98-mph fastball headlines a potent three-pitch mix he’ll lean on as he tries to rebound from elbow surgery and a drug suspension. The 6-foot-6 righthander impressed both Angels officials and opposing scouts when he returned to the mound with high Class A Inland Empire in August and pitched in the Arizona Fall League.
Sam McWilliams, RHP, Rays
McWilliams was a Rule 5 pick in 2018 who didn’t stick. He may get another chance. McWilliams has a big (93-96 mph) fastball and an above-average slider. He was excellent with Double-A Montgomery, but struggled badly in a late-season callup to Triple-A Durham.
Phil Bickford, RHP, Brewers
Bickford first reached high Class A in 2016 and in 2019 he was still in high Class A, so it’s fair to say his career has not progressed as he would have hoped. But the 2016 first-round pick didn’t allow a run in his final 24 innings while allowing only nine hits and six walks. Over that stretch he fanned 38 batters. Bickford has a plus change to go with his 93-96 mph fastball.
Sterling Sharp, RHP, Nationals
One of the more athletic pitchers in the minors, nothing about Sharp’s arsenal is spectacular, but he’s a sinkerballer who keeps the ball in the park (one home run last year) and his fastball and changeup are hard to lift. He used his fringe-average slider more often in 2019. He missed some time with an oblique injury in 2019, but he’s an upside play, albeit one with modest (89-92) velocity.
Eduard Bazardo, RHP, Red Sox
Bazardo’s fastball sits 93-96 mph, but it’s his tight low-80s curveball that makes him hard to hit. His slider and curve can sometimes blend together, but they are both effective and he rarely gets squared up.
Cam Hill, RHP, Indians
Hill is a big righthander with an above-average fastball and breaking ball. He struggled with the new Triple-A ball, especially against lefties, but his 13 strikeouts per nine innings is a solid indicator of his bat-missing stuff.
Bryan Baker, RHP, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have a large number of hard-throwing relievers in the minors. Like teammate Jackson McClelland, Baker has thrown 100 mph although he generally sits 94-96. His slider and changeup are both fringe-average, which limits his effectiveness, but he can blow hitters away with velocity. Baker walked 16 in 22 innings after a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo, but for the season he allowed only 35 hits in 54 innings.
Rony Garcia, RHP, Yankees
Garcia was a relative non-descript righthander in 2018, as his 90-94 mph fastball was pretty straight and he didn’t have an above-average pitch. In 2019 he became more interesting as his fastball gained a couple of ticks. He can now touch 96-97 mph and sits 93. He can gets swings and misses with both his above-average low-80s slider (it has curveball shape but lacks depth) gets some swings and misses. He also throws a hard changeup (88 mph) that is a chase pitch but is effective because he maintains arm speed and it has fade and sink. He also mixes in a cutter that he added this year. Garcia eats up righthanders but does struggle at times against lefties. He throws strikes and everything may play up if he moves to the pen.
Seven Players Purely To Stash For The Future
The track record of picking an unready player to sit on the bench is ghastly -- at best they usually stick for the season and then head back to the minors to never resurface. But the idea of adding a solid young prospect for just $100,000 remains enticing to rebuilding teams. And this year there are a number of players who fit this description this year.
Shervyen Newton, INF, Mets
Newton was an unproductive hitter in low Class A last season. It's hard to imagine a player who swung and missed way too much in Columbia finding a way to succeed in the majors. But Newton has a major league body and plus-plus raw power. So if a team isn't worried about winning in 2020, Newton could be intriguing.
Jose Fermin, SS, Indians
If a team is looking to pick a player from low Class A who won’t be completely overwhelmed by the massive leap to the major leagues, it requires finding someone with a solid idea of the strike zone and some defensive skills. Fermin has both. He’s an above-average defender who can play shortstop. He doesn’t drive the ball yet, but he doesn’t strike out much either, which makes him more ready than the average Class A shortstop.
Moises Gomez, OF, Rays
Gomez hit .220/.297/.402 and he struck out 164 times in 489 plate appearances last season with high Class A Charlotte. He’s not ready for a big league role in any way, which is why the Rays left him unprotected, opting to protect players closer to the majors with more risk of sticking if they are picked. But Gomez, who has long earned comps to Marcel Ozuna, has some of the best exit velocities in the Rays system and he could turn into an everyday corner outfielder someday.
Rafael Marchan, C, Phillies
It’s understandable why the Phillies left Marchan unprotected. He is a catcher with no experience above low Class A and he is not in any way physically prepared to try to hit against MLB pitchers. But Marchan is an excellent defensive catcher. With a 25-man roster, drafting a Rule 5 catcher normally doesn’t make a lot of sense -- you have to believe he can be the club’s primary backup behind the plate. Nowadays, with no No. 1 catcher playing everyday, that means getting 40-50 games of work. Marchan isn’t ready for that, but if there is a 26-man roster, he could be a player who is stashed as a third catcher with an eye on the future.
Luis Oviedo, RHP, Indians
After dominating the New York-Penn League in 2018, Oviedo was not nearly as successful in 2019 as he struggled and then was shut down with a back injury. But he has a very high upside thanks to a mid-90s fastball and a pair of breaking balls.
Oscar Gonzalez, OF, Indians
Gonzalez has much of the same profile as Anthony Santander, a pick of the Orioles from the Indians in the 2016 Rule 5 draft. Gonzalez is a corner outfielder with the arm for right field and the power that fits for the position. He was one of the better hitters in the Carolina League last year, although he did struggle in a late-season stint with Double-A Akron. He's not big league ready and his lack of selectivity will be exposed in the majors at this point, but the 21-year-old has the kind of tools, including hitting ability, that are rarely exposed in the Rule 5 draft.
Wander Javier, SS, Twins
There’s little in Javier’s statistical resume that would push for him to be picked. He missed all of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury and hit .177/.278/.323 for low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2019. The case for picking Javier would revolve entirely around the fact that players of his pedigree (he was one of the top international prospects in the 2015 signing period) rarely are available in the Rule 5 draft. It would purely be as a stash play to hope he can regain the explosive tools he showed pre-injury, but Javier’s glove is still quite good.
2020 MLB Rule 5 Draft Preview Version 2.3
The latest preview gives a look at some of the big bats, athletic outfielders, second-chance arms and more available in this year's Rule 5 draft.
Take My Contract, Please
As usual, there are several players who are available because their contracts are viewed as dramatically out of proportion to their production. A team selecting a player in the Rule 5 draft assumes their contract. For most players, that means they would receive the MLB minimum salary. But for players on a multi-year contract, that contract transfers to his new club. These players will assuredly not be picked.
Yasmany Tomas, OF, D-Backs
Tomas hit 31 home runs for Arizona in 2015 and 29 home runs as part of a .301/.341/.590 season at Triple-A Reno last year. In normal circumstances that would make him an interesting Rule 5 pick. But with Tomas scheduled to receive $17 million in the final year of his six-year contract, he is available and will go unpicked in the minor league phase of the draft.
Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox
Castillo was dropped from the Red Sox 40-man roster in 2016 with four years left on his $72.5 million contract. Boston cannot bring him back up to the MLB roster without his contract counting toward luxury tax purposes, which it does not do as long as he is not on the 40-man roster. So this is Castillo’s final year in well-paid purgatory. He’s owed $14 million this year. No team will want to pick up Castillo’s hefty paycheck as a 32-year-old.
The addition of the 26th roster spot for 2020 may open up a spot for a pinch-runner/defensive replacement with some teams. The Rule 5 draft doesn’t appear to be as flush with candidates for that role as it is in some years. The Royals decision to protect Nick Heath took the best pinch-runner candidate out of the picture.
Johneshwy Fargas, OF, Mets
Fargas isn’t a true 80 burner--he’s more a plus runner. He is a very prolific basestealer however--he stole 50 bases in 73 attempts and has topped 40 steals in three of the past four seasons. His bat isn’t really MLB caliber, but he can play all three outfield positions as well.
Reggie Pruitt, OF, Blue Jays
Pruitt was voted the fastest baserunner and best basestealer in the Midwest League in 2019. Between there and high Class A Dunedin, the center fielder stole 48 bags in 61 tries. For his career he has 144 steals in 178 attempts. He is an above-average defender in center field and has a strong arm. He’s yet to play a game above Class A in five pro seasons, but the 70 runner could be interesting to a team looking for purely a pinch runner/defensive replacement.
