Thursday morning, the 2017 Winter Meetings unofficially came to a close with the annual Rule 5 Draft.
What is the Rule 5 Draft, exactly? It’s a mechanism that prevents teams from stashing talent in the minors indefinitely. Players must be added to the 40-man roster after so many years in the minors, and if not, they are Rule 5 Draft eligible. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must stick on their new team’s 25-man active big league roster all next season, or be placed on waivers and offered back to their former team.
Every so often a team finds a diamond in the rough in the Rule 5 Draft — Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera is the most notable recent Rule 5 Draft success story — though for the most part they’re looking to add relievers or bench players, or maybe a platoon bat. Someone like that. Sometimes it works out, most of the time is doesn’t. Here is a recap of Thursday morning’s Rule 5 Draft activity.
1. Detroit Tigers: OF Victor Reyes (from Diamondbacks)
Ranked the 23rd best prospect in the D-Backs farm system by Baseball America going into 2017, the 23-year-old switch-hitting Victor Reyes put up a .292/.332/.399 batting line with four home runs and 18 steals in 126 Double-A games this season. His strong showing in the Arizona Fall League (.316/.514/.405 in 20 games) may have convinced the Tigers to grab him with the top Rule 5 Draft selection. Reyes is a good athlete who will get a chance to compete for an outfield job in Spring Training.
2. San Francisco Giants: RHP Julian Fernandez (from Rockies)
Hard-throwers are a Rule 5 Draft staple and Julian Fernandez certainly qualifies. He is one of the hardest throwers in all of baseball, majors or minors.
Fernandez, 22, has never ranked among the Rockies‘ top 30 prospects according to Baseball America, and he has never pitched above Low Class-A ball. This season he had a 3.26 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 58 innings, all out of the bullpen. The Giants will give him a look in Spring Training because that kind of velocity is hard to find, but the lack of a reliable breaking ball and control are obstacles.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (via trade with Phillies): RHP Nick Burdi (from Twins)
In a prearranged deal, the Phillies used the No. 3 pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Nick Burdi, then immediately traded him to the Pirates. The return? A bunch of international bonus money.
The 24-year-old Burdi was the 46th overall selection in the 2014 amateur draft and he is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He had the procedure in May, meaning he is unlikely to pitch for Pittsburgh prior to midseason. Burdi, who allowed one run in 17 Double-A innings with a 20/4 K/BB before getting hurt this year, must spend 90 days on the active roster (so not the DL) next season to satisfy the Rule 5 Draft rules. If he doesn’t, the Rule 5 Draft rules carry over to 2019. When healthy, Burdi is a top relief prospect.
4. Texas Rangers (via trade with White Sox): OF Carlos Tocci (from Phillies)
In another prearranged deal, the White Sox selected Carlos Tocci and immediately traded him to the Rangers for an undisclosed sum of cash. There is a $100,000 fee for selecting a player in the Rule 5 Draft, so the ChiSox received something north of that in the deal.
Tocci, 22, is a slash-and-dash hitter who authored a .294/.346/.381 batting line with three homers and five steals in 130 games at Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. His best tools are on defense, where he’s a strong center field defender thanks to good range and routes. Tocci will battle for a reserve outfield job with Texas.
5. Kansas City Royals (via trade with Reds): RHP Brad Keller (from Diamondbacks)
6. Kansas City Royals (via trade with Mets): RHP Burch Smith (from Rays)
The Royals landed back-to-back Rule 5 Draft picks thanks to trades with the Reds and Mets. They acquired Brad Keller from the Cincinnati and Burch Smith from New York for cash or a player to be named later. (Likely cash.)
Keller, 22, threw 130 2/3 innings with a 4.68 ERA and 111/57 K/BB in Double-A this season, though he has three good pitches and figures to stick around with the Royals for a bit as a fifth starter or swingman. The same is true of Smith, a 27-year-old who spent some big-league time with the Padres in 2013. He was part of the Wil Myers trade a few years back. Smith missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Tommy John surgery, but he returned this summer throwing mid-to-high-90s with quality secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. He had a 2.40 ERA with 56 strikeouts and 24 walks in 56 1/3 minor-league innings in 2017 and has a chance to be a real nice find for the Royals.
7. San Diego Padres: Pass
Teams are not required to make a Rule 5 Draft pick. They can pass if they don’t have any open 40-man roster spots or if no available players catch their eye. Teams that do pass can not make any selections in the subsequent rounds of the Rule 5 Draft, however. It is somewhat surprising the Padres passed this year because they’ve been very aggressive in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years, including taking three players (Luis Torrens, Miguel Diaz, Allen Cordoba) last offseason.
8. Atlanta Braves: RHP Anyelo Gomez (from Yankees)
The 24-year-old Anyelo Gomez broke out this past season, throwing 70 1/3 relief innings at four levels, and posting a 1.92 ERA with 87 strikeouts and 21 walks. He’s a hard-thrower with an upper-90s fastball and a quality changeup. Gomez will get a long look in Spring Training and has a decent chance to win a spot in the Braves bullpen.
9. Oakland Athletics: Pass
10. Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Jordan Milbrath (from Indians)
Jordan Milbrath is an older prospect at 26, and he split the 2017 season High-A and Double-A, throwing 56 2/3 innings with a 3.02 ERA and a 63/25 K/BB. He, like most Rule 5 Draft picks, is a hard-thrower, reportedly running his fastball up to 97-98 mph out of the bullpen. That Pirates have been taking Rule 5 Draft fliers on relievers for years now, and Milbrath will be the latest to get a chance to stick next year.
11. Baltimore Orioles: LHP Nestor Cortes (from Yankees)
The 23-year-old Nestor Cortes is a stats over stuff guy. His minor-league numbers are excellent — he has a 2.08 ERA and a 344/76 K/BB in 324 1/3 career minor-league innings, including a 1.33 ERA in 54 Triple-A innings — and he does it with guts and guile. Cortes lives in the upper-80s with his fastball and an array of secondary pitches. He’s been compared to former Orioles lefty Vidal Nuno, who is also a product of the Yankees farm system.
12. Toronto Blue Jays: Pass
13. Miami Marlins: RHP Elieser Hernandez (from Astros)
The Marlins are committed to a fielding a non-competitive bare-bones roster in 2018, so it’s no surprise they looked for cheap talent in the Rule 5 draft. Elieser Hernandez, 22, threw 73 1/3 innings with a 3.68 ERA and an 88/22 K/BB in 2017, mostly at High Class-A. Miami is the land of opportunity right now. Hernandez will get a long look in Spring Training and stands a very good chance of making the Opening Day roster.
14. Seattle Mariners: 1B Mike Ford (from Yankees)
First baseman are not usually a Rule 5 Draft target — clubs tend to look for pitchers and up-the-middle athletes in the Rule 5 Draft — but the Mariners decided Mike Ford’s bat was worth a look. The 25-year-old hammered Double-A and Triple-A pitching in 2017, putting up a .270/.404/.471 batting line with 20 home runs and more walks (94) than strikeouts (72). Ford has some thump in his bat, though he relegated to first base defensively.
15. Texas Rangers: Pass
16. Tampa Bay Rays: Pass
17. Los Angeles Angels: RHP Luke Bard (from Twins)
The 27-year-old Luke Bard is the younger brother of former big leaguer Daniel Bard. He threw 65 1/3 relief innings in 2017, mostly at Double-A but also some Triple-A, and had a 2.76 ERA with a 99/24 K/BB. Bard was the 42nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, and while his progress has been slowed by injuries, he still possesses a hard fastball and a good slider, making him worth a shot out of the bullpen.
18. Kansas City Royals: Pass
19. St. Louis Cardinals: Pass
20. Minnesota Twins: RHP Tyler Kinley (from Marlins)
The Marlins decided the 26-year-old Tyler Kinley was not worth a 40-man roster spot, so now he’ll go to Spring Training with the Twins as a Rule 5 Draft pick. He used his 98-100 mph fastball to post a 3.54 ERA with a 72/22 K/BB in 53 1/3 innings split between High-A and Double-A in 2017. There’s not much here beyond the velocity, so the Twins are betting on Kinley’s arm strength.
21. Milwaukee Brewers: Pass
22. Colorado Rockies: Pass
23. New York Yankees: Pass
24. Chicago Cubs: Pass
25. Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Albert Suarez (from Giants)
Albert Suarez has spent parts of the last two seasons with the Giants, throwing 115 2/3 innings with a 4.51 ERA in the big leagues. He has a mid-90s fastball and also both a slider and curveball, so the D-Backs will see whether the 28-year-old can contribute next season, likely out of the bullpen as a long reliever.
26. Boston Red Sox: Pass
27. Washington Nationals: Pass
28. Houston Astros: LHP Anthony Gose (from Rangers)
The Rangers signed Anthony Gose to a minor-league contract a few weeks ago, and the Astros decided he is worth bringing to camp as a Rule 5 Draft pick, so they selected him. They love his arm:
Gose, you may recall, was once an outfielder with the Blue Jays and Tigers. The 27-year-old converted to pitching last year and threw 10 2/3 innings in rookie ball, allowing nine runs on seven hits and six walks. He struck out 14. Needless to say, jumping from rookie ball to the big leagues one year after converting to the mound will be quite the challenge for Gose. It’s not a risky move for the Astros by any means — all it costs them is the $100,000 fee and a 40-man spot for a few weeks — but it is a long shot.
29. Cleveland Indians: Pass
30. Los Angeles Dodgers: Pass
31. Baltimore Orioles: RHP Pedro Araujo (from Cubs)
The Rule 5 Draft keeps going until teams stop making picks, and in the second round, the O’s grabbed the 24-year-old Pedro Araujo from the Cubs. He had 1.76 ERA and an 87/18 K/BB in 66 2/3 innings this year. Araujo pitched exclusively in relief and all but two of those 66 2/3 innings came at High-A. He’ll try to earn a spot in Baltimore’s bullpen.
32. Miami Marlins: RHP Brett Graves (from Athletics)
A third round pick in 2014, Brett Graves had a 4.47 ERA with a 57/13 K/BB in 56 1/3 minor-league innings this past season, almost all as a starter. He projects long-term as a reliever thanks to a mid-90s fastball and a good, albeit inconsistent, slider. Graves stands a good chance to carve out a role in Miami’s bullpen next year.
33. Baltimore Orioles: RHP Jose Mesa Jr. (from Yankees)
The son of the former big-league closer was the third player taken by the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft and the fourth lost by the Yankees. Jose Mesa Jr., 24, threw 84 innings with a 1.93 ERA and a 101/32 K/BB this past season, his best year to date. He has a low-90s fastball and multiple secondary pitches, none of which are an out-pitch at the moment. As with Cortes and Araujo, the Orioles went with stats over stuff with their three Rule 5 Draft picks.