Top Nine Players Who Went Unpicked In 2020 Rule 5 Draft
The lost 2020 minor league season likely played a part in this year’s Rule 5 draft class being one of the most productive in years—with no games last season, the decisions on who to protect on the 40-man roster and who to leave off were more difficult than normal. The expanded 26-man rosters also have made it easier to keep players around.
But the lost season also meant that the list of unprotected and unpicked players from last year’s Rule 5 draft is also much stronger than normal.
There was a significant number of players who had useful big league seasons just a few months after being left available for the price of a Rule 5 pick and $100,000.
The roster restrictions that come with being an MLB Rule 5 pick—a player cannot be optioned to the minors all season—deter teams from picking just anyone, and it’s fair to say that some of these players listed below may not have had the same season if they were on MLB rosters from Opening Day.
But with that caveat explained, it was a good year for wondering what could have been. Here are the top nine 2021 MLB contributors who were unprotected and unpicked last December. Three of these nine appeared in Baseball America’s Rule 5 preview leading up to the draft.
1. Jake Meyers, OF, Astros
It would've been hard to know it at the time, as Meyers’ pro experience prior to the pandemic was relatively limited, but the adjustments and improvements he made during the long layoff make this a case of the one that got away for teams, much like Max Muncy (available in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft). Meyers does explain the tricky nature of this exercise. It was his nearly 70 games with Double-A Corpus Christi that confirmed he’d taken a big step forward as a prospect, and he wouldn’t have had that extra development time as a Rule 5 pick. But his ability to be a potential MLB regular in center field and at least a valuable fourth outfielder means it would have been worthwhile to carry him as a Rule 5 pick.
2. Frank Schwindel, 1B, Athletics/Cubs
Schwindel hit .326/.371/.591 with 14 home runs this year as a surprise 29-year-old breakout rookie. Schwindel was a minor league free agent coming into 2021, so if any team really wanted to acquire him, it was easier to do so by signing him to a minor league contract rather than picking him in the Rule 5 draft and dealing with roster restrictions.
3. Andy Ibanez, INF, Rangers
Ibañez made his debut on May 4 and he played a large role in the Rangers lineup for most of the rest of the season. Ibañez hit .277/.321/.435 in 272 plate appearances having played a little bit of everywhere (31 games at second base, 12 at first base, 11 at third base, one in left field and 16 at DH).
4. Bryan De La Cruz, OF, Marlins
The Marlins liked De La Cruz enough to make him a key part of what they acquired in the trade deadline deal that sent righthander Yimi Garcia to Houston. Considering the Astros had Meyers and De La Cruz (as well as Chas McCormick), it was a great year for lesser-noticed Astros outfield prospects.
5. Joe Barlow, RHP, Rangers
Barlow arrived in Texas on June 24 and quickly became one of the most reliable members of the Rangers bullpen. Once Ian Kennedy was traded away, he stepped into the club’s closer role. He ended up second on the team with 11 saves, going 0-2, 1.55 with a 3.45 FIP and a sparkling 0.828 WHIP. Barlow allowed only 12 hits in 29 innings, although his 12 walks showed that his control still has room for improvement.
6. Jake Brentz, LHP, Royals
One could argue that Brentz should rank ahead of Barlow here if you value durability and volume. Brentz tied for eighth in the majors with 72 appearances. Brentz was as much a lefty specialist as a pitcher can be these days—he threw 64 innings in his 72 games. Lefties were helpless (.116/.292/.203) but the Royals tried to keep him away from righties, who hit .231/.333/.406 against him. The Rule 5 roster requirements wouldn’t have been an issue for Brentz—he was on the Royals roster from Opening Day until the end of the season other than an injured list stint.
7. Jake Cousins, RHP, Brewers
A member of the Brewers playoff bullpen, Cousins made his debut on June 21 and other than a short rehab stint in the minors, he was never sent back to Triple-A. Cousins pitched 30 effective innings for the Brewers, going 1-0, 2.70 with a 3.84 FIP and 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He also threw a scoreless inning against the Braves in the National League Division Series.
8. Tim Mayza, LHP, Blue Jays
Mayza had made more than 100 appearances in the Blue Jays bullpen coming into 2021, but Tommy John surgery in 2019 meant the Blue Jays dropped him from their 40-man roster. Mayza showed he was fully healthy by returning to make 61 appearances (second most on the team behind closer Jordan Romano). Mayza held lefties to a .181/.224/.222 slash line and was effective enough against righthanded hitters (.221/.286/.361) to not fall afoul of the new three-batters-faced rule. Mayza is an example of a player who would have been an excellent Rule 5 pick. He spent the entire season in the majors (other than a stint on the injured list).
9. Yonny Hernandez, 2B/3B, Rangers
Much like Barlow, Hernandez is one of a number of young Rangers who took advantage of an opportunity to play in the second half of the season. Hernandez is going to have to hit much better than he did in 2021 (.217/.315/.252), but the 23-year-old’s defensive versatility makes him a potentially useful utility infielder.