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These Top Picks Went Unprotected In The 2020 Rule 5 Draft

Riley Pint Tonyfarlowfourseam
Riley Pint (Photo by Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images)

The 40-man roster protection deadline provides plenty of enjoyable offseason fodder for discussion. But it also serves a very useful purpose of showing what teams really think about their first-round picks.

For the first four years of a college draft pick’s pro career and the first five years of a high school pick, teams do not face any inflection points that force them to publicly make a decision about the player.

But that changes the moment a player becomes eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Teams must either add the player to the 40-man roster or risk losing him to another team who is willing to carry the player on the active MLB roster all of next season.

For international players, it’s often a tough decision because of where they are in the development process. There are a number of international signees who sign at 16 who, despite significant tools and talent, are not ready to stick as a Rule 5 pick. So year after year, teams will leave talented international 21-year-olds unprotected and run the risk of losing them because they feel the jump from Class A to the majors will be too big a leap. Normally those risks pay off, although there are examples like Jonathan Arauz (the Red Sox Rule 5 pick in 2019) when a team picking takes a chance.

That’s not really the case when it comes to domestic first-round picks. If a first-rounder is left unprotected the first year they are eligible for the Rule 5 draft, it's a clear sign that the player has not developed as planned.

What we have seen in recent years is teams doing a better job of hitting on their first-round picks. This year 79.4% (27 of 34) of all first-time eligible first-round picks were protected. That continues what has been a modest but steady improvement in an MLB team’s “hit rate.”

Of the 17 high school players picked in the 2016 first round, 13 (76.5%) have been added to 40-man rosters. Of the 18 college players picked in the 2017 first round, 15 (83.3%) have been added to 40-man rosters. (Because OF Blake Rutherford was 19 on draft day, he had to be added to the 40-man roster last year).

As a whole 77.1% (27 of 35) of first-time eligible first-round picks were protected in 2019. Only 10 of the 17 (58.8%) of prep first-round picks from 2015 were added to 40-man rosters. On the other hand, 17 of 18 (94.4%) of college first-rounders from 2016 were protected.

Two years ago, 72.7% (24 of 33) first-time eligible first-round picks were protected with similar rate for college (13 of 18 for 72.2%) and high school (11 of 15 for 73.3%) protections.

Expanding to look at the first three rounds of the draft, 50% (13 of 26) of high school players selected in the supplemental first, second and third rounds of the 2016 draft were protected. On the college side, 53.7% (22 of 41) of college players taken in the supplemental first, second and third rounds of the 2017 draft were protected. Here’s a look at all seven first-time eligible unprotected first-round picks.

RHP Riley Pint, Rockies (No. 4 pick, 2016)

Of the seven unprotected first-round picks, Rockies RHP Riley Pint is the highest pick to be left off of a 40-man roster. Pint has struggled mightily with control issues. The velocity and stuff are still impressive and Pint showed glimpses in 2019 of the talent that led him to be one of the top picks in the 2016 draft, but he also completely lost the strike zone for long stretches. He has yet to pitch above low Class A and in 2019 walked 31 batters and threw 18 wild pitches in 17.2 innings.

OF Will Benson, Indians (No. 14 pick, 2016)

Benson has massive power potential and runs well for a big outfielder. But his timing issues at the plate have kept him from being able to be a consistent threat against pitchers with a plan. Benson hit 22 home runs between low Class A Lake County and high Class A Lynchburg in 2019, but he also struck out 151 times in 123 games. His impressive start to the 2019 season at Lake County was largely erased by an equally unimpressive finish at Lynchburg. The loss of the 2020 season kept him from potentially reaching Double-A and made for an easier decision to leave him unprotected. Benson did play in 2020—he hit .143/.324/.286 in the independent Constellation League.

SS Delvin Perez, Cardinals (No. 23 pick, 2016)

Perez was a fast riser before the 2016 draft, but his lack of usable power at the plate has always held him back as a pro. Perez did not reach a full-season league until 2019 and carries a career .317 slugging percentage. He is a solid middle infielder defensively.

