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 NL West who have been left unprotected ahead of the draft.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Brett de Geus was drafted as a starter, but the Dodgers moved him to the bullpen after leaving rookie ball and he has been off to the races since. In his 61.2 innings between A and high A, he has put up a 1.76 ERA, a 1.31 FIP, a 29.3 K%, a 5.1 BB%, and has not allowed a home run. His fastball sits 92-96 and has touched 98. He compliments his fastball with a slider that flashes 50 grade and a curveball that flashes 55 grade. What makes the 22 year old even more intriguing is his groundball rate. Since his move to the bullpen, de Geus’s groundball rate has been a stellar 51.9%. de Geus has the potential to be a high leverage reliever and could be major league ready as soon as the start of 2021.
Omar Estévez is only 22, but he’s already proven he can handle the more advanced level of pitching at AA. In the 336 plate appearances he put in before getting a shoulder injury, he slashed .291/.352/.431 with 6 HR, a 9.2 BB%, a 20.8 K% and a 119 wRC+. Unfortunately his other tools lag behind his bat. He’s got experience at shortstop but his glove and arm are more likely to stick at second base for the long term. His footspeed is also 30 grade, scary for a 22 year old who isn’t a hulking mass of muscle. He projects as a bat first second baseman who might have to move to DH as he continues to age and he continues to lose footspeed.
Honorable mention to Cody Thomas, a 26 year old right fielder who grades out as plus with his glove, arm and feet, and has immense power that is hidden by high strikeouts. He was a two sport athlete in college so he didn’t commit fully to baseball until 2016
San Diego Padres
Pedro Avila is a young, 23 year old starter who has just 17.1 innings above High A: 12 at AA, 5.1 at the MLB level. Tommy John surgery in 2019 ended any chance of him getting more experience in the higher levels of the minors, but he should be ready for spring training 2021. With Avila, you get a well rounded profile with a fastball that sits 91-95, a curveball and change up that are plus (With the change up flashing 60 grade occasionally) and 45 grade command. A move to the bullpen could make him MLB ready by the start of the 2021 regular season, but it would be a waste to keep him there full time. He has 4/5th starter potential.
Eguy Rosario (Pronounced Eggy) is another young player, just 21. What stands out most about him is that he has the glove and arm to play every infield position competently. He has experience at every infield position, although the majority of his time is at second base. His glove and arm outpace his bat currently. In his 512 plate appearances at High A in 2019, he slashed .278/.331/.412 with seven home runs, a 7.2 BB%, a 20.1 BB%, and a 103 wRC+.His versatility can make him a valuable asset for teams, and if he gets more time to develop he could become a good everyday second baseman or one of the better utility men in baseball
San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants do not have any top prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft
Riley Pint pitches like he’s been blinded in both eyes. In his 17.2 innings at single A, he had a BB% of 31.6% and 18 wild pitches. He did this while coming out of the bullpen, so a move to relief won’t help with control. Despite this, Pint still is intriguing due to his 70 grade fastball that sits 97-99 and tops out at 102 and a 70 grade power curveball. Pint is still 23, so there is potential for improvement in his control. If not, it’s questionable if he’ll even see triple A, let alone the majors. He epitomizes the dichotomy between excellent stuff and dour control, and that’s crippling.
The Arizona Diamondbacks do not have any top prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft