2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft Preview: Version 2.1
UPDATED: Dec. 3. Added 11 names, including bad contracts, power relievers and three speedsters.
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.
Ten Who Could Help In 2020
The following 10 players are 10 who fit the most successful profile of the most successful Rule 5 picks. It's much better to acquire a player who is ready to contribute right away than one who is viewed as unready now but with a chance to grow into a larger role.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Six 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.
Angels Rojas' Raises Interest And Eyebrows In Triple-A
Angels infield prospect Jose Rojas produced a massive season in Triple-A, but how much of his success happened because of the level's power infusion?
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.
Looking For Power Relievers
Hard-throwing 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.
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.
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, Giants
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.