LHP Cole Ragans, Rangers (No. 30 pick, 2016)

Injuries have kept Ragans from showing what he can do and will likely prevent any team from even considering taking him in the Rule 5 draft. He has had back-to-back Tommy John surgeries that cost him all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons and would have sidelined him in 2020 even if the MiLB season hadn’t been canceled. He did get back on the mound in instructional league in October.

SS Logan Warmoth, Blue Jays (No. 22 pick, 2017)

A well-timed power surge as a junior at North Carolina helped push Warmoth into the first round. Warmoth hit 10 home runs and slugged .554 in the spring of 2017 after hitting five home runs combined in his first two years as a Tar Heel. That power has not been present in pro ball and his tools as a whole have been fringy at best. Warmoth has six home runs and a .346 slugging percentage in 225 career pro games.

OF Jeren Kendall, Dodgers (No. 23 pick, 2017)

Coming into the 2017 draft, Kendall was seen as one of the toolsiest players available, but there were concerns about whether he’d ever hit enough to take advantage of those tools. That fear has become reality. Kendall has yet to play a game above high Class A. He’s hit .223 for his pro career and has struck out in 32% of his plate appearances. Kendall is an excellent outfielder defensively and he can run, so there are playable tools if he could figure out a swing/approach at the plate.

LHP Brendon Little, Cubs (No. 27 pick, 2017)

Little’s below-average control and good but not great stuff have proven to be not enough to get high Class A hitters out so far. He reached high Class A Myrtle Beach for the first time late in 2019 and scuffled, allowing 21 hits and nine walks in 19.2 innings. With no 2020 season to change teams’ minds, he was a relatively easy choice to leave unprotected.

Here’s a list of every top-three round-pick from the 2016 draft (high school players) and 2017 draft (college players) that was left unprotected.

UNPROTECTED HIGH SCHOOL PICKS
YearRd.PickTeamPlayerPos.
201614RockiesRiley PintRHP
2016114IndiansWill BensonOF
2016123CardinalsDelvin PerezSS
2016130RangersCole RagansLHP
2016242PhilliesKevin GowdyRHP
2016250MarinersJoe Rizzo3B
2016252DiamondbacksAndy YerzyC
2016263RangersAlex SpeasRHP
2016268PiratesTravis MacGregorRHP
20162s73TwinsJose MirandaSS
20162s74TwinsAkil BaddooOF
2016378PhilliesCole StobbeSS
2016379RedsNick HansonRHP
2016384MarlinsThomas JonesOF
2016390RaysAustin FranklinRHP
2016398YankeesNolan MartinezRHP
2016399RangersKole Enright3B

UNPROTECTED COLLEGE PICKS
YearRd.PickTeamPlayerPos.
2017122Blue JaysLogan WarmothSS
2017123DodgersJeren KendallOF
2017127CubsBrendon LittleLHP
20171s33AthleticsKevin MerrellSS
20171s36MarlinsBrian MillerOF
2017244DiamondbacksDrew Ellis3B
2017251MarlinsJoe Dunand3B
2017257TigersRey RiveraOF
2017262DodgersMorgan CooperRHP
20172s73RoyalsEvan SteeleLHP
20172s75AstrosJ.J. Matijevic2B
2017384BrewersK.J. HarrisonC
2017386RockiesWill GaddisRHP
2017388PiratesDylan Busby3B
2017389MarlinsRiley Mahan2B
2017392YankeesTrevor StephanRHP
2017394CardinalsScott HurstOF
2017395TigersJoey MorganC
2017397MetsQuinn BrodeyOF
20173101Red SoxBrett Netzer2B
20173103NationalsNick RaquetLHP
20173104RangersMatt WhatleyC
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Cole Ragans Gets Back To Work At Instructs

The 6-foot-4 lefthander was throwing the ball well at instructional league as he continues his comeback from two Tommy John surgeries.

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