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: even here in the AL Central, 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 Central who have been left unprotected ahead of the draft.
Chicago White Sox
RHP Will Kincanon
Of the White Sox’s top 30 prospects, three were left unprotected. While this is a larger number than many teams, SS Lenyn Sosa and OF Luis Mieses are both young international signees who are far from polished enough to play in the Major Leagues currently. However, Kincanon may be a different story. The reliever is currently 25 years old, having been drafted out of college in 2017. In addition, Kincanon has three successful relief seasons under his belt in the White Sox system, most recently posting a 1.86 ERA in 58 innings pitched in 2019. Kincanon is an effective strikeout pitcher, striking out over a batter per inning and posting a 28.9% strikeout rate in 2019 as well. As is the case with many relievers, Kincanon hasn’t fully gotten his walk rate under control, with a walk rate that has hovered around 10% in his three professional seasons. He has also been fairly effective at limiting home runs, however. Ultimately, Kincanon won’t be MLB’s best reliever next season, but for any team that is really looking for relief help he’s as good an option as anyone.
- RHP Luis Oviedo
- OF Will Benson
Both of these players are interesting to leave unprotected, but like the majority of players that are available in the Rule 5 Draft, the Indians are betting on the fact that no team sees either of them as polished enough to roster them in the Major Leagues for a full season. They’re very likely correct about that, especially when it remains to be seen whether teams will be more hesitant to make Rule 5 selections this year with no data to inform them about the performance of any available players in 2020. Still, these are two interesting and fairly solid prospects. Benson, labeled as the team’s 30th overall prospect by MLB.com and 40th overall by FanGraphs, hit for a 172 wRC+ over 259 plate appearances in A-ball in 2019 before a promotion to high A cooled him down. Oviedo is the more interesting option: while MLB.com has him as the team’s 24th best prospect, FanGraphs most recently labeled him as the team’s 11th best prospect, right below Triston McKenzie, who debuted in 2020. Oviedo was Rule 5 eligible in 2019 as well, and no team selected him because, according to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, his velocity was “all over the place” in 2019. Longenhagen still pegged Oviedo as “a valuable member of a pitching staff” in those prospect rankings, be that as a late-rotation starter or a reliever, but without much to go on in 2020 it remains to be seen whether teams will be more willing to pick up Oviedo this time around in the draft.
- SS Wenceel Perez
- RHP Elvin Rodriguez
Among all players that have been left unprotected, Perez seems to be one of the most likely to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Listed by FanGraphs as the Tigers’ eighth best prospect, Perez boasts “speed, defensive profile, and feel for contact” that make him a solid bet to be a Major Leaguer at some point. The Tigers don’t see him as polished enough yet after an underwhelming 81 wRC+ performance in A-ball in 2019, and that’s a decently fair bet. Currently his largest concern is developing the contact he makes into quality contact, and Longenhagen suggests that Perez may become “one of the several quality prospects who get exposed in the Rule 5 every year because the parent club thinks they’re too raw for other teams to bite.” Perez may not quite be Major League ready yet, but that doesn’t mean that no other team will take a flier on his potential. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is equally unpolished, and while he doesn’t project to be an excellent Major Leaguer, he has been fairly successful in five years of professional ball and could at least get some looks after a successful campaign in high-A in 2019.
Kansas City Royals
- OF Seuly Matias
- RHP Yefri Del Rosario
The Royals left three of their top 30 prospects unprotected: Matias, OF Brewer Hicklen, and SP Yefri Del Rosario. Of the three, Matias and Del Rosario may be considered in the draft, but it’s highly unlikely that either is selected. After showing off his impressive raw power with 31 home runs in 376 plate appearances in class A in 2018, Matias regressed hard in 2019, posting an immense 44.3% strikeout rate in high-A that’s impossible to maintain with any kind of positive offensive production. Del Rosario pitched well in A ball in 2019 but is still just 21 years old and allows a great deal of fly balls which is barely sustainable, even in the Minor Leagues. Don’t expect either of these prospects to belong to a new organization after December 10.
- SS Wander Javier
- OF Akil Baddoo
- OF Gabriel Maciel
The story is similar for all three of these players: they’re 40/40+ future value offensive prospects, none of whom have played above high-A. The Twins are banking on the same thing as the Tigers are with Perez: that no team will be bold enough to select any of these prospects and roster him for an entire season. This is equally a fair gamble, as Javier, the best prospect of the three who also plays a premium position, had a poor offensive showing in his most recent season at A ball. Baddoo and Maciel both have solid offensive track records, but Baddoo has struggled to hit for average and Maciel has very little power, both troubling indicators for a player who would try to make the jump from A-ball to the Major Leagues. These are talented players, but the Twins are likely correct that they’re still too raw to be selected in the Rule 5.