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 NL East who have been left unprotected ahead of the draft.
The Braves protected their number 6 prospect in Kyle Muller, leaving Thomas Burrows as their only top-30 that is Rule 5 eligible. The number 25 prospect in the Braves system has put together a few very solid seasons in the minors. Burrows is a left-handed reliever, which always has value in the big leagues. He accumulated eighteen saves across A+, AA, and AAA over the course of 2018 and 2019. It was Burrows’ 40 innings in AA where he really shined. In 19 innings in 2018 he had a 1.42 ERA and 1.79 FIP while posting a 3.86 ERA and 3.11 FIP in 21 innings in 2019. This is a situation where the lack of a minor league season could hurt Burrows, as he got consistent innings, including high leverage opportunities, in 2019. Still, he has a scouting grade of 60 on his slider and 55 on his fastball, which sets up for him to be a strikeout threat in the majors. Burrows has averaged more than a strikeout an inning at all levels. He has been shaky with control, but if he figures that out he can have a strong career in the majors. Burrows is close to MLB ready and has a lot of value as a left-handed reliever.
The Miami Marlins do not have any top prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
New York Mets
The New York Mets didn’t protect any of their Rule 5 eligible players, leaving a total of six top-30 prospects available. The two most interesting of these are number 14 prospect Shervyen Newton and number 18 prospect Dedniel Nunez. Newton is interesting because he can contribute with his power and also a bit with his legs. This was shown through his .877 and .857 OPS in 2017 and 2018, respectively, while playing in rookie ball. The Dominican product is also just 21, although he was not drafted in last year’s Rule 5 draft. He is expected to start the season in AAA despite not playing above A, and if he can find some contact he can be an everyday middle infielder for a team.
Nunez is another Mets player that was about to make the jump into a higher minor league division. The ERAs in A and A+ may not indicate this, but he had a 2.37 FIP in A and 3.12 FIP in A+. This is due to his high strikeout rates, which is courtesy of two pitches. Nunez has a high spin rate fastball that has topped out at 96, as well as a low 80s curveball that is above average. He also doesn’t walk too many batters, including walking only three batters across 22.1 innings in A in 2019.
The Philadelphia Phillies are just one of two teams that have left one of their top-10 prospects available. Enyel De Los Santos is the Phillies number 9 prospect, and his 2018 AAA stats point to why. He posted a 2.63 ERA across 22 starts for the Phillies. Despite having an above-average fastball that sits at 97-98 MPH and low 80s slider, he has struggled with striking out batters. Yet he still found mild success in the minor leagues, including a respectable 4.40 ERA in his second season in AAA for the Phillies. De Los Santos also comes with the upside that he has already pitched in the majors, being Rule 5 eligible on a loophole since he was DFA’d. Despite his struggles at the big league level, this can be helpful for teams looking for an immediate fill-in at starter or long reliever. The upside is there, it will just be a matter of De Los Santos finding his command.
The Washington Nationals most interesting prospect being left available is twenty-year-old catcher Israel Pineda. Prior to getting injured late in the 2018 season, Pineda posted a .273 average and 118 WRC+. His contact rates went down after he recovered from his injury, but he started to use the field a bit more. Perhaps Pineda’s biggest asset, and why teams may be interested in, is his arm behind the plate. Playing a valuable position of catcher, he has a scouting grade of 60 for his arm. This has led him to have a caught stealing percentage of 43% in his three years in the minors (for reference: J.T Realmuto has a career caught stealing percentage of 36%).