Was The 2020 Rule 5 MLB Draft The Best Of The 21st Century?
In some form or fashion, the Rule 5 draft has been around for more than a century. It’s been around for long enough that it once was just called the baseball draft, because the now half-century-old MLB first-year player draft didn’t exist yet.
With so many different rules on who was available to be selected, it’s impossible to make any sweeping statements about the busiest or best Rule 5 draft overall. But is it reasonable to ask if the 2020 Rule 5 Draft was the best of the 21st century?
That group makes a strong case. So far, 11 of the 18 players selected in last December’s Rule 5 draft have stuck with their MLB teams. Nine of them have fulfilled the Rule 5 roster requirements—they were carried on an MLB roster without being optioned for a full season with at least half of that season on the active roster. Another two (Jose Soriano and Dedniel Nunez) spent the entire season on the injured list and still need to spend half a season on the active roster.
Only 34% of Rule 5 draft picks this century have fulfilled the Rule 5 roster requirements with their new teams. In the 2020 class, 50% of the picks have already done so, with a chance to see that number grow to 61% in the future. The 2001 (50%) and 2014 (71%) drafts are the only other Rule 5 classes this century to see half of the players or more stick with their new club.
The nine players who have fulfilled the roster requirements also makes this the third-largest class of players who stuck this century, topped only by 2014 (10) and 2002 (11). If Soriano and Nunez both do go on to meet the requirements, it will equal 2002’s mark.
But it’s not just the number of players who stuck around. This class has also been impactful.
This year righthander Garrett Whitlock (8-4, 1.96, 2.9 bWAR) went from being a Rule 5 pick to arguably the most valuable pitcher in the Red Sox bullpen. Akil Baddoo (.259/.330/.436, 2.1 bWAR) immediately became a key part of the Tigers outfield. Tyler Wells (.9 bWAR), Jordan Sheffield (.6 bWAR), Trevor Stephan (.5 bWAR) and Zach Pop (.1 bWAR) all were productive relievers for their new clubs as well.
If you include the MiLB phase of the Rule 5 draft, this year’s class looks even better. The D-backs selected LHP Tyler Gilbert, who went on to earn 1.1 bWAR by going 2-2, 3.15 in 40 innings of work.
That’s six players who posted a positive WAR. That’s one off of the 21st century record of seven set in 2002. The only other year with six players with positive WAR was 2006. This year’s class also matched 2006 as the only 21st century Rule 5 draft to have two players who produced 2.0 bWAR or better in their initial season with their new team.
For cumulative WAR in their initial Rule 5 season, this current class posted a cumulative 3.0 bWAR (among players who weren’t offered back). That ranks sixth best this century.
The 2006 Rule 5 Draft still holds the crown as the best Rule 5 draft of this century, and it will be hard for the further efforts of the 2020 class to eclipse it. Eight players stuck with their new team that year. Joakim Soria, Josh Hamilton, Jesus Flores, Jared Burton, Kevin Cameron and Josh Phelps all had productive seasons in the majors. On top of that Soria, Hamilton and Burton went on to have significant additional success.
Even if Baddoo and Whitlock excel going forward, it will be hard to top the efforts of Soria (14 MLB seasons, two all-star appearances and 221 saves in a career that is still going) or Hamilton (five all-star appearances and the 2010 American League MVP award).
But this year’s class does have a chance to be the second best of the century, and it is clearly better than all but two other classes.
The 2002 Rule 5 Draft was the year of the relief pitcher. Eleven different players fulfilled the Rule 5 roster requirements with Aquilino Lopez, Javier Lopez, Luis Ayala, Michael Neu, Chris Spurling, Matt Ford and D.J. Carrasco all providing positive WAR for their new teams. Carrasco, Aquilino Lopez and Javier Lopez all went on to have successful careers as well.
The eligibility rules for the Rule 5 draft changed in 2006, with all players having to wait an extra year until they were eligible for the Rule 5 draft. It appears that MLB teams needed a year to adjust to that rules tweak—the 2006 draft should have been thinner, but instead it was the best Rule 5 class of the 21st century. That bright spot soon faded away, as the 2009-2013 drafts were relatively barren.
The 2020 Rule 5 class also came after an unusual year. Minor league players didn’t play in official games in 2020, which meant that protection decisions were based on less information than normal. Change seems to lead to significant Rule 5 classes, although there is no way to prove whether that is coincidental or not.
|Pick||New Team||Old Team||Player||2021 bWAR|
|1||Pirates||Angels||#Jose Soriano, RHP|
|2||Rangers||Dodgers||Brett de Geus, RHP||-1.7|
|3||Tigers||Twins||Akil Baddoo, OF||2.1|
|4||Red Sox||Yankees||Garrett Whitlock, RHP||2.9|
|5||Orioles||Reds||*Mac Sceroler, RHP|
|6||Marlins||Orioles||Zach Pop, RHP||.1|
|7||Rockies||Dodgers||Jordan Sheffield, RHP||.6|
|8||Angels||Astros||*Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP|
|9||Pirates||Indians||Luis Oviedo, RHP||-0.9|
|10||Mariners||Tigers||*Will Vest, RHP|
|11||Reds||Yankees||*Kyle Holder, SS|
|12||Giants||Mets||#Dedniel Nunez, RHP|
|13||Marlins||Rays||Paul Campbell, RHP||-1.0|
|14||Cubs||Orioles||*Gray Fenter, RHP|
|15||Indians||Yankees||Trevor Stephan, RHP||0.5|
|16||Athletics||Indians||*Ka'ai Tom, OF|
|17||Orioles||Twins||Tyler Wells, RHP||0.9|
|18||Athletics||Blue Jays||*Dany Jimenez, RHP|
* Offered back to original team
# On injured list, Rule 5 roster restrictions still apply
The minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft was also more useful than normal. Of the 56 players selected, only two did not play for their new organizations in 2021.
