2020 MLB Rule 5 Draft Preview Version 2.3
Welcome to one of the weirdest Rule 5 drafts ever.
We can’t call it the weirdest because In the 1950s and 1960s, the rules of the Rule 5 draft changed frequently to try to slow the rise of bonuses for MLB signees. There were years where most high-bonus amateur signees were eligible for the Rule 5 draft as part of the first-year player rules, which led to MLB teams picking 40-60 players, many of whom had yet to even play in the minors.
But this is the weirdest since then. Since last year’s Rule 5 draft there has been a 60-game MLB season, but there have been no minor league games.
Normally, everyone left available for last year’s Rule 5 draft would be in an appreciably different spot now than they were a year ago. Some minor l,eaguers left unprotected one year would have played their way into easy protection decisions the next. Jake Cronenworth, Max Muncy, Jeff McNeil, Franmil Reyes and Chris Devenski are examples of players who have done just that in the past five years. Others who seemed like plausible picks a year ago would have played their way out of consideration with their performance in the minors in 2020.
Instead, everything has largely been left frozen in place. Some potential Rule 5 eligible players got to participate at alternate training sites or instructional leagues, but as a whole, the players eligible from last year’s Rule 5 draft are largely left with the same resumes as a year ago.
Now to that group has been added a new wave of Rule 5 eligibles (players who were signed in 2016 and 2017). All of those players have one less year of minor league experience than the normal first-time Rule 5 picks. Even in a normal year, there are plenty of international signees who are tough to pick in the Rule 5 draft because they have yet to make it out of Class A. This year, there are a number of Rule 5 eligible players who have yet to play full-season ball.
Talking to MLB front office officials finds a lot of uncertainty. Last year only 11 players were picked in the MLB Rule 5 draft. It’s possible that with teams trying to save money, they’ll largely bail on the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft—where each draftee costs $100,000—and focus more on the minor league portion of the draft—where selecting a player costs $24,000 and does not involve any further roster requirements.
But a look at the protection lists makes clear that MLB teams aren’t willing to bet their prospects on the idea of a quiet Rule 5 draft. Teams protected 56 players who have yet to play above Class A. When in doubt, teams opted to take the 40-man roster space and protect far-away players.
The buzz we are hearing in the hours before the draft has some themes. A pair of Twins hitters, infielder Jose Miranda and outfielder Akil Baddoo, have gotten attention. The Dodgers have a number of arms that teams seem to be looking at including righthanders Marshall Kasowski and Brett de Geus. As usual, the Yankees could get raided with righthanders Garrett Whitlock and Trevor Stephan and shortstop Kyle Holder among the most notable names to watch. White Sox righthander Kade McClure is another name worth watching.
Here's a look at more than 50 players who could be taken Thursday.
Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Yankees
Whitlock ranked as the Yankees’ No. 18 prospect heading into the 2019 season thanks to his sinker-slider combination that generated tons of ground balls (1.71 groundouts to air outs in 2019). Whitlock suffered an elbow injury in July 2019 that required Tommy John surgery. He’s back throwing again and healthy and posted a video of himself throwing live BPs.Garrett Whitlock (@gwhit17)</a></p></div></blockquote> <script async src="//www.instagram.com/embed.js"></script>" />
Pre-injury, Whitlock's fastball touched 95 mph as a starter and his slurvy slider was effective even if it graded out as only an average offering. Whitlock has above-average control and keeps the ball in the park. He has been a starter throughout his pro career, but as a Rule 5 pick, he could potentially fit as a low-leverage reliever who can work multiple innings if needed.
Trevor Stephan, RHP, Yankees
Stephan has been rumored to be in the mix for multiple clubs in this year’s Rule 5. He blends a mid-90s fastball with a potentially above-average slider out of a funky slot. He commands both pitches fairly well. He also brings a changeup the Yankees in previous years had asked him to throw more often. Scouts outside the organization saw a player whose combination of stuff, command and funk could make for an interesting piece of a pitching staff.
