Feature Photo: Sam Wolff, RHP, Giants
Editor’s Note: This is the third edition of a multi-part series on this year’s Major League Baseball Rule 5 Draft, to be held Thursday, December 13 at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. For basic information on how the Rule 5 Draft works, you can click here. Previous installments of our Rule 5 Draft series are below:
TOP OF THE CROP
Wolff transitioned to relief in 2017 and had great success, reaching Triple-A in the Rangers’ system before going down with injury late in the year. The Giants swapped LHP Matt Moore for Wolff and another prospect in December of 2017. Wolff missed the first few months of this season recovering from surgery, showing a power two-pitch mix upon returning. His fastball touches the 97-98 mph range when he’s fresh, backed up by a hard mid-80s slider. Wolff went to Fall League to build innings and his stuff was down a tick, but a team who saw him during the regular season could have Rule 5 interest in a ‘pen role.
Riley Ferrell, RHP, Houston Astros
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 5m
Ferrell was thought of as a quick-to-the-bigs piece coming out of TCU in 2015, though it hasn’t panned out that way. He was slowed by injuries in years past and struggled with control in 2018. His high-90s fastball and sharp slider give the foundation of a leverage reliever, and he will likely be the first reliever off the board this year in Rule 5.
Martinez pitched at three different levels last year, finishing 2018 in Triple-A. He had a few rocky outings to begin his career at the highest level of the minors–giving him an ugly statline for his time with Columbus–but settled and found a groove as he acclimated to the level. Catch Martinez on the right night, and his ceiling is arguably as high (or higher) than any arm on this list. He’s the rare power ‘pen arm that uses three pitches, teasing some ability to actually land both secondaries for strikes. Martinez is basically big league ready, adding to the likelihood he draws Rule 5 interest this December.
Art Warren, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 230 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 0m
Warren impressed in Mariners big league camp before heading to Double-A to begin last season. He battled injury in 2018, only able to appear in 15 games because of two different trips to the DL. Warren dominated last year when healthy and has enjoyed lots of success since moving to a ‘pen role in 2017. His fastball works in the mid-90s, paired with a hard slider that’s a Major League caliber off-speed pitch.
Jake Reed, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 6m
Reed has battled right shoulder injuries the last two seasons, hitting the DL with shoulder-related issues in both 2017 and 2018. Health aside, his overall polish and statistical track record at Triple-A should be attractive to teams who prefer a high-floor Rule 5 pick that can step in and contribute reliably. He backs up a mid-90s sinker with two playable off-speed pitches, though either his slider or change will have to play more consistently average in order to carve out a full-time ‘pen role in the big leagues. Reed’s ceiling isn’t as high as some other arms on this list, but the proximity and immediate value could make him a pick.
Guilbeau’s stuff ticked way up in the Fall League, and despite the fact that’s he’ll turn 26 next season and hasn’t pitched above A-Ball, that performance has created some buzz around him entering Rule 5 season. His fastball reached 96 mph this fall, coupled with a hard slider and changeup that flashed effective dive away from righties. Guilbeau’s left-handed velocity could lead to him being selected this December, and the fact that he held same-side hitters to a .184/.298/.184 line during the regular season bodes well for his ability to pitch this season in a situational role.
Matuella was seen as a potential 1/1 candidate in the 2015 Draft entering his junior year at Duke. Health issues and an up-and-down spring dropped him to the third round, and he has battled the same type of inconsistency as a pro. Matuella moved to the ‘pen halfway through last season, and his loud raw stuff could immediately impact there. His fastball touches triple-digits in short-stints and he’s able to focus on just the heater and hard slider. Matuella’s draft pedigree and glimpses of plus pitches could put him on someone’s Rule 5 radar despite the ugly 2018 statline and lack of high-minors experience.
Dopico pitched most of the year in Advanced A, only reaching Double-A for one appearance before heading to Fall League. He has posted gaudy strikeout totals despite a fastball that sits in the 92-to-93 mph range thanks to quality movement and two solid off-speed pitches. Dopico is a high-floor reliever who could hold his own in a middle relief role even without much high-minors experience. His walk numbers might scare clubs off, however.
Baez’ raw arm-strength has put him on the Nationals’ prospect radar the last few years, though he hasn’t developed the control to turn the corner as a prospect in the rotation. His stuff was down a bit early in the season, but teams that got reports from August and September saw Baez up to 97 mph with flashes of a sharp slider. He has never pitched in relief before, nor has he reached Double-A. Even so, Baez’ stuff is good enough that a team might take a chance on his long-term upside in the Rule 5.
Sorted alphabetically by MLB organization
Josh Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 5m
Graham logged more time in the high-minors last year than he had in any year previous as a pro, but he didn’t pitch particularly well with Double-A Mississippi. The burly righty would be a total upside play as a Rule 5 pick, as a team would be buying in on the raw stuff and not much performance. His fastball has reached the high-90s, backed up by a hard slider and changeup with excellent separation.
Luis Gonzalez, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 27y, 2m
Gonzalez was originally signed from Venezuela by the Phillies, who released him after 2013. Baltimore scooped him up and he has since climbed through the ranks slowly as an O’s prospect. 2018 was a big season for Gonzalez, who reached Triple-A for the first time and was named to the Futures Game. His fastball touches 96 mph from the left side, and that arm-strength could appeal to a team looking to take a flyer on ‘pen help.
The towering righty switched to relief full-time in 2018 and had immediate success. Between his performance at Double-A and time spent in the Fall League after the year, scouts have gotten lots of opportunities to get eyes on Thompson. His fastball touches the high-90s at best, and his go-to cutter plays well off the heat. Thompson’s ability to get big leaguers out will come down to the consistency of his off-speed stuff and control.
Jared Robinson, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 4m
Robinson hasn’t pitched above A-Ball, but scouts got an extended look at him during Fall League. His mid-90s fastball and tight slider are average pitches and he’s close to a finished product. Robinson has the ingredients of a middle reliever, and a team that likes his chances of reaching that ceiling could take a flyer on him in the Rule 5.
Erasmo Pinales, RHP, Houston Astros
Ht/Wt: 5’11’ / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 4m
Pinales is a strong, stocky righty who tops out in the 97-98 mph range with his fastball. Both a hard slider and split-like changeup show sharp action, and his numerous miss-bat weapons have resulted in gaudy strikeout numbers the last few seasons. Unfortunately, Pinales’ walk totals are similarly high. Scouts got a good look at him this year in Fall League, and a team who feels they can get him throwing more strikes could take a flyer on Pinales this December.
Jay is a recognizable name, having been selected by Minnesota with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 Draft. He was a closer at the University of Illinois and has since gone back to a ‘pen role, focusing mostly on a fastball/slider mix. The fastball sits in the low-90s and touches higher, and he leans heavily on an 85-to-87 mph slider once he’s ahead in the count. Jay has experience in the high-minors but didn’t dominate hitters as much as his raw stuff suggests he could in relief. His prospect notoriety and the chance of some velocity coming back might be enough to convince a team to take a flyer on him in the Rule 5.
Lemoine didn’t play in an official pro game until 2017, a full two years after he was drafted by Texas in the fourth round. The Rangers have taken it slow with him, moving Lemoine one level at a time and keeping him in the bullpen. He has good physicality and a solid two-pitch mix, starting with a heavy mid-90s sinker that projects as a ground ball pitch if he can throw more consistent strikes. A mid-80s slider flashes above-average at best, though he’ll need to get up in the count more consistently against better hitters to use it as an out pitch. The injury history and lack of high-minors time might ward teams off, but Lemoine’s sinker/slider combo is good enough to merit consideration this December.
Jairo Beras, RHP, Texas Rangers
Ht/Wt: 6’6” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 3m
Beras was a J2 bonus baby, originally signed as an outfielder in 2012. His size, raw power, and throwing arm in RF were always the carry tools, and despite a 22 home run effort as recently as 2016, Texas switched Beras to the mound by the end of the 2017 season. Last year was his first spent entirely as a pitcher, and the 6’6” Beras is still more raw tools than polish at the position. The fastball sits in the high-90s with a 88-to-91 mph cut-like slider, though his delivery and control are crude. He’s an interesting story but likely too raw to stick on a Major League roster.
McClelland has above-average raw stuff but hasn’t pitched much above A-Ball (six appearances in Double-A last year), nor has he dominated the way scouts think his stuff should. McClelland sits 95-to-97 mph with his fastball–touching higher at times–backed up by a mid-80s slider that shows the potential to become an average pitch. A team that thinks he could survive a big league season could pop him in the Rule 5 and stash him in a low-leverage ‘pen role.
Travis Bergen, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 205 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 5m
Bergen doesn’t have the highest ceiling on this list but might come with the highest floor. He’ll be 25-years-old next year, so there isn’t much projection. That said, he dominated Double-A hitters last year and looks like a readymade situational reliever. Bergen is the type of Rule 5 pick that is especially attractive because it’s easy to see him being able to stick for a full season on a big league roster.
Mills is an extra-deceptive submarine/sidearmer who creates a tough look for lefties. He’s only suited for a situational role in the big leagues but shows the tools needed to fill that role well. Mills doesn’t throw hard–usually sitting in the high-80s–but his ability to disrupt timing and mix his excellent 78-to-81 mph changeup has proven effective across numerous levels of the minors.
LONG SHOT RULE 5 DRAFT CANDIDATES
Sorted alphabetically by MLB organization