Players picked in the MiLB phase do not have any roster restrictions, but normally a number of them are released during spring training in the roster crunch that usually happens when teams break camp.
That didn’t happen this year. Partly that may be because teams did a good job of scouting MiLB Rule 5 picks, but it also likely had to do with the shortage of healthy players many organizations faced in May and June. In addition to a strong crop of MiLB Rule 5 picks, MLB teams were signing record numbers of independent and partner league players as well.
The MiLB Rule 5 picks were not just roster filler. Five different MiLB Rule 5 picks made it to the majors this year, led by Gilbert. Shea Spitzbarth, Kaleb Ort, Seth Martinez and Yohel Pozo also reached the big leagues. Others like Brendon Davis, Reggie McClain and Drew Jackson had solid seasons at Triple-A.
Normally, if one or two players from an MiLB Rule 5 class make it to the majors the next year, that’s an excellent return. MLB veteran Corban Joseph was the only 2018 MiLB rule 5 pick to play in the majors the next season. No one from the 2019 MiLB Rule 5 Draft has played in the majors.
- Pittsburgh Pirates Shea Spitzbarth RHP (Dodgers) MLB
- Texas Rangers Matt Wivinis RHP (Yankees) Has Not Played
- Detroit Tigers Yunior Perez RHP (Cubs) Released
- Boston Red Sox Tyreque Reed 1B (Rangers) AA
- Baltimore Orioles Rickey Ramirez RHP (Twins) LoA
- Arizona Diamondbacks Tyler Gilbert LHP (Dodgers) MLB
- Angels Brendon Davis SS (Rangers) AAA
- Mets Drew Ferguson CF (Astros) AAA
- Mariners Amador Arias 2B (Rays) AAA
- San Francisco Giants Vince Fernandez OF (Rockies) AA
- Houston Astros Joe Record RHP (Twins) AA
- Miami Marlins Jake Fishman LHP (Blue Jays) AAA
- Cincinnati Reds Errol Robinson SS (Dodgers) AAA
- St. Louis Cardinals Garrett Williams LHP (Angels) AAA
- Toronto Blue Jays Sebastian Espino SS (Mets) HiA
- New York Yankees Matt Krook LHP (Rays) AAA
- Chicago Cubs Nick Padilla RHP (Rays) HiA
- Chicago White Sox Martin Carrasco RHP (Padres) LoA
- Cleveland Indians Chris Roller CF (Dodgers) AA
- Atlanta Braves A.J. Puckett RHP (White Sox) AA
- Oakland Athletics Zach Jackson RHP (Blue Jays) AAA
- Minnesota Twins Jhonleider Salinas RHP (Rays) AA
- San Diego Padres Yorman Rodriguez C (Blue Jays) AAA
- Tampa Bay Rays Jordan Brink RHP (Cardinals) AA
- Los Angeles Dodgers Ryan January C (Diamondbacks) HiA
- Pirates Claudio Finol SS (Reds) AA
- Rangers Yohel Pozo C (Padres) MLB
- Red Sox Kaleb Ort RHP (Yankees) MLB
- Orioles Chris Hudgins C (Royals) AAA
- Angels Gustavo Campero C (Yankees) LoA
- Mets Justin Dillon RHP (Blue Jays) AAA
- Giants Ronnie Williams RHP (Cardinals) AAA
- Astros Seth Martinez RHP (Athletics) MLB
- Marlins Dylan Bice RHP (Rangers) AA
- Reds Wilfred Astudillo C (Mets) LoA
- Yankees Reggie McClain RHP (Phillies) AAA
- Cubs Samuel Reyes RHP (Pirates) AA
- Braves Jalen Miller 2B (Giants) AA
- Athletics Brett Graves RHP (Marlins) AA
- Twins Josh Mitchell LHP (Royals) AA
- Padres Ben Ruta LF (Yankees) AAA
- Rays Ezequiel Zabaleta RHP (Mets) AAA
- Dodgers Roimer Bolivar RHP (Rays) R
- Pirates Jeffrey Passantino RHP (Cubs) AA
- Rangers Justin Marsden RHP (Rays) HiA
- Orioles Ignacio Feliz RHP (Padres) HiA
- Mets Drew Jackson 2B (Dodgers) AAA
- Giants Mitchell Tolman 2B (Mets) AAA
- Marlins Marcus Chiu 2B (Dodgers) LoA
- Reds Chuckie Robinson C (Astros) AA
- Braves Jacob Pearson OF (Twins) AA
- Reds Brandon Leyton SS (D-backs) LoA