Marshall Kasowski, RHP, Dodgers
Kasowski has one of the most monumental backstories of anyone available in the Rule 5 draft. He was nearly killed in a car accident during his junior year in college. He bounced back to lead Division II in strikeouts as a senior. The Dodgers selected him in the 13th round in 2017 and quickly found that his bat-missing ability translated well against more advanced pro hitters. Kasowski’s control is below average, but he’s allowed only 59 hits in 107.2 career pro innings and has struck out 14.8 batters per nine innings over his pro career. He pitched well at Double-A Tulsa in 2019 (4-3, 2.45 with 46 strikeouts in 29.1 innings) and he was impressive at the Dodgers’ alternate training site. He had offseason surgery to reattach his ulnar collateral ligament. While the injury should not prevent him from pitching in 2021, it may mean he isn’t ready for Opening Day.
With Rule 5 picks, a legitimate stint on the injured list can actually be a selling point for some teams, as players only need to be on the active roster for 90 days.
Jose Marte, RHP, Giants
Though not the highest-profile arm in the system, Marte had among the highest-upside raw arsenals of any Giants prospect. Though his destiny is likely the bullpen, Marte brings an upper-90s fastball, a low-90s slider and an improving changeup. Each of his two offspeed pitches flashed above average, but not frequently enough to necessarily project them to that level. In particular, the Giants also really like the way Marte moves and controls his body, and believe that type of athleticism could help him gain more consistency with his repertoire.
Raymond Kerr, LHP, Mariners
Lefthanders who throw their fastballs 100 mph and can break off devastating sliders do not grow on trees, but there is one available in the Rule 5 draft. Kerr was a nondrafted free agent out of Lassen (Calif.) JC in 2017 and has shown considerable growth since signing. He’s long and lanky at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, and his long arm action leads to plenty of control problems, as shown by his 94 walks in 204.1 innings (along with 198 strikeouts). Is he likely to stick on a big league roster all season? No. But his natural gifts could make him worth a flier.
Matt Krook, LHP, Rays
Part of the deal that sent Evan Longoria to San Francisco, Krook, like many other players on this list, has lots of raw talent but plenty of warts. The lefthander was taken by the Marlins with the No. 35 overall pick in 2013 but injury issues led him to school for three years, after which he was taken by the Giants in the fourth round. Krook’s biggest appeal is a nasty, mid-90s sinker, which he’s used to induce ground ball rates of 60% or better, as well as a career strikeout mark of 10.3 per nine innings. He struggled with command and control throughout his collegiate career, and has averaged 6.4 walks per nine innings as a professional as well.
Braeden Ogle, LHP, Pirates
Perhaps not the most intriguing prospect on the board, Ogle is nonetheless interesting as a lefthander who can bring his fastball into the upper 90s. He pairs the pitch with a short, sharp breaker in the mid 80s. After moving to the bullpen in 2019, Ogle whiffed a little more than a hitter per inning between both levels of Class A and could be worth a Rule 5 flier.
Daniel Alvarez, RHP, Giants
Alvarez spent all of his career in the Yankees’ system until becoming a minor league free agent and inking with the Giants this offseason. Alvarez was brought to New York’s alternate training site but did not make his big league debut. He works primarily with a 91-94 mph fastball and a downer curveball and whiffed 76 in 59 innings in 2019 at the upper levels of the system. He struggles with consistency, however, which could be improved by staying closed through his delivery.
Kade McClure, RHP, White Sox
McClure showed up to Chicago’s instructional league program much improved after working with White Sox biomechanics specialist Ben Hansen. The changes he made showed in a fastball that had bumped up to 92-95 mph. He pairs it with a slider that flashes above average and a curveball that could get to average. McClure put up some of the best numbers at Camelback Ranch (where the White Sox hold spring training) and could be worth a look in the big leagues.
Joe Barlow, RHP, Rangers
Barlow got some buzz last year in the lead up to the Rule 5 draft. With a mid-90s fastball and an above-average curveball, he has the pitch package to pitch significant relief innings. But it’s not clear if he’s ready to do so yet, and the fact that the Rangers did not call him up this year (in a year that they used 25 pitchers) is an argument against his readiness. Barlow has consistently made hitters swing and miss (277 strikeouts in 193.2 innings) but he also has had well below-average control.
