2022 MLB Rule 5 Draft Results And Analysis

Image credit: Blake Sabol (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Pick 1.1 Nationals – Thad Ward, RHP (Red Sox) 

After a breakout 2019 season it’s been anything but smooth sailing for Ward since. Ward fell victim to the 2020 pandemic shutdown and a poorly timed UCL injury that led to Tommy John surgery, missing the majority of the last two seasons. After showing increased power and a deep arsenal of average or better pitches pre-injury, Ward emerged in July of 2022 with similar power and pitch shapes. Still primarily relying on his two-seam fastball at 91-94 mph, Ward mixes in a sweepy low-80s slider with heavy glove-side break, a mid-to-high-80s cutter, a mid-80s changeup and a four-seam fastball variation. He pitched well during his four appearances with Scottsdale during the Arizona Fall League, striking out 15 over 12.2 innings pitched. Ward had back-end rotation upside pre-injury and he showed glimpses of that this season. The Nationals took Ward with the top pick.

Pick 1.2 Oakland – Ryan Noda, 1B (Dodgers)

Drafted by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2017 draft out of Cincinnati, Noda has never produced an on-base percentage below .372 over any of his four minor league seasons. He’s hit .264/.407/.486 with 107 doubles and 94 home runs across 555 professional games. Noda was acquired by the Dodgers prior to 2021 and hit .250/.383/.521 with 29 home runs over 113 games with Double-A Tulsa. He was left exposed for the Rule 5 draft that never happened in 2021 and despite a .259/.395/.474 line over 135 games with Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2022, Noda was again left off the Dodgers crowded 40-man roster. Despite below-average contact skills, Noda manages his whiffs enough that his elite plate discipline (20% chase rate in 2022) and plus power still play. Noda’s power is notable as he’s slugged 54 home runs combined over his last two seasons and has the exit velocity data to back that up with an 89 mph average exit velocity, a 105.8 mph 90th percentile average and a hard hit rate of 44.8%—while getting on base nearly 40% of the time and keeping his strikeout rate below 30% in the upper minors. Noda is one of the better first base defenders in the minor leagues, with the ability to handle a corner outfield spot in a pinch.

1.3 Pirates Jose Hernandez, LHP (Dodgers)

Hernandez sits 95-97 mph, touching 100 mph at peak on his four-seam fastball, mixing in a tight mid-80s slider and a changeup. While his four-seam fastball lit up radar guns this season, it was Hernandez’s slider that did the heavy lifting, generating whiffs at a rate of 60% to go with a 35% chase rate. It’s a powerful two-pitch mix that could easily play out of the bullpen. The Pirates believe he could slot into their bullpen immediately and stick for the entirety of the season. 

1.4 Giants (acquired in trade from the Reds) Blake Sabol, C (Pirates)

Sabol is a lefty hitter with above-average power and a potentially average hit tool who has reached Triple-A. If he was only a corner outfielder, that probably wouldn’t have been enough to earn a selection. But Sabol has long been a hybrid. He’s a catcher/outfielder, which is the role he filled at Southern California as well. Defensively, he’s limited enough at catcher that it’s hard to see him as a regular there or even a No. 2 catcher, but his lefthanded pop could play in the corner outfield spots, DH and allow him to serve as a No. 3 catcher.

1.5 Tigers Mason Englert, RHP, Rangers

Signed out of Forney (Texas) High for $1 million back in 2018, Englert had Tommy John surgery in April of 2019 and didn’t pitch in an affiliated game until 2021. Over the last two seasons Englert has performed well across both levels of Class A, finishing his 2022 with a trio of starts for Double-A Frisco. While Englert lacks powerful stuff, he does use two fastball variations and four secondaries with command. His four-seam and two-seam fastballs sit 91-93 mph, touching 95 with generic shape, but with a flat vertical approach angle due to Englert’s five-and-a-half foot average release height. His command and release traits allow both of his fastball shapes to play up and generate whiffs, as the rest of his arsenal waterfalls off of his heat. His primary secondaries are a mid-70s two-plane breaking curveball with depth that functions as Englert’s best bat misser and a low-80s changeup with vertical separation off of both his fastball shapes. He’ll mix in a mid-80s slider as a fourth pitch, but it’s used interchangeably with his curveball against righthanders and pocketed against lefthanders. Englert has a true starter’s profile with a deep arsenal of offerings, strike-throwing skills and a track record of missing bats. 

1.6 Rays (acquired from Rockies) Kevin Kelly, RHP, Guardians

There’s one pitcher available in the Rule 5 draft that meets the following qualifiers—50 or more innings pitched, a strikeout rate of 29% or higher, a walk rate of 9% or lower, a groundball rate above 50% and a FIP below 3.00 in 2022. That pitcher is the Guardians righthander Kevin Kelly. Kelly is a 2019 19th-round pick by Cleveland out of James Madison who didn’t make his full-season debut until 2021. After a strong season in 2021, Kelly was assigned to Double-A Akron, where he made 16 appearances over the first two months of the season, striking out 32 batters to nine walks while allowing three earned runs over 24.1 innings. He saw a promotion to Triple-A Columbus, where he made 32 appearances, striking out 28.9% of the batters he faced while generating ground balls at a rate of 62.2%. Kelly uses four pitches and two fastball shapes, but primarily relies on his sinker and slider mix. His low-90s sinker is his most thrown pitch, driving groundball contact at a high rate and average whiffs for a sinker. His slider is a mid-70s sweeper with between 15-17 inches of horizontal break on average. None of Kelly’s pitches have power or generate a high rate of swings and misses, but he throws strikes and generates lots of weak contact. 

