Building The Perfect Rule 5 Team

Image credit: Malcom Nunez (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Over the course of the offseason we will be working on a recurring series in which we examine different elements of team building and roster construction through the lens of a hypothetical expansion team. 

In the first installment of this series, we dug deep into the minor league free agent market to identify potential undervalued talents. 

In part two we are focusing on the Rule 5 draft. To make this exercise less cut and dry I’ll give myself the fifth spot in the draft. This adds a degree of difficulty as it won’t allow our organization access to the top two players on our preferred list, righthanded pitcher Thad Ward and first baseman Ryan Noda

We’ll instead shadow the draft from the fifth pick. All players drafted at pick five or later in the real Rule 5 are available to us. Before we talk through our selections let’s first discuss strategy, including how we plan to attack the draft and what we hope to achieve. 

Strategy: With no major league players under contract, we have fewer restrictions than a typical organization. It’s conceivable we could pick 25 players with the ability to keep them all. Unfortunately that would leave us no room to sign major league free agents or do an expansion draft, two important avenues of player acquisition that will come later in this series. With this in mind, we’ll cap our total picks at nine players. There are no restrictions on positions. All players taken after round one will be players who weren’t selected in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft. 

Pick 1.5 – Gus Varland, RHP, Brewers

Varland was one of the better picks in the Rule 5 draft, in my opinion. The Brewers targeted the most major league-ready reliever available. I considered Kevin Kelly, Nick Avila and Andrew Politi, but had Varland above that trio on my preference list, and he was the highest drafted player available. As was noted in Varland’s writeup in the Rule 5 preview, he took to a June move to the bullpen and saw his fastball and slider velocity climb throughout the season. His velocity peaked in September, as he sat 96-98 mph on his fastball and 88-90 mph on his slider. Varland offers me a bullpen option with some power and the ability to go one or two innings in any given outing. 

Pick 2.5 – Malcom Nunez, 1B, Pirates 

When you factor in our expansion team’s circumstances it’s easy to understand why Nunez is an attractive option. Without a draft pick until the summer of 2023 and no international signings until the January international free agency window opens, we have little access to prospects of Nunez’s upside. While the Dodgers’ Jose Ramos is arguably the hitter with the greatest upside available, he also has some of the greatest downside if kept on the active major league roster. Nunez has a few things going his way—a combination of average bat-to-ball skills, above-average swing decisions and plus power. At just 22 years old Nunez can plug into my lineup as an everyday option, splitting time between first base and the designated hitter slot. 

Pick 3.5 – Matt Gorski, OF, Pirates

At this point I’m bullying the Pirates a bit, as I’m taking my second consecutive Pirates prospect. I had Gorski top five on my preference list and he provides real impact power, defensive versatility and some upside if he makes slight improvements to his bat-to-ball skills and approach. He could provide a similar profile to Joey Gallo, with huge power, on-base ability, lots of strikeouts and above-average defensive value in the outfield. 

Pick 4.5 – Corey Julks, OF, Astros 

One of JJ Cooper’s favorite players available in the Rule 5 draft, Julks made swing adjustments to tap into more power during a late June stint on the developmental list. As JJ notes in the Rule 5 draft preview, before that work in the cage, Julks had hit 17 home runs in 1,243 pro plate appearances (1 home run every 73 PAs). Since then, he’s hit 43 home runs in 815 plate appearances (1 home run every 19 PAs). He hit 31 home runs in the Pacific Coast League and stole 22 bases on 26 attempts. He’s seen time in center field but fits nicely in my hypothetical outfield in the opposite corner to Matt Gorski

Pick 5.5 – Hunter Feduccia, C, Dodgers 

With catching is likely to be difficult to acquire without any tradable assets and limited free agent options, Feduccia is an attractive option for the BA expansion franchise. Feduccia provides above-average defense behind the plate with an offensive profile that could clear the fairly low bar of platoon catchers. Feduccia crushes fastballs and has seen growth in his in-game power production in recent seasons. Ultimately even if Feduccia settles in as my backup catcher, he provides enough offensive upside and defensive value to warrant a selection. 

Pick 6.5 – Grant Anderson, RHP, Rangers 

Anderson’s slider was arguably the best pitch thrown by any player available in the Rule 5 draft. His low-80s slider with ride and heavy sweep is his most thrown pitch. He commands it extremely well, landing it for a strike around 70% of the time it’s thrown. He pairs it with a low-to-mid-90s sinker that gives him a groundball-driving option to play off of his slider. He’s a one-inning reliever with a signature pitch. 

Pick 7.5 – Adrian Hernandez, RHP, Blue Jays 

My fascination with Hernández’s changeup-first profile was discussed in some detail in the Rule 5 preview. It’s a unicorn-type pitch that keeps batters off balance even when everyone in the park knows his changeup is coming. The 2022 season was a disappointing campaign for Hernández as he missed a good chunk of the season and struggled to find his stuff and command upon returning. With well below-average velocity on his fastball, there’s some hope that Hernández can add strength and see his average fastball velocity tick up from 88-91 mph to 92-94 mph. Still young and with a signature changeup that allows him to play the north-south game, Hernández is a relief option with upside for our imaginary squad.

Pick 8.5 – Austin Schulfer, RHP, Twins

Targeting interesting combinations of arm slots and pitch mixes is a process that’s always fascinated me from a team building standpoint. The general idea of the philosophy is you can make opposing lineups uncomfortable by showing them a variety of different looks and movement patterns over the course of a game or a series. Schulfer has an interesting combination of a sidearm slot, power on his pitch mix and a primary look of a mid-to-high-90s sinker and mid-80s slider, with feel for a changeup. He drove ground balls at a rate of 58.2% while striking out more than a batter an inning in 2022. 

Pick 9.5 – Cam Devanney, SS, Brewers

Players with offensive upside and the ability to handle the everyday defensive requirements on the left side of the infield are in short supply in the Rule 5 draft. For this reason Devanney is an easy final choice for my team. He made adjustments at the plate to his approach and unlocked more game power and improved his on-base ability. Devanney is a strong defender who can handle shortstop or third base everyday, and can handle other positions in a pinch. His improved slugging ability makes him an attractive option off the bench for our fake team.

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