Alex Speas, RHP, Rangers
It’s impossible to think that Speas is ready for a major league job, but it is possible to think that his upside is worth taking a chance on and picking him with a Rule 5 pick. His 2018 season ended in mid-June when he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He returned for two appearances in 2019, but the Rangers shut him down quickly—his 93-97 mph fastball touched 102 in those two outings of 2019. He showed that same top-of-the-scale velocity at summer camp and at the alternate training site in 2020. Before Tommy John surgery, Speas’ control was well below average (he has walked 6.9 per nine in his pro career) and his slider needed further development. But Speas throws one of the hardest fastballs in the minors, which means a team willing to take a chance on stashing him in the bullpen in 2021 could potentially get a long-term payoff.
2021 Could Be A Historically Good Year For Rule 5 Draft Picks
14 of this past draft’s MLB picks have made it through spring training and onto Opening Day rosters.
MORE ARMS TO KNOW
The most fertile ground in the Rule 5 draft is usually the search for pitchers who can stick in the bullpen. The lack of the ability to option Rule 5 picks has become more of a hindrance to these picks in recent years, as teams like to have their non-elite relievers come up and down based on workload demands, but teams will still be quite busy at checking to see which unprotected pitchers could fit on the roster.
Brett de Geus, RHP, Dodgers
A junior college find of the Dodgers, de Gues was a 33rd-round pick in 2017 out of Cabrillo (Calif.) JC, where he was teammates with Brewers farmhand Clayton Andrews. De Geus has steadily gotten better and better in the Dodgers highly vaunted development system. His ever-improving fastball sat 94-96 mph in 2019, but went down to 92-94 this year. He has a cutter and curveball that are playable offerings. In other systems, de Geus would likely have been a protection candidate. In the Dodgers’ system, there aren’t enough spots to protect everyone. De Geus impressed in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 and pitched at the alternate training site, so teams got a decent glimpse of what he has been up to in 2020.
Shea Spitzbarth, RHP, Dodgers
There are pitchers available in the Rule 5 draft whose changeups are nearly as hard as Spitzbarth’s fastball, but Spitzbarth has much better control and command. The 6-foot-1 righthander was a nondrafted free agent of the Dodgers in 2015. He was left unprotected in the 2019 Rule 5 draft and went unpicked, as his rough stint in Triple-A (1-0, 8.18 with 30 hits in 22 innings) outweighed his excellent work with Double-A Tulsa (2-2, 2.05 with 28 hits and 60 strikeouts in 44 innings). Spitzbarth gets swings and misses on the edges and above the zone with a low-90s fastball and mixes in a slow, big-breaking 11-to-5 curveball. He’ll sneak a changeup past lefthanded hitters as well. Spitzbarth’s stuff seems quite pedestrian and he’s struggled in three different short stints at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but he has struck out 11.7 per nine for his career and he throws strikes.
Kirk McCarty, LHP, Indians
One of the most coveted aspects in today’s pitching is funk. If you can provide a different look, you have a chance. McCarty, a 2017 seventh-rounder out of Southern Mississippi, has it in spades. He brings a three-pitch mix: A low-90s fastball, a low-80s changeup and a low-70s curveball. All three are thrown out of a high slot that isn’t found often. Altogether, his repertoire helped him strike out 60 hitters in 55.2 innings in 2019 at high Class A.
Josh Winckowski, RHP, Blue Jays
Winckowski is one of many players whose development has been slowed by the coronavirus shutdown. He’s yet to pitch above high Class A, but Winckowski throws strikes, has a decent fastball up to 96 mph and can spin a breaking ball. Winckowski doesn’t pile up strikeouts, but he could fit as an innings-eating reliever.
Marcel Renteria, RHP, Mets
Drafted as a starter out of New Mexico State, Renteria shifted to the bullpen in 2019 and is viewed as a potential middle reliever in the big leagues. The 26-year-old came to instructional league throwing harder—up to 96 mph—and has a true plus slider in the mid 80s that features elite spin up to 3,000 rpms.
