Image credit: Gio Urshela (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
If the 2014 Rule 5 draft was one that showed how the draft can be a solid way for teams to add talent, the 2018 Rule 5 draft is likely to be remembered for how little talent can change hands in a thin Rule 5 draft.
The No. 1 pick, Richie Martin, has been the Orioles’ main shortstop all season. He’s been arguably the best option for a team with no good options at shortstop, but he’s also hitting just .191/.247/.290.
As poor as Martin’s season has been, he’s arguably the most effective Rule 5 pick this season. The Giants designated for assignment lefthander Travis Bergen on Aug. 18. When he completes the DFA process, there will be only two other 2018 Rule 5 picks who have remained with their new clubs—Blue Jays righthander Elvis Luciano and Mariners righthander Brandon Brennan. And in both of their cases, they have spent significant portions of the 2019 season on the injured list.
When the Blue Jays picked Luciano, they knew he was not going to be ready for a full-time major league role. The 19-year-old was only Rule 5 eligible because his contract had been reworked after he signed it initially. MLB rules ensure that any player with a reworked contract is Rule 5 eligible if not added to the 40-man roster.
Luciano quickly showed he wasn’t ready to be used in any close major league game. The Blue Jays have used him as a mop-up pitcher in blowouts. Amazingly, 15 of Luciano’s 20 appearances have come with the Blue Jays either winning or losing by four or more runs. He has not pitched in any game where the score was tied or within one run.
Luciano went on the injured list in mid-June with an elbow sprain and is currently on the 60-day injured list. He still needs roughly 20 days of time on the active roster to fulfill the Rule 5 roster requirements this season, but if he can be activated off the IL for the September roster expansion, he could reach that mark. If so, the Blue Jays could send him to the minors next season to help him make up for lost development time.
In Brennan’s case, he was a reasonably effective middle-innings reliever in April and May, but he struggled in early June before going on the IL with a shoulder injury. He made it back for a week in August before returning to the IL because of the shoulder injury. Brennan will likely return to the active roster in September and should have fulfilled Rule 5 roster requirements.
With Bergen currently in DFA limbo, the other 10 Rule 5 picks from this past December have all been returned to their original clubs.
With the benefit of most of the 2019 season in the rear-view mirror, the best available players in the 2018 Rule 5 draft were left unpicked. The All-Unpicked Team for the 2018 Rule 5 draft cannot match the 2017 list (which included Max Muncy, Franmil Reyes and Jeff McNeil, among others), but it is still a reasonably impressive group.
It’s worth noting that several of the best players on the 2018 unpicked list may have seen their development significantly impaired by the roster requirements that would have forced them to stay in the majors for the entire season.
1. Gio Urshela, 3B, Yankees
The Yankees have had plenty of success in turning seemingly role players into productive everyday regulars, so it is reasonable to ask if Urshela would have had the same success if he had been picked in the Rule 5 draft. But it’s undeniable that the well-traveled Urshela has more than adequately filled in for the injured Miguel Andujar. Urshela is hitting .336/.377/.575 for the Yankees.
2. Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Giants
Yastrzemski was one of the best players in the South Atlantic League in 2014, but since then, he’s been a reasonably productive minor league outfielder. Yastrzemski was available and unpicked in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Rule 5 drafts. Now, he’s hit more home runs in 72 games with the Giants than he ever did in a full season in the minors. Between Triple-A and the majors, Yastrzemski has 28 home runs. His previous career high was 15. Yastrzemski is 28 years old, and he is a perfect example of how difficult it is to predict breakout seasons. It’s undeniable that he’s been one of the best hitters in the Giants’ lineup.
3. Aristides Aquino, OF, Reds
Aquino has spent most of the season in the minors. The Reds dropped him from the 40-man roster last offseason but quickly resigned him to a minor league contract, making him Rule 5 eligible. It’s hard to say Aquino could have gone on this home run binge (11 home runs in 18 major league games) without the time in the minors to complete an overhaul of his stance and his swing, but he has gone from Rule 5 eligible to now a likely mainstay in the Reds’ 2020 lineup.
4. Josh VanMeter, 2B, Reds
In his first five pro seasons, VanMeter never slugged better than .403 in a single year. He started to show more doubles power last season, and this year he dominated at Triple-A Louisville (hitting .348/.429/.669) before being promoted to the majors. VanMeter has been solid for the Reds while paying a variety of positions.
5. Nestor Cortes Jr., RHP, Yankees
Cortes actually has been picked in the Rule 5 draft before. The Orioles selected Cortes in 2017 but offered him back. This year, he’s thrown 54 innings of productive relief for the Yankees. Admittedly, much of Cortes’ value as a reliever would have been diminished as a Rule 5 pick—he’s been optioned back to the minors seven different times this year—but he’s been better than any of the relievers who were picked in the 2018 Rule 5 draft.
Others Of Note
Alex Young, LHP, D-backs
Young posted a 6.06 ERA with Triple-A Reno during the first half of the season. That would not seem to be an indicator of major league readiness, but the simple reality is pitching at Triple-A Reno—where the team ERA is 6.50—may be tougher than pitching in the majors. Young has been better than that for the D-backs.
There are 13 players in the minors right now with 29 or more home runs. Four of them were eligible in last December’s Rule 5 draft. Brown (37 home runs) is battling Kevin Cron for the minor league home run crown.
Travis Demeritte, OF, Tigers
Demeritte has helped turn around his career with a solid season that saw him play well enough to be part of a deadline deal. He’s since made his major league debut for Detroit.
Lewin Diaz, 1B, Marlins
It would have been seemingly madness for any team to pick Diaz in the Rule 5 draft last year, as he was coming off an injury-plagued season in Class A. But this year Diaz is healthy and mashing home runs (26 in 110 games). The Marlins acquired him in July’s Sergio Romo trade.
Jake Cronenworth, SS/RHP, Rays
A year ago, Cronenworth was a somewhat nondescript Double-A shortstop. This summer, he was battling for the International League batting crown and was also showing potential as a reliever when a hamstring injury sent him to the injured list.