Feature Photo: Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a multi-part series on this year’s MLB Rule 5 Draft, to be held Thursday, December 13 at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. For basic information on how the MLB Rule 5 Draft works, you can click here
Tuesday, November 20th was the deadline for teams to protect eligible prospects from the MLB Rule 5 Draft. As always, there were a flurry of moves on the 20th–and in the days leading up to it–as each organization performed housecleaning on the fringes of its 40-man roster. In later pieces to come, we’ll take a look at some of the most intriguing prospects available for the Rule 5 Draft, those being players who were not protected yesterday. Before that, though, here’s an inventory of notable minor leaguers who were deemed too valuable by their respective organizations to leave exposed.
TOP OF THE CROP
Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Keller ranks among the top few arms in the minors, so its no surprise to see the Pirates protect their top prospect. Pittsburgh is generally very conservative with pitchers, and while Keller is arguably close to ready, he’ll likely get at least another half-season of upper-minors seasoning. He commands his mid-90’s fastball well, and a nasty low-80’s curveball is an easy plus pitch. The development of a changeup has long been the question mark with Keller, who made real strides with a third pitch in 2018. The ceiling is that of a solid #2/#3 type starter.
Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2018 was Cease’s best season as a pro. He started to throw more strikes and lower his walk total, all without sacrificing the dynamic raw stuff that has made him a prospect since bursting onto the scene out of Milton High School (GA) in 2014. He reached Double-A for the first time, and was a Futures Game selection for Team USA. The White Sox might give Cease all of 2019 to continue his development in the minors, but the ceiling is sky-high, and he’s looking more and more like a future starting pitcher.
Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the top catching prospects in the minors, the Dodgers have not been shy about pushing the young Ruiz through the ranks. He played all of 2018 at Double-A despite not turning 20-years-old until the middle of the season, still incredibly young for the level (especially at catcher). He was sent to the Arizona Fall League and looked a little tired down the stretch, still showing the mix of defensive polish and offensive competency (as a switch-hitter, to boot) that makes him so compelling as a prospect. Los Angeles hopes that Ruiz is their catcher of the future, and adding him to the 40-man roster was a big step in that direction long term.
Monte Harrison, OF, Miami Marlins
Built like a linebacker who is both fast enough to play center field and strong enough to hit for power, Harrison is a physical specimen with tantalizing upside. He has 20/20 potential but will need to make significant adjustments to his swing-path and overall approach to cut down on the strikeouts. The Marlins sent him to the Arizona Fall League to work on shortening his swing, where he tinkered with losing a disruptive leg kick, and he actually saw some immediate results. Harrison is a prototype “risk vs. reward” prospect, a high ceiling paired with a variety of potential outcomes. He’s likely to spend all of 2019 adding polish in the minors.
Franklin Perez, RHP, Detroit Tigers
One of the central prospects that the Astros sent to the Tigers for RHP Justin Verlander in 2017, Perez had a lost first full season in Detroit’s system. He missed the start of 2018 with a lat strain and only pitched a few innings total, and he was shut down in July given a minor inflammation in his throwing shoulder. Before the 2017 trade, Perez was one of the biggest risers in the minors with Houston, rocketing to Double-A as a teenager while showing numerous plus pitches. When healthy, he has shown the tools to develop into a mid-rotation starter.
Cole Tucker, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tucker has steadily climbed through Pittsburgh’s system, earning high praise for his makeup and defensive ability. Rangy and athletic, the switch-hitter still is growing into his man strength and developing at the plate. The Pirates have enough infield depth to allow him at least another full season in the upper minors. The ceiling is a reliable everyday shortstop with an average hit tool and plus glove/throw.
Adonis Medina, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Signed for just $70,000 from the Dominican in 2014, Medina has emerged as one of Philadelphia’s best prospects. He hasn’t pitched above A-ball to date, but he’ll be just 22-years-old for the entirety of 2019 and has enough upside to be worth a 40-Man spot as the Phillies wait for him to be ready. Despite a smaller frame and some effort to the delivery, Medina has posted respectable walk rates and has a usable three-pitch mix, which indicate that he’ll get every chance to remain a starter going forward. His raw stuff is plus, headlined by a mid-90’s fastball and shapely 78-to-81 mph curveball.