Michel Otanez, RHP, Mets
Otañez got a late start in pro ball, signing at age 18, but batters better not delay when standing in against him. The 23-year-old Dominican averages 95 mph and can dial his fastball to 97 with the plus vertical ride that is coveted by all organizations. Otañez is a bit of a one-trick pony whose curveball tends to get slurvy because of a stiff arm action and inconsistent release. He missed instructional league for an unspecified Covid-19-related reason.
Paul Campbell, RHP, Rays
Campbell’s spin rates on his 92-94 mph fastball and breaking balls should make him pop on an analyst’s first pass at potential Rule 5 picks. His feel to pitch and ability to handle multi-inning relief outings or spot starts and his success at Double-A have impressed scouts as well.
Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Dodgers
Sheffield, the older brother of Mariners lefty Justus Sheffield, has MLB-caliber stuff with a 96-99 mph fastball and a plus changeup. His control is well below average, which is why he’s available. But if he starts throwing strikes he could fit in an MLB bullpen.
Tommy Romero, RHP, Rays
Romero has steadily added velocity to the point that his 91-93 mph fastball now touches 94-95. He has some deception to his delivery and he manipulates his fastball well. Pairing that fastball with an 11-to-5 curveball gives him a shot to work up and down in the strike zone. He’s a plausible pick as a multi-inning reliever.
Jake Latz, LHP, Rangers
Latz barely had a college career. He missed the 2015 season with a stress reaction in his elbow that needed surgery. He threw 8.1 innings in 2016 at Louisiana State. He transferred to Kent State for 2017 but was not declared eligible. The Rangers drafted him off some impressive bullpens in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. He then missed the second half of 2019 with further elbow issues. When he’s healthy he has a promising changeup that could end up being a solid above-average pitch, two decent breaking balls and a fastball without a lot of velocity (90-92 mph) but good movement characteristics. Latz is healthy again and the lefty threw reasonably well in the independent Constellation League.
Dauris Valdez, RHP, Padres
At 6-foot-8 and 254 pounds, Valdez cuts one of the most imposing figures in the Padres’ system. He’s a pure relief prospect who has struck out 11.1 hitters per nine innings throughout his minor league career. He brings an upper-90s fastball that can touch up to 102 and complements it with a potential plus changeup and a slider that has improved drastically. He has below-average control, but his overpowering stuff could make him an intriguing plug-and-play option.
Addison Russ, RHP, Yankees
Acquired from the Phillies in 2020 for righthander David Hale, Russ has found success with a two-pitch mix of an above-average four-seam fastball which parks at 93-96 mph and a mid-80s splitter. When used properly, the pitch’s north-south movement creates the ideal tunnelling action coveted by many of today’s pitching strategists. The 26-year-old has racked up 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings since starting his career in 2017.
Parker Dunshee, RHP, Athletics
Dunshee’s stuff lags behind a number of other pitchers on his list, although the A’s were encouraged by his fastball topping out at 94 at instructs. He previously has gotten by on his 88-92 mph fastball thanks to deception in his delivery and his overall pitchability. He’s shown his ability to manipulate his cutter, which is a bit softer, and he has an average curveball. He projects to a swingman or bullpen role for a big league club.
Brian Howard, RHP, Athletics
The 6-foot-9 Howard immediately makes for an uncomfortable at-bat for hitters, attacking with a fastball that can touch 95 from a funky angle and pairing it with a 12-6 curveball. He’s not as powerful as his frame suggests, though, and he’s struggled to maintain his stuff throughout starts. Another team could ticket Howard for an intriguing multi-inning relief role.
Oliver Ortega, RHP, Angels
Ortega ranked third behind only MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino in both opponent average (.198) and strikeout percentage (30.8%) in the California League in 2019. He’s a starter now, but his 95-98 mph fastball and 12-to-6 knuckle curveball project to play particularly well in relief.
