2022 MLB Rule 5 Draft Conversation: Most Intriguing Players For The Dec. 7 Draft

Image credit: Jose Ramos (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

When dealing with the July first-year player draft, talent is talent. 

The Rule 5 draft is different. A team with a settled outfield may not even consider taking an outfielder. Or a team with depth at catcher will not see a reason to entertain taking a catcher, even if it considers him the best available talent.

That makes predicting the Rule 5 draft even more difficult. But talent is talent. And as we preview the Rule 5 draft, we can focus on who are the best players to pick, even if they may not fit for every team. So in addition to our Rule 5 preview, Geoff Pontes and JJ Cooper are having a conversation about which players they are most intrigued by for the Dec. 7 Rule 5 draft.

JJ Cooper: Hey Geoff, so how bad is your case of Rule 5 Fever?

Geoff Pontes: My fever is peaking at the moment and I’m beginning to have visions of Rule 5 picks in my dreams. 

JJ: Same. I’m so ready for 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on Wednesday so we can hear the picks. To get this conversation going, if you had a chance to pick one pitcher from the available players, who would you choose, and why?

Geoff: Red Sox righthander Thad Ward. He’s really come back strong from Tommy John surgery and was trending toward a potential 2022 debut before the injury at the beginning of 2021. What I like most about Ward is his ability to mix a variety of pitch shapes with advanced sequencing and the ability to land all of his pitches for strikes. He showed well in my AFL looks and I think he’s a viable back-end starter for a few teams right away. 

Geoff: Now your turn, but let’s look at the other side. You have to pick one position player from the available group. Who are you going with and why?

JJ: My pick would be Astros outfielder Corey Julks. The most successful Rule 5 picks year after year are the players who are able to contribute right away. Julks hit 31 home runs last season at Triple-A Sugar Land. He made a significant swing adjustment in 2021 that clearly took. Before that, he was a good-hitting corner outfielder with minimal power. Now he’s a masher.

JJ: OK, what about if you could choose between all the available position players?

Geoff: There’s a few. I really think this is a question of Ryan Noda versus Matt Gorski for me. Different profiles but similar. Both have big raw power and elite on-base skills, Gorski has the ability to play all over the outfield and his arm is a weapon defensively. It’s easy plus power and while there’s contact issues, the sliding scale that adjusts for on-base ability should view his hit tool more favorably. Noda lacks the outfield skills but is a strong defender at first base, gets on base and hits for above-average power. Maybe not the most attractive profiles to some, but it’s cheap power and on-base skills with defensive profiles that add value. You could do a lot worse. 

Geoff: Your turn, which pitcher would you choose and why? 

JJ: My favorite is Rays lefthander Jose Lopez. He has upper-level MiLB success (8-3, 2.42 with 95 strikeouts, 35 hits and 38 walks in 59 innings between Double-A and Triple-A). He has MLB-caliber stuff with a 95-96 mph fastball and a sweepy slider. He’s a pitcher who could legitimately compete for a spot on an MLB roster, which is a great thing to be able to say about a Rule 5 pick.

JJ: Those are good names, but let’s get a little more focused now. If you were trying to add a middle infielder with some upside, who do you like?

Geoff: This is a tough call because the guys with the most upside likely aren’t the best picks at this moment. Logan Davidson is past his prospect pedigree stage but switch-hitters take longer to come around and it’s never been a question of ability with Davidson. He’s had two below-average offensive seasons out of the pandemic at Double-A but did show improvements to his power and strikeout numbers. Upside infielders more often than not get protected. 

JJ: I’d go in a different direction with Rays infielder Ronny Simon. Simon impressed in the Arizona Fall League. I wished he walked more, but second basemen/third basemen who can hit 20-plus home runs have plenty of upside.

JJ: What about an infielder who is ready to step into a backup role, even if they don’t have any likely chance of being a future regular? 

Geoff: For me it’s Cam Devanney. He’s a strong defender capable of handling multiple spots in the infield and had an offensive breakout at the plate in the upper minors. He has power and showed improved swing decisions this season. He looks like he’s capable of holding down a bench infielder role with some power and on-base skills.  

JJ: OK, one last question. What about if you were willing to take a player based entirely on future talent, with little worry for their ability to contribute in 2023? And let me say, I think that this type of profile is one that breaks teams’ hearts over and over. From Elvis Luciano to Julian Fernandez to Allen Cordoba to Luis Perdomo, carrying a player in the hope they will develop in the future very rarely works out. 

Geoff: It’s got to be Jose Ramos for me, I think there’s a non-zero chance he’s an above-average major league hitter at peak. It’s still pretty raw but the juice is there and he’s shown the ability to get on base at age-appropriate levels. Unfortunately, as you said, he’s not ready yet.  

JJ: Don’t forget about Guardians righthander Ethan Hankins. There’s no way he’s MLB ready after missing 2020, 2021 and almost all of 2022 with the pandemic and injuries. He’s yet to pitch above Low A. His entire professional line in the past three years is one inning pitched, no hits, one strikeout. But he was a first-round pick with impressive stuff. A team willing to eat a roster spot for a shot at significant arm talent could do worse than to bring Hankins to camp and see what they have.

That was fun, but we’ve got to get back to gathering more names for our next update to the Rule 5 Preview.

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