Michael Chavis, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Chavis missed the first half of 2018 serving a PED suspension, showing some rust upon returning by hitting under .200 in July. Once he found his groove, the former first-round pick showed the offensive promise that makes him a prospect despite serious concerns about his lack of true defensive position. Over his last 27 games, Chavis slashed a dominant .386/.446/.644 with Double-A Portland. He’ll have to work to stick at third base, but the ceiling is at least an everyday contributor based on the strength of the hit/power combo.
Jesus Sanchez, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Sanchez has the prototypical tools for right field, with plus power potential from the left-hand side and a strong throwing arm. He reached Double-A for the last month of 2018 as a 20-year-old, and likely will return to the level to begin next season. He’s still growing in to his lanky 6-foot-3 inch frame and has length to the swing, but natural ability to barrel the ball still allows him to hit for average.
Taylor Hearn, LHP, Texas Rangers
The Rangers got Hearn back for RHP Keone Kela in a trade-deadline with the Pirates this year. At the time of the deal, Hearn was in the midst of his best season as a pro with the Pirates’ Double-A Altoona affiliate. A premium athlete with an imposing 6-foot-5 inch frame, Hearn generates velocity easily and runs his fastball up to 97 mph early in starts. A slurvy breaking ball flashes sharp bite at times but isn’t consistent, and the same can be said for his changeup. There were real developments in the control and pitchability departments this season for Hearn, who still might have some projection at 24-years-old due to his athleticism and two-sport background.
Nick Gordon, SS, Minnesota Twins
Gordon repeated Double-A to begin 2018, cruising through the level by slashing .333/.381/.585) over a 42-game stint before being promoted to Triple-A Rochester. He hit a wall offensively at the Triple-A level, struggling the rest of the season over his last 400+ PA’s. Presuming he makes an adjustment upon returning to Triple-A next season, Gordon is a fairly safe bet to be a contributor at the big-league level. How much impact he’ll have is more the question, as parts of his offensive game haven’t quite developed as many have hoped. Now that he’s on Minnesota’s 40-man roster, the pathway to the big leagues will gain some clarity if he starts next season strong.
Sorted alphabetically by MLB organization.
Bo Takhashi, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Finesse pitcher who changes speeds and pounds the zone. Able to fill a few roles–potential opener or multi-inning reliever. Advanced pitchability, could move quickly to the big leagues.
Huascar Ynoa, RHP, Atlanta Braves
High-ceiling flamethrower that’s still raw overall. Touches 100 mph and flashes swing-and-miss secondary stuff. Still only 20-years-old, Ynoa likely starts next year back in Advanced A. The arm is good enough to wait on, but he could be another 2-3 years away from ready.
Dillon Tate, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
The fourth-overall pick of the 2015 MLB Draft, Tate is knocking on the door of the big leagues after being traded from the Yankees to the Orioles in July of last season. He’ll get a chance to prove he’s a starter with a rebuilding O’s team, though he might be more impactful in multi-inning relief stints.
Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Power-armed lefty with continued control issues working as a starter. Boston sent him to the Arizona Fall League to work out of the ‘pen, where Hernandez excelled. His fastball works in the 94-to-98 mph range, backed up by a hard slider with flashes of sharp action.
Travis Lakins, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Lakins moved to the bullpen in the middle of this season and was immediately successful upon switching to relief. An undersized starter with good velocity, there always were signs that he profiled best in the ‘pen long term. The ceiling is a 7th-inning reliever, and he’s polished enough to help the Red Sox next year.
Justin Steele, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Steele was in the midst of a breakout 2017 campaign before falling victim to Tommy John surgery. He returned briefly at the end of 2018, heading to the Arizona Fall League to get more innings. A three-pitch lefty who touched the mid-90’s before his injury, the ceiling is a back-end starter.
Sam Hentges, LHP, Cleveland Indians
Hentges is a 6-foot-6 inch lefty with easy low-90’s velocity and flashes of an above-average breaking ball. He turned heads last season in Advanced A, pitching to a pristine 3.27 ERA over a career-high 23 starts. His MLB ETA is 2020 at earliest, but his considerable upside is worth rostering and being patient for.
Bobby Bradley, 1B, Cleveland Indians
Bradley is a classic three-true-outcomes power bat that will come with plenty of strikeouts. A left-handed hitter, he’s much worse against same-side pitching and might take years to combat tough lefties, if he’s ever able to at all. That said, the power potential made him a no-brainer add to Cleveland’s 40-Man Roster.
Josh Fuentes, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Fuentes followed up an MVP season in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with a strong .301/.356/.482 slash line in the Arizona Fall League. There isn’t a clear route to regular AB’s for him in Colorado right now, but he adds valuable depth and some corner versatility.
Justin Lawrence, RHP, Colorado Rockies (11/25 update)
Lawrence is a relief prospect with stuff that could get big leaguers out right now. A high-90s power sinker misses bats and keeps the ball on the ground, backed up by a solid slider. He could be a setup man if he harnesses his control, the attribute that has kept him in A-Ball to date.
Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Houston Astros
The 24-year-old Armenteros would have gotten to the big leagues already with most other teams. Houston’s excellent pitching depth has made him somewhat of a Triple-A luxury the last two seasons. No one pitch dominates or misses bats, but he’s a polished stirkethrower with a track record of performance.
Bryan Abreu, RHP, Houston Astros (11/25 update)
Abreu is an undersized (6’1”/175) righty with quick-twitch athleticism and a fast arm. The heater scrapes 95-to-97 mph at best, backed up by a hard slider and firm secondary pitches with flashes of sharp action. He hasn’t even pitched in Advanced A, but Houston didn’t want to lose a pitcher with Abreu’s stuff.
Josh Staumont, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Staumont’s triple-digit heat and hammer curveball have long made him one of the more dynamic strikeout pitchers in the minors. He also continues to walk an absurd amount of hitters. He moved to the ‘pen in 2018 and pitched better there, likely profiling as a reliever from here on out. Staumont has the stuff to close games if he can ever get the free passes under control.
Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers signed Alvarez to a whopping $16 million bonus after he defected from Cuba, and while his raw stuff has shown flashes of brilliance, control issues have prevented him from getting things on track at Double-A. He missed time with injury last year and bounced between the ‘pen and rotation upon returning. Alvarez will pitch all of next season at 23-years-old, so there’s time to turn a corner.
Jorge Guzman, RHP, Miami Marlins
Guzman is arguably the hardest throwing starter in the minors, routinely holding triple-digit heat late into games. His slider also flashes plus, but while the stuff is dynamic, control and pitchability have been continual issues. Miami has time to let him develop in the rotation, but there’s a fair chance Guzman winds up a high-leverage reliever in the long run.
Isan Diaz, 2B, Miami Marlins (11/25 update)
Diaz struggled a bit in 2018, his first year in the Marlins farm system after being one of the prospects returned from Milwaukee for OF Christian Yelich. Diaz reached Double-A and Triple-A for the first time in his career last year. His upside as an offensive-minded regular at 2B was too high for Miami to risk losing, even if he needs at least another full year in the high-minors before he’s ready to face big league competition.
Jordan Holloway, RHP, Miami Marlins (11/25 update)
Holloway was a surprise add to the 40-Man, an under-the-radar prospect who missed most of 2018 and hasn’t yet reached Double-A. He’s a total risk/reward type, still very raw and numerous years from ready. Holloway’s fastball touches 98 mph, backed up by a sharp low-80s curveball.