Yefri Del Rosario, RHP, Royals
One of the Braves 2016 international signees who was declared a free agent as part of MLB’s sanctions of the Braves, Del Rosario missed all of the 2019 season with a nerve issue, so teams haven’t seen him pitch in an actual game since 2018. Del Rosaio was back on the mound for the Royals instructional league and his stuff looked as good as ever. He has some deception to his 92-95 mph fastball and it has some late life to miss bats. His low-80s curveball and changeup need further refinement but both have potential. He’d be a stash-and-develop pick as a Rule 5 selection—he has yet to pitch above low Class A.
Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Red Sox
Gonsalves made six Twins Top 30 Prospect lists and twice made it to the very back end of the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list. He’s been waived twice in the past two years, but his stuff picked up with the Red Sox this summer as he started regularly touching the mid 90s, well up from the 89-91 mph he sat at for much of his time with the Twins. Gonsalves was available as a minor league free agent before he re-signed with Boston, so picking him in the Rule 5 draft would be an inefficient way to acquire him, but his uptick in velocity is worth noting.
Tim Mayza, LHP, Blue Jays
Mayza has made 124 appearances for the Blue Jays in three seasons. He missed all of 2020 because of Tommy John surgery, then the Blue Jays outrighted him off the 40-man roster. He doesn’t dominate by any measure, but he’s a competent MLB reliever with an average fastball-slider pairing who is available because of an injury.
Maximo Castillo, RHP, Blue Jays
Castillo is a large-framed (6-foot-2, 256-pound) righthander with one of the best changeups in the Blue Jays system. Castillo throws strikes (1.9 BB/9 in 2019 in Dunedin) and has a solid-average 92-95 mph fastball. He’s currently pitching for Lara in Venezuela.
Zach Pop, RHP, Orioles
A 2017 seventh-round pick out of Kentucky, Pop had an impressive debut in the Dodgers system before being shipped to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade. Pop injured his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in 2019. He hasn’t pitched in an official game since, so anyone picking him will be largely going off of what he was pre-injury. His repertoire includes a 95-98 mph sinker and a mid-80s slider that both generate plenty of ground balls.
Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP, Astros
Rivera can match Speas for the hardest thrower in this year’s Rule 5 class. He has touched 102 mph in the past and sits in the upper 90s. His split change shows promise and will flash plus, while his slider was way too inconsistent in 2019 to be a reliable third pitch.
Cole Ragans, RHP, Rangers
It’s easy to see why the Rangers left Ragans off of their 40-man roster. Ragans has not pitched in an official game since 2017. He has a total of 65 pro innings, none of which are in full-season ball. He’s had two Tommy John surgeries since his last official pitch, but Ragans is healthy now. A team would be snagging a 2016 first-round pick, but considering he has so little track record, this is probably a risk the Rangers can take.
Riley Pint, RHP, Rockies
See Pint on the right day and he still shows what made him the No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft. The fastball still sits in the upper 90s and he can mix in a sometimes dastardly slider. But a move to the bullpen has not tamed his control issues. There are days when he cannot get close to the strike zone. There could still be a turnaround in Pint’s future, but it’s hard to see how being a Rule 5 pick would be part of that path.
There are a few more plausible picks among middle infielders than in a normal Rule 5 draft. There are good gloves, fringy gloves who can hit and a few who can best be described as tweeners.
Kyle Holder, SS, Yankees
When the Yankees picked Holder at the end of the first round in 2017, he was viewed as the best defensive shortstop in the draft class, but one whose bat would likely always hold him back. Four seasons later, that scouting report still holds true. A team looking for a utilityman who can legitimately play shortstop in the majors could be enticed, but it would be wise to put very low expectations on the bat of a hitter with a career .264/.317/.350 slash line. Holder doesn’t strike out a ton, but he just doesn’t really do much when he does make contact.
Alfredo Rodriguez, SS, Reds
If you want an above-average defender at shortstop, Rodriguez is just as good as Holder. But while Holder has hopes to be a hitter who at least puts the ball in play, Rodriguez is a near bottom-of-the-scale bat who is unlikely to hit for average or power.
