The Rule 5 Draft, similar to MLB’s recent non-tender deadline, is an event in baseball of which the majority of baseball fans are unaware. This is likely for good reason: while the Rule 5 Draft has some implications on each team, it generally does not change the shape of MLB rosters in any meaningful way, and it never impacts the established stars of the game who have already progressed to the Major League level. The Rule 5 Draft is an attempt to competitively balance the league, allowing any domestic players who have been in a team’s minor league system for three years and any international players that have been in a teams system for four years without being added to that team’s 40-man roster be selected by any other team in baseball in a draft. The draft has an order, of course, similar to the better known amateur draft which occurs each year in June, but it is not required that a team make any selections in the Rule 5 Draft. Part of the reason for this is that any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft must be kept on a team’s active roster for the entirety of the following season (time spent on the IL is an exception). Any team which makes a selection in the draft pays $50,000 to the team they’re picking the player from and immediately adds the selected player to their 40-man roster. If the player is not kept on the active roster he must be offered back to his original team for $25,000. This is one of the most important consequences of the 40-man roster: it is a team’s opportunity to protect any players who have been in their minor league system for several years without calling them up to the Major Leagues if they aren’t ready yet. In addition, it limits draft selections, because any team that does not have room on their 40-man roster cannot make selections in the Rule 5 draft.
However, all of these rules mean that the available prospects for the draft are few in numbers, and actual selections are fairly rare. Last year, only 11 Rule 5 selections were made, and five of those were returned back to their original team. Still, it’s very common for one team to see value in a player that another team does not, and this makes the Rule 5 Draft interesting. It’s not uncommon for teams to find productive Major Leaguers in the Rule 5 Draft either: in the AL Central, for example, Royals starter Brad Keller was a Rule 5 Draft selection in 2017. With that being said, the deadline for teams to add Rule 5 eligible players to their rosters has already passed, and in advance of the draft, here are some interesting players in the AL East who have been left unprotected ahead of the draft.
Tampa Bay Rays
Moises Gomez is the embodiment of “can’t hit a home run if you don’t swing”. At high A in 2019, he had a K% of 33.5% and a BB% of 9.8%. Despite an OBP of just .297, he had a wRC+ of 106 thanks to his .182 ISO. Gomez is only 22 and has just 1,005 plate appearances above rookie ball, so there is a chance he develops better plate discipline as he ages and gets more experience. He needs better plate discipline to help his bat; he is a fine defender, but his speed and body fit best in a corner outfield spot. ‘The power is what will get him to the majors, so he needs to get better at showing it off in game.”
Honorable mention to Paul Campbell, who has elite fastball and curveball spin, but whose very low strikeout rate makes him unlikely to make the majors, at least as a starter.
New York Yankees
Trevor Stephan mixes a funky delivery with good raw stuff that creates a unique profile, albeit one better suited for a bullpen role instead of as a starter. As a starter his fastball has sat 90-94 while playing up due to a delivery that gets him seven feet of extension. His slider has bat missing action when he throws it in the zone, and he has shown the ability to use it effectively against lefties. His changeup is a below average pitch which limits his potential as a starter, but his fastball and slider are good enough for him to be a strong option out of the bullpen. In his 80 innings between high A and AA in 2019, he had a pretty spectacular 2.73 FIP
Toronto Blue Jays
Chavez Young struggled in his first season in high A, having just a 101 wRC+ in his 448 plate appearances there. Despite his struggles with the bat in the lower levels of the minors, a jump to the majors isn’t out of the question for Young, as he can be a serviceable bench player thanks to his ability to run the bases well and play every outfield position, being a plus defender in the corners. He’s a switch hitter as well, although he would probably be misused as a pinch hitter. The bat has potential, but it needs more development. His slash line at high A was .247/.315/.354 with 6 home runs, a 7.8 BB%, a 22.8% K% and a 101 wRC+.
Honorable mention to Kevin Smith, who has plus power and speed at shortstop, but issues with his swing limit his ability to hit for average and his glove grades out as below average at shortstop. He’s potentially better suited as a power hitting third baseman
Brenan Hanifee has seen velocity dips over the past two years and his strong walk rates in 2017 and 18 regressed to more human levels. His lack of good secondary offerings has resulted in his strikeout rate as a starter being quite poor, but he has maintained a high ground ball rate that has prevented his high amount of balls in play from hurting him. Right now as a starter his fastball sits 89-92 and has touched 93. Part of his allure is his funky delivery which hides his fastball well and allows it to play up. His potential is probably a low to mid leverage, fastball heavy reliever.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox do not have any top prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft.