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: Royals starter Brad Keller, for example, 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 West who have been left unprotected ahead of the draft.
Parker Dunshee is a 25 year old starter who, after being drafted out of college in 2017, has quickly risen through the minor leagues, reaching AAA in 2019 and being slated to start 2020 in Las Vegas before COVID-19 ended the minor league season. In his 130 innings between the hitter friendly Texas and Pacific Coast leagues, Dunshee had a 4.36 ERA, a 4.50 FIP, struck out 22.6% of batters faced, walked 8.9% of batters, and had a HR/9 of 1.52. He did this with a rather pedestrian, albeit deep, arsenal. His pitches usually show 50 grade, with some flash of 55. His fastball sat 89-92, and he has the potential to have 60 grade command in the future. He got absolutely wrecked in AAA, but that is to be expected of a flyball pitcher in the PCL. What makes Dunshee a really interesting player to watch is the reports that came out that he was sitting 93 and 94 in the fall instructional league, albeit in shorter stints. Dunshee could work well as a 5th or 6th starter, or a team could move him to the bullpen to try and draw out a little more velocity from him. The lack of any plus stuff might scare off some clubs, but Dunshee has proven he is more than the sum of his parts.
Buddy Reed is one of the best athletes in baseball right now. Reed is a switch hitting center fielder who is both a 70 grade runner and defender, as well as having a 60 grade arm and average power. The one issue has been his ability to make contact and draw walks. Despite being 25, he has only been a league average or better player offensively in his career once, and that was in his 2018 season at high A, where he had a BABIP of .407. That was also the only season in which he had a SLG above .400. It’s not all doom and gloom though. In his first full season at AA he saw his walk rate rise to 9.5% and did have a 93 wRC+. Reed has immense upside and doesn’t need to be average offensively to be an everyday regular as a starter, and his floor as a 4th outfielder/defensive replacement isn’t bad value for a Rule 5 Draft pick
Luis Santana is possibly the most intriguing prospect in the Astros organization. The 5’8” second baseman shows minimal power, but great contact skills. He handled AA pitching well in his cup of coffee stint there in 2019, striking out just 13.6% of the time and drawing a walk in 9.1% of his plate appearances. The lack of power is a severe concern, as he had just 12 XBH in his 252 plate appearances between low A and AA in 2019. His serviceable defense and lack of power currently make it to where he needs to continue to develop his contact skills or start hitting for more power to be a regular starter, but teams might be willing to take a risk on someone who is so young and shows a great feel for contact. Santana could also fill a role as a utility infielder, having spent time at both 2B and 3B in his minor league career
Jose Alberto Rivera is probably the most major league ready prospect on this list, at least as a reliever. His 70 grade fastball has sat 93-97 and touched 99 in the three to four inning stints he threw at low A. This fastball pairs well with a good, but unspectacular breaking ball. In his 75.2 innings at A, he averaged 4.2 innings an appearance and struck out 29.8% while walking 11.3% and having a HR/9 of 0.24. He generated a good amount of ground balls, a rate of 42.9% compared to just a 38.5% FB rate. The possibility of his fastball and control improving in shorter stints is scary, and teams should not hesitate to take the 23 year old in the draft.
Honorable mention to J.J. Matijevic, a 25 year old first baseman who has had issues with strikeouts but shows great power potential.
The one top prospect eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the Mariners is left handed third baseman Joe Rizzo. The 22 year old had a career year at high A in 2019, slashing .295/.354/.423 with 10 home runs, a 7.9 BB%, a 16.5 K% and a 115 wRC+ in 570 plate appearances. Rizzo has the glove and arm to stick at the hot corner, but they’re not enough to overshadow his relative lack of power in his 5’10, 194 pound frame. Teams could try and shift his all fields approach into one that’s more focused on pulling the ball to try and get more power out of him, or he could move into a utility infielder role. He has experience at second base as well as first to go along with his natural position of 3B.
Los Angeles Angels
Orlando Martinez is a young 22 year old who both bats and throws lefty. Unlike most international signings, Martinez is a physical specimen without one carrying tool. Instead he has a well rounded skill set. Martinez has a good but unspectacular offensive profile, slashing .263/.325/.434 with 12 HR, a 8.5 BB%, a 18.7 K%, and a 106 wRC+ in 442 plate appearances at high A. Martinez defense projects similarly to his offense. He does have a 55 grade glove and arm, but the below average speed means he is destined for a corner outfield spot. The lack of a carrying tool keeps Martinez from being truly special, but his well rounded skills give him a high floor and he should be a 4th outfielder at the least.
Kevin Maitan has yet to be an average offensive player outside of 9 games at rookie ball for the Braves. Despite that, I like him. He shows very bad plate discipline, but that is to be expected of someone who is just 20. The 6’2”, 190 pound switch hitter has plus raw power and a plus arm, as well as serviceable fielding and fine foot speed. He has spent most of his time at third base, but also has time at shortstop. His future looks dour right now with his crippling plate approach, but if he can fix that then he can be a good regular at the major league level at third base.
The Texas Rangers do not have any top prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.