Shervyen Newton, SS/2B, Mets
Newton is an imposing 6-foot-4 middle infielder who first popped in the 2018 Appalachian League and still has the kind of raw power to make scouts take notice. His undoing has been poor pitch recognition and too many swings and misses. On the plus side, Newton has proven himself capable at shortstop with sure hands, a strong arm and a take-charge demeanor, if not textbook range. The native of Curacao turns 22 in 2021.
Kevin Smith, SS, Blue Jays
Smith is one of those players that illustrates just how difficult scouting and evaluation is in 2020. Coming out of 2018, it seemed extremely unlikely that Smith would be available. He had an excellent season at two Class A stops, but his tinkering with his swing didn’t work in 2019 and he became an all-or-nothing slugger at Double-A New Hampshire who was more nothing (.263 on-base percentage) than all (19 home runs). A bounceback year in 2020 would have helped but now he seems hard to sell as a Rule 5 pick.
Andy Ibanez, 2B/3B, Rangers
Ibanez spent the summer at the Rangers alternate training site, but never got a callup. Considered one of the better young players in Cuba’s Serie Nacional when he came to the U.S. half a decade ago, Ibanez is now a 27-year-old MiLB veteran. He played second, short and third for the Rangers’ Triple-A Nashville club in 2019. His offensive numbers got a boost that year (.300/.375/.497) from the switch to the MLB-spec baseball. Ibanez doesn’t have a standout tool that would make him an obvious pick, but he does have some hitting ability to go with some defensive versatility.
Eguy Rosario, 3B/2B, Padres
Rosario is nicknamed “Eggy” for his thick, 5-foot-8 frame, but he packs a punch in his surprisingly strong swing and has some defensive versatility. He is a natural second baseman and has the hands and plus arm for third base, and some scouts have wondered about trying him at catcher.
Omar Estevez, 2B, Dodgers
While many hitters have gotten more pull happy and power conscious over recent years, Estevez is one who has found success by transforming into more of a contact hitter with gap-to-gap power. He can play a fringy second base, although his arm is a little challenged if he has to shift into right field.
Jose Rojas, 2B/3B, Angels
Rojas is a career .292/.350/.502 hitter who had 31 home runs and 107 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2019 and was one of the Angels' best hitters at their alternate training site in 2020. He doesn’t have a great defensive fit, as he is a below-average defender at third base, second base and first base. He’ll turn 28 before next season begins and he went unpicked last year. But Rojas could fit for a team looking for a pure hitter.
Jose Miranda, 2B/3B, Twins
Welcome to the weird world of minor league baseball during a pandemic. Miranda spent almost all of 2019 at high Class A Fort Myers. His teammates at the start of that season included Randy Dobnak, Ryan Jeffers and Lewin Diaz, all of whom played in the majors in 2020. But because of the pandemic, Miranda didn’t get to show what he could do in Double-A, so a team thinking of picking him would have to be taking an infielder who can capably handle second or third base, but one who posted a .299 on-base percentage in high Class A. He’s not ready, but he is an intriguing talent.
Domingo Leyba, 2B/SS, D-Backs
Leyba spent the 2020 season on the suspended list after he was hit with an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. The D-Backs outrighted him off the 40-man roster in November. But he’s back and playing very well in the Liga Dominicana this winter. Leyba spent a month in the majors in 2019 and hit well at Triple-A Reno in 2019. He’s more ready for the big leagues than most of the players on this list.
There haven’t been a lot of success stories in recent years of teams picking catchers in the Rule 5 draft. Either a pick’s glove has to be good enough to be the team’s backup catcher or you are stuck carrying three catchers all season, which is unappealing to most managers.
Payton Henry, C, Brewers
It’s utterly unfair to ask a catcher to jump from high Class A to the majors, and Henry doesn’t have the ceiling that led the D-Backs (Oscar Hernandez) and the Padres (Luis Torrens) to try to have catchers make the leap as Rule 5 picks. But Henry impresses with his glovework and his bat has some power potential.
Julio Rodriguez, C, Cardinals
No, the Mariners outfielder is not available in the Rule 5 draft. But Julio E. Rodriguez is a name worth knowing as well. He’s a well-rounded backstop who is the Cardinals best defensive catcher in the minors. He also has some solid bat-to-ball skills, which should give him survival ability at the plate.