Jordan Yamaomto, RHP, Miami Marlins (11/25 update)
The fourth prospect Milwaukee gave up for OF Christian Yelich last winter, Yamamoto’s plus pitchability and pitching IQ tore through the low-minors last year. He’s short on stuff across the board but could be a lesser #5 starter or swingman.
James Kaprielian, RHP, Oakland Athletics (11/25 update)
A first-rounder in 2015, Kaprielian was one of the prospects Oakland returned from the Yankees in the 2017 swap that sent RHP Sonny Gray to the Bronx. Kaprielian hasn’t pitched in an official game since 2016 due to injury but made an appearance during Instructional League. He has shown three above-average pitches in the past, giving upside that Oakland clearly didn’t want to risk losing despite it still being a long road back for Kaprielian.
Arquimedes Gamboa, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (11/25 update)
Gamboa was already Rule 5 eligible despite just having turned 21-years-old and not yet reaching Double-A. He’s a defensive wizard with enough chance to hit to have a regular’s ceiling at SS. Issues with his offensive consistency and on-field effort add some risk.
Jason Martin, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (11/25 update)
Martin tore through Double-A in 2018, finishing the season with Triple-A Indianapolis. He’s a hit-first outfielder who has a chance to play everyday if he can remain in CF. Martin’s well-rounded game and polished instincts make the floor no less than a solid 4th outfielder.
Anderson Espinoza, RHP, San Diego Padres
Espinoza hasn’t pitched in an official game since 2016 due to injury, but before missing time, he was establishing himself as one of the most dynamic pitching prospects in the lower minors. San Diego couldn’t risk losing the talent, even if it means holding a roster spot for two-plus years.
Chris Paddack, RHP, San Diego Padres (11/26 update)
Paddack came back strong from injury after having missed all of 2017, establishing himself as one of the better pitching prospects in baseball last season. He reached Double-A and posted excellent numbers between two levels. 19-years-old when he signed, he’s the rare Rule 5 eligible high school pick from 2015. A reliable three-pitch mix–headlined by an above-average changeup and plus control–give a mid-rotation ceiling.
Logan Webb, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Webb forced his way on to the Giants 40-man roster with a breakout 2018. The team’s fourth-round pick in 2014, he dominated in the California League before an enthusing six-start cameo at Double-A Richmond to end the year. He’s likely a 2020 ETA prospect, but Webb has quietly pitched his way into the Top 125 prospect mix. A muscular righty with a heavy mid-90s fastball, Webb’s power slider is a potential bat-missing pitch, and his changeup made improvements as last season progressed.
Melvin Adon, RHP, San Francisco Giants (11/25 update)
After working as a starter as recently as the 2018 regular season, San Francisco moved Adon to the ‘pen in Fall League before his first offseason of Rule 5 eligibility. Adon profiles better in relief long-term, with a triple-digits fastball and power slider that can be a wipeout pitch at times. The raw stuff to pitch highest-leverage situations is here, the question is if the control and consistency are there as well.
Hector Perez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Perez was one of the prospects Houston gave up for RHP Roberto Osuna in mid-2018. His mid-90’s fastball and dominant slider give upside in the rotation, though Perez’ control and third pitch are both works in progress. The fastball and slider could play in high-leverage situations quickly if Toronto wants to fast-track him.
Trent Thornton, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (11/25 update)
Houston didn’t have room to protect Thornton on their 40-Man, so they shipped him to Toronto for SS Aledmys Diaz. Toronto was willing to roster Thornton, selecting him in advance of Tueday’s Rule 5 deadline. He turned heads in Fall League working in relief, where his fastball ran up to the mid-90s and a trademark power curveball looked even better. He’s a versatile arm who could fill a variety of roles on a staff in the short-term.
James Bourque, RHP, Washington Nationals (11/25 update)
Bourque turned himself into a prospect this year, his first as a professional working out of the ‘pen. His fastball touches 96 mph in short stints, firm enough for a changeup to now miss bats. There’s deception in Bourque’s delivery and he pitches with intensity. The profile is a middle reliever.