1.7 Marlins Nic Enright, RHP, Guardians

Enright is one of the most polished available relievers in this year’s Rule 5 class. He has plenty of upper-level MiLB experience, with over 100 innings and more than 70 appearances in Double-A and Triple-A, and he has a lengthy track record of success. He posted a 2.88 ERA with a .203 opponent batting average, 1.9 BB/9, 11.9 K/9 and a 2.89 FIP in 2022. Enright has a pair of above-average pitches to work with. His low-90s fastball has modest velocity, but it has some of the best carry in the minors, which makes it a bat-misser that he can dot the zone with. His low-80s slider generates plenty of swings and misses as well, and serves as an excellent chase pitch when he gets ahead in counts. 

1.8 Cubs – Pass

1.9 -Twins Pass

1.10 Red Sox Pass

1.11 White Sox Nick Avila, RHP, Giants

Avilia uses five different pitch shapes led by a high-ride mid-90s four-seam fastball. He has three secondaries in a cutter, curveball and slider. All of his pitches generated a 30% or higher whiff rate in 2022. He has the look of a pitcher whose stuff could play up out of the bullpen. It’s a deep mix of average or better pitches with above-average power. 

1.12 Giants – Pass

1.13 Baltimore Orioles – Andrew Politi, RHP, Red Sox

The pride of Long Valley, N.J., Politi is an undersized righthander with a high-effort delivery. He features a three-pitch mix led by an average four-seam fastball that sits 93-95 mph and touches 97 mph at peak with cut and a flatter approach angle and an upper-80s slider. Politi features a low-80s curveball with good depth and two-plane break. All of Politi’s pitches play as average but he’s seen success in the upper minors over the last two seasons, proving he can miss bats, throw consistent strikes and generate ground balls. Politi made 38 appearances for Triple-A Worcester in 2022, compiling a 4-0 record with four saves, a 2.41 ERA, a 28.3% strikeout rate and a .191 opponent batting average. Politi looks ready for a major league role in some capacity in 2023.

1.14 Brewers Gus Varland, RHP, Dodgers

Varland has experienced two consecutive difficult seasons on the mound finishing each season with an ERA well above 5.00. After working almost exclusively as a starter prior to 2022, the Dodgers moved Varland to the bullpen in late May. His results improved, as did the velocity on his fastball and slider. While Varland’s fastball was sitting 93-95 mph as a starter in April and May, he was sitting 96-97 mph and touching 98 mph out of the bullpen in September. His slider jumped from sitting 84-86 mph to sitting 88-90 mph by September. This jump in velocity culminated in a strong finish to Varland’s season. Over his final 14 appearances Varland went 3-0 with a 3.44 ERA and 31 strikeouts to five walks over 18.1 innings. With two major league-caliber pitches, years of high-minors experience and a defined role, Varland could fit into a major league bullpen and stick. 

1.15 Rays Pass

1.16 Phillies – Noah Song, RHP, Red Sox

Song has not pitched professionally since 2019 and has been instead stashed away in Naval flight school. There has been no public information surrounding his return to the mound. Prior to the injury Song’s arsenal included a mid-to-high-90s fastball with two breaking balls and a changeup. Many viewed Song as a day one talent in the 2019 draft but he fell to the Red Sox due to his Naval commitment. 

1.17 Padres – Jose Lopez, LHP, Rays

The 23-year-old lefty was signed back in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic and after three middling years in the lower minors, Lopez enjoyed a breakout season in Double-A in 2022, reaching Triple-A by year’s end. Coming into the season Lopez added power and improved the shape of his two primary pitches—his four-seam fastball and slider. His fastball went from sitting 93-95 mph to sitting 95-96 mph with an added inch of vertical break and a cleaner spin axis, while his slider added a few ticks of velocity and nearly three inches of sweep on average. He made improvements to his changeup as well, as he added a few inches of run this season. The improvements in pitch shapes and added power led to a 8-3 record, nine saves and 91 strikeouts over 55.1 innings of work. 

1.18 Mariners – Chris Clarke, RHP, Cubs

Clarke has a big body at 6-foot-7 with an above-average curveball and two-seam fastball that had him on the radar of a few teams heading into the Rule 5. The Mariners selected Clarke due to his above-average breaking ball and advanced strike-throwing ability. His ability to generate ground balls at a high rate while throwing strikes and missing bats should allow him to potentially stick out of the pen. 

1.19 Guardians – Pass

1.20 Toronto – Pass

1.21 Cardinals – Wilking Rodriguez, RHP, Yankees

The Cardinals had scouted Rodriguez, a 32-year-old who dominated the Mexican League, with the intent of signing him in-season. Unfortunately they were unable to strike a deal and Rodriguez returned to the Yankees after the season, his former team.  The Cardinals jumped at the opportunity to add Rodriguez, as they viewed him as a major league bullpen option while scouting him in Mexico. His three-pitch mix is heavily driven by his mid-to-high-90s fastball and low-90s cutter.

1.22 Yankees Pass

1.23 Mets – Zach Greene, RHP, Yankees

In 2022 Greene made 48 appearances for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, compiling a perfect 9-0 record with a 3.42 ERA and 96 strikeouts to 32 walks over 68.1 innings. Greene was used for one- to three-inning stints this season, mostly out of the bullpen. He uses four pitches led by a low-90s four-seam fastball with ride and heavy cut from a low angle of release. He pairs his unique four-seam shape with a sweeping slider at 78-80 mph, producing a majority of his whiffs off of those two pitches. He’ll mix in a changeup and cutter as well, but Greene’s success is heavily driven from his ability to generate whiffs against his cut four-seam fastball. He’s a pitcher with high-minors experience and success.

1.24 Braves Pass

1.25 Dodgers Pass

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