Outfielders With Some Athleticism
Lazaro Armenteros, OF, Athletics
The good news for Armenteros is his sizable toolset remains relatively intact. The bad news is he’s racked up an abundance of strikeouts as a professional, including a minor league-high 227 strikeouts in 2019. The A’s bet big on Armenteros when they signed him to a $3 million bonus in 2016 out of Cuba and so far haven’t seen much productivity. Another team intrigued by his combination of plus raw power and plus speed could bet their development program will do a better job unlocking ‘Lazarito’s’ ability more frequently.
Buddy Reed, OF, Athletics
It’s been clear since the Padres drafted Reed in the second round of the 2016 draft that he has all the tools. He flashes a plus-plus arm, plus speed and power and plays one of the better center fields in the minors. But he also hit .228/.310/.388 in 381 at-bats for Double-A Amarillo in 2019 and has long faced questions about how his swings from both sides of the plate would be exploited by upper-level pitching. A team could take a flier on Reed’s immense toolset and install him as a fourth outfield type.
T.J. Friedl, OF, Reds
Friedl fits in the low-ceiling category of Rule 5 picks. He’s a fourth/fifth outfielder who runs well, can play center and left field and has solid contact skills. What he doesn’t do is impact the baseball. If a team selects him in the Rule 5 draft, it would be similar to the Rangers selection of Carlos Tocci a few years ago, although Tocci was viewed as better defensively.
Akil Baddoo, OF, Twins
Baddoo missed all but a month of the 2019 season because of arm surgery. He wasn’t brought to the alternate site, so his work at instructional league in September was the first time he had played in game-like action in many months. Badoo would have to be considered a long-term developmental project as a Rule 5 pick since he has less than 30 games above low Class A, but he also has more promise than most Rule 5 picks. He’s a plus runner who can play all three outfield spots (although his arm is stretched in right). He also has above-average power potential.
A Second Chance
One of the subtle aspects of the Rule 5 draft that can be overlooked is a loophole that applies to players who have already been picked in the Rule 5 once before. If they were placed on outright waivers to return to their original team, they do not have to opt to go through outright waivers again. Any player who has already been placed on outright waivers before has the option to reject those waivers and become a free agent. In 2017, the Tigers picked lefthander Daniel Stumpf in the Rule 5 draft a year after the Phillies selected him and eventually sent him back to the Royals. Stumpf didn’t make the team and was outrighted at the end of spring training. But he liked his opportunity in Detroit, so he refused the assignment and became a free agent. He then re-signed with the Tigers and became a useful lefty reliever who made more than 150 appearances over the next three seasons. Since he was no longer under Rule 5 restrictions, the Tigers were able to option him to Triple-A as needed. Here are previously picked players who may be worth a second shot.
Sterling Sharp, RHP, Nationals
Sharp was selected in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft by the Marlins and returned to Washington in the middle of the season. Sharp’s signature pitch is his high-80s sinker, which he’s used to get grounders at a rate of better than 2-to-1 in the minors (and 5.5 to 1 in four big league outings). In fact, he’s almost exclusively a fastball artist—of his 166 pitches with the Marlins, 139 were either a sinker or a four-seamer. He was hammered in the big leagues and will need to find a reliable offspeed pitch to have success.
Dany Jimenez, RHP, Blue Jays
Jimenez was selected in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft by the Giants and made his big league debut on Opening Day. His one strikeout victim in two games with the Giants was eventual MVP Mookie Betts, which is a nice feather in Jimenez’s cap no matter what happens over the rest of his career. Known for a slider with the Blue Jays, Jimenez showed a downer curveball with the Giants in his brief big league action.
Michael Rucker, RHP, Cubs
The Orioles selected Rucker in last year’s Rule 5 draft but sent him back to the Cubs after he threw five scoreless innings during spring training. As a reliever, Rucker’s fastball plays up a little to the mid 90s and he locates it and an average slider with average control.
Big Power, Some Warts
Teams generally protect sluggers who can also hit, but it’s not hard to find a group of power hitters in the Rule 5 draft, it’s just that they usually come with questions about how much they can get to that power against more advanced pitching.
Seuly Matias, OF, Royals
Matias has made improvements to his swing this year and does a better job of catching up to velocity. His 80-grade raw power has long been evident in games. He hit .148 in 2019, so even the hand injury that helps explain that lack of production may not be enough to convince anyone to take a chance on the slugger who hit 31 home runs for low Class A Lexington in 2018.
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 in 2019. He did hit .301/.320/.436 last year and had 26 home runs in 2018.
Cody Thomas, OF, Dodgers
Thomas has averaged 21 home runs a year in his three years of full-season ball. The former Oklahoma quarterback has legitimate lefthanded power. He also has Double-A experience and was at the Dodgers alternate site in 2020. He could top 200 strikeouts if he played everyday in the majors, but it would come with some home runs as well.
Dermis Garcia, 1B, Yankees
Garcia has some of the best power in the Yankees’ farm system. His 17 home runs in just 279 plate appearances in the Florida State League in 2019 are proof of that, as are his excellent exit velocities. But he’s yet to top a .320 on-base percentage in Class A, so it’s hard to see that power translating to the major leagues.
Ibandel Isabel, 1B, Angels
Isabel was a minor league free agent this offseason before signing with the Angels. A team wanting to bring his massive power into the organization would have been much better served doing so via free agency rather than snagging him in the Rule 5 draft. But when it comes to power potential, a Rule 5 eligibles list would be missing something if it left off Isabel, considering he’s hit a home run every 14.4 plate appearances in full-season ball. It’s an all-or-nothing approach, but even if Isabel strikes out in his first three at-bats on a night, you still wonder if he’s going to go deep in his fourth at-bat.
Curtis Terry, 1B, Rangers
We highlighted Terry last year in our preview because he can hit a little in addition to mashing. In 2019, 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 the same problem that held him back last year—no experience above Class A—is still true today.
Jordan Diaz, 3B, Athletics
Diaz isn’t ready for the majors yet, but he has some of the best bat-to-ball skills of any hitter currently in Oakland’s system. He posted a .264/.307/.430 line (118 wRC+) in 300 at-bats for short-season Vermont in 2019. Diaz has a mature, stocky frame for a 20-year-old and an average arm at third base. Focus and mobility concerns suggest he may eventually have to move to first base. A team high on the bat could see Diaz as a worthy stash.
Luis Mieses, OF, White Sox
A team that chooses Mieses will likely do so based on long-term viability rather than present big league value. He has advanced only to the Rookie-level Pioneer League and has not had much success along the way. He has a compact lefthanded swing but hasn’t shown the power he was thought to develop. A team which believes it can unlock his power might believe Mieses is worth a year of stashing on a big league roster.
Oscar Gonzalez, OF, Indians
What we wrote last year about Gonzalez remains pretty much the case for him in the 2020 Rule 5 draft. He 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 the position. He was one of the better hitters in the Carolina League in 2019, 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 22-year-old has the kind of tools, including hitting ability, that are rarely exposed in the Rule 5 draft.
Outfielders Who Can Run
Ben DeLuzio, OF, D-Backs
DeLuzio is one of the fastest players available in the Rule 5 draft. A plus-plus runner, he’s the kind of speedy center fielder who can serve as a defensive replacement, pinch hit, pinch run and go first to third in no time at all. He’s always shown solid on-base skills despite very modest power and he did reach Triple-A in 2019.
Cole Freeman, OF/2B, Nationals
A standout performer at Louisiana State, Freeman’s college career was slightly derailed by a wrist injury that meant he didn’t make his pro debut until 2018. Because of the coronavirus shutdown he also didn’t get to play in 2020, so he has just two minor league seasons on his resume. Freeman is a potentially above-average hitter who is more of a table-setter than a slugger. He gets on base and has the tools to eventually be an asset in center field defensively, but he just started playing the position in 2019. He’s played second base as well, but has had throwing problems there.