Matt Hearn, OF, Rockies
Hearn was voted the fastest baserunner in the California League in 2019. Until this past season, he’d never been a particularly prolific or successful basestealer, but with Lancaster, Hearn swiped 45 bases in 60 tries. Hearn would be a particularly unlikely Rule 5 pick. He was a 24th-round pick of the Braves in 2016 out of Mission (Calif.) JC who was released and then signed by the Rockies.
Buddy Reed, OF, Padres
Reed hit .228/.310/.388 with a 28.5 percent strikeout rate last year for Double-A Amarillo. His approach seems to change every month as he keeps searching for something that will work against more advanced pitchers. But for all those rather substantial caveats, it’s easy to construct a case for why a team would consider picking Reed. He’s a premium athlete with plus defense in center field and is a 70 runner. He stole 23 bags last year and swiped 51 in 61 tries in 2018. He also has a plus arm that could play anywhere in the outfield. So if a team is looking for a 26th-man on the roster who can pinch run (although he does run himself into some outs), play defense and hit the sporadic home run, Reed has the kind of athleticism that’s hard to find in the Rule 5 draft.
Esteury Ruiz, 2B/OF, Padres
Ruiz is 20 years old and already has sneaky plus power and elite baserunning instincts that make him a prolific basestealer despite only average speed. However, Ruiz is also a wild swinger with a questionable setup at the plate and is a liability at second base with his hard hands. His tools and youth make him extremely intriguing, but he’ll need many years of refinement as both a hitter and defender. His elite work ethic and makeup gives evaluators confidence he’ll put in the work necessary.
Lolo Sanchez, OF, Pirates
The Pirates’ top international signing in 2015, Sanchez shows flashes of all five tools but has yet to put them together. He doesn’t strike out much but tends to swing at pitches he can’t drive, and as a result makes a lot of slappy, soft contact. He has the speed to play center field and shows hints of raw power despite his small stature. and. Sanchez is not physically ready for the majors and has yet to play above high Class A, but his youth (he’ll be 20 on Opening Day next year), tools and center-field profile have teams interested.
Brett Cumberland, C, Orioles.
Cumberland has settled into a backup role in the minors, which is not exactly a compelling case for making him a big league backup. But the switch-hitter consistently puts together productive at-bats drawing walks and hitting singles -- he has a career .376 on-base percentage and posted a .404 on-base percentage for Double-A Bowie last year. His arm is average (32 percent career caught stealing rate) and he’s a reliable defender.
Patrick Mazeika, C, Mets
Mazeika is a lefthanded hitting catcher with solid power (he hit 15 home runs at Double-A). He maintains a reasonable strikeout rate and is an adequate defender. The list of catchers who have stuck as Rule 5 picks is a short one, but Mazeika has some enticing qualities.
Brett Sullivan, C/OF, Rays
A former shortstop, the Rays converted Sullivan to catching, but in 2019 he played more in the corner outfield spots than he did behind the plate. He has solid bat-to-ball skills and more athleticism than the average catcher (he stole 21 bases last year). But he is more of an emergency catcher than a regular backup.
Love The Glove
It's hard for a light-hitting defender to ever stick as a Rule 5 pick, but the 26-man rosters could provide a narrow opening for players of this ilk.
Alfredo Rodriguez, SS, Reds
In an era where home runs seemed to happen anywhere and everywhere, Rodriguez’s career high in home runs is two. He averages one home run every 261 plate appearances for his MiLB career. He is a slap-hitting middle infielder who provides very little value with his bat. He is one of the better shortstops in the minors defensively if a team is looking for a pure glove. He has not played second or third significantly in the minors, so if he is going to fill a late-inning defensive replacement, he’d have some on-the-job learning to do.
Eli White, SS, Rangers
White was the double-play partner of 2018 No. 1 Rule 5 pick Richie Martin. White has a chance to follow in his footsteps this year. He is a better hitter than Martin, although he’s a tick worse defensively. White has the ability to play center field in addition to shortstop, giving him some useful defensive versatility. White hit .253/.337/.418 with 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 2019 at Triple-A Nashville. He could fit with a club as a versatile backup infielder.