Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam)
Not every success story from the 2020 Rule 5 draft will come out of the major league phase. In recent years, the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft has often been just as fertile of a ground for teams. The reasons for that are pretty obvious—if a team takes a major league Rule 5 pick, they have to keep him on their MLB roster for the entire upcoming season.
Take a minor league Rule 5 pick and you’ve added another player to the farm system. The player can be sent to the best level for their development. Some of them (most notably Rays righthander Ryan Thompson last year) will thrive with their new teams.
With that in mind, here are a few players taken in the MiLB phase of the Rule 5 draft that are intriguing.
Shea Spitzbarth, RHP, Pirates (from Dodgers)
As a major league Rule 5 pick, Spitzbarth’s lack of success at Triple-A (1-0, 8.18 with 30 hits in 22 innings) was a hurdle. As a minor league pick where the only cost is $24,000 and there are no further roster restrictions, he was an easy pick and multiple teams were targeting him. The Pirates picked first, so they snagged him before anyone else. He was excellent at Double-A Tulsa in 2019 (3-3, 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 stints at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but he has struck out 11.7 per nine for his career and he throws strikes.
Tyreque Reed, 1B, Red Sox (from Rangers)
Reed was a star on the Mississippi JUCO circuit in 2017 as he led all NJCAA Division II hitters with a .504 batting average and .643 on-base percentage. He did have to settle for second in slugging percentage (.943). Reed’s massive power has generally played in pro ball as well—he’s slugged .513 for his career to go with a .370 on-base percentage. He stumbled in a 2019 promotion to high Class A Down East, but that was a 32-game stint. Beyond that he’s hit wherever he’s gone. As a low-cost minor league Rule 5 pickup with some remaining potential, Reed should fit well in the middle of a Red Sox high Class A or Double-A lineup.
Errol Robinson, SS, Reds (from Dodgers)
Robinson was a sixth-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2016. At the time, he was viewed as an excellent glove, but scouts were not sure his bat would translate to pro ball as he made a lot of soft contact. Four years later, Robinson is still viewed as a smooth-fielding shortstop who makes a lot of soft contact. Robinson’s range at shortstop isn’t his standout tool as much as his pillow soft hands and excellent body control. As a minor league shortstop who can play anywhere around the infield, he’s a useful pickup. He’s a useful Triple-A infielder who a team could be comfortable bringing up to the majors if injuries strike, because teams know he’ll make the routine play and sometimes more than that.
Drew Ferguson, OF, Mets (from Astros)
A couple of years ago, Ferguson was a MLB Rule 5 pick of the Giants. He didn’t stick and went back to the Astros farm system where he continued to be the on-base machine he’s always been. He doesn’t hit for power, but he’s a center fielder who can play all three outfield spots and has some speed. The Astros thought enough about his chances to help in case of injuries or a coronavirus outbreak that they brought him to their alternate site this past summer. He becomes very useful upper-level depth for the Mets.
A.J. Puckett, RHP, Braves (from White Sox)
The White Sox acquired Puckett from the Royals in a 2017 trade that sent Melky Cabrera to Kansas City. He barely got to pitch for the White Sox—he threw 27 innings in 2017. He missed all of 2018 with an elbow injury he tried to rehab, but eventually had Tommy John surgery in 2019. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he hasn’t gotten back on the mound officially since. Before that, Puckett’s changeup and fringe-average fastball worked well together. The 2016 second-round pick out of Pepperdine may end up as a pitcher whose career was derailed by injury, but if this elbow issue is just a setback, he could still have some big league potential.
Jordan Brink, RHP, Rays (from Cardinals)
Brink is well traveled. An 11th-round pick of the Cubs in 2014 out of Fresno State, he was released in 2017 and spent the next three seasons pitching in the independent Frontier League and Pacific Association. The Brewers signed him at the very tail end of 2019, but then lost him to the Cardinals in the 2019 MiLB Rule 5 draft. And now the Rays have snagged Brink from the Cardinals without him ever throwing an official pitch in a Cardinals uniform. Brink has completely reworked his delivery, turning himself into a 95-98 mph reliever with good feel to spin a breaking ball. In affiliated ball Brink has yet to throw a pitch in a full-season league, but he’ll be 27 next year, so expect to see him get a chance to show he can attack hitters much closer to the majors in 2021.