The 2018 winter meetings unofficially came to a close Thursday morning with the annual Rule 5 Draft. It was a fairly slow winter meetings this year, all things considered. We saw a few second tier free agent signings and lower profile trades, and that's about it. There were no blockbuster trades or huge free agent signings. That stuff will wait for later in the offseason, I guess.
As for the Rule 5 Draft, what is it, exactly? It's a mechanism that prevents teams from stashing talent in the minors indefinitely. Players must be added to the 40-man roster after so many years in the minors, and if not, they are Rule 5 Draft eligible. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must stick on their new team's 25-man active big league roster all next season, or be placed on waivers and offered back to their former team.
There are some exceptions due to age, but, generally speaking, this was the available player pool for the 2018 Rule 5 Draft:
- Players drafted out of college in 2015 or earlier.
- Players drafted out of high school in 2014 or earlier.
- Players signed as international free agents in 2014 or earlier.
Again, only players not on the 40-man roster are eligible to be selected. Every so often a team finds a diamond in the rough in the Rule 5 Draft -- Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera and Royals righty Brad Keller are the most notable recent Rule 5 Draft success stories -- though for the most part they're looking to add relievers, bench players, or maybe a platoon bat. Someone like that. Sometimes it works out, most of the time is doesn't. Here is a recap of Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft activity.
1. Orioles: SS Richie Martin (from A's)
The Orioles are early in their rebuild and they can afford to be patient with Richie Martin, a former first round pick (20th overall in 2015) known more for his glove than his bat. Martin did hit .300/.368/.439 with six home runs and 25 steals in 118 Double-A games in 2018, however, so he may be starting to figure things out at the plate.
Talent evaluator tells me that he liked Martin’s defense at SS but many prefer him at 2B. The question is whether last year’s decent offensive season was an anomaly or if he has started to put things together with the bar.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) December 13, 2018
Given their present state -- the O's are coming off a 115-loss season and don't have a clear cut long-term shortstop -- taking a shot on Martin as a Rule 5 Draft pick is an obvious move with upside. They can afford to live through the growing pains -- jumping from Double-A to MLB is not easy -- and Martin stands as good a chance to stick next season as any Rule 5 Draft pick.
2. Royals: RHP Sam McWilliams (from Rays)
Sam McWilliams is well-traveled. The Phillies sent him to the Diamondbacks in the Jeremy Hellickson trade a few years ago, then the D-Backs sent him to the Rays in the Steven Souza trade. McWilliams is a big dude (6-foot-7) who offers a low-90s fastball with improving secondary pitches (slider, curveball). At least one prospect expert believes McWilliams offers considerable upside:
2. Royals. Sam McWilliams, RHP (from Rays). Maybe highest upside pitcher in the class.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 13, 2018
This past season McWilliams threw 137 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A, and finished the year with a 4.38 ERA and 133 strikeouts. Similar to Keller last year, the Royals could ease McWilliams into things as a reliever before transitioning him into the rotation at midseason. For a pitching needy team like Kansas City, McWilliams is worth an extended look.
3. Rangers: RHP Jordan Romano (from Blue Jays; acquired from White Sox)
Teams will often work out prearranged deals going into the Rule 5 Draft. If a team sees a player they like but worry he won't be around when they pick, they'll offer something to a club with an earlier pick (usually cash). In this case, the White Sox held the No. 3 pick in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Rangers got them to select Romano and send him to Texas. Chicago wouldn't have done this had they been planning to make a Rule 5 Draft pick of their own. Instead, they leveraged their draft slot into some cash.
Anyway, Tommy John surgery sidelined Romano for the entire 2015 season, and, since returning, he's shown a mid-90s fastball and a hard swing-and-miss slider. Romano worked as a starter this past season at Double-A, striking out 125 batters with a 4.13 ERA in 137 1/3 innings. The White Sox could see him as a relief option given his lack of a third pitch. Given his quality fastball and slider, Romano could prove to be a nifty little pickup in a traditional one-inning "air it out" relief role.
4. Marlins: RHP Riley Ferrell (from Astros)
The Marlins are shooting for the moon with their Riley Farrell pick. He offers premium stuff (mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a wipeout slider) but he had shoulder surgery in 2016 and walked 34 batters in 51 2/3 innings this past season. Farrell is a bit of a project given his control, but you can't teach his stuff, and the Marlins can afford to be patient. Farrell struck out 67 batters and had a 4.53 ERA in those 51 2/3 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A this year.
5. Tigers: RHP Reed Garrett (from Rangers)
Reed Garrett's second season as a full-time reliever went very well, as he struck out 61 and posted a 2.04 ERA in 61 2/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. He's another righty with a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider -- fastball/slider relievers are prime Rule 5 Draft fodder -- who will get every opportunity to earn a spot in the Tigers bullpen next season.
6. Padres: Full roster
Teams with a full 40-man roster, like the Padres, can not make a pick in the Rule 5 Draft. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft go directly onto their new team's 40-man roster, so clubs have to go into the draft with at least one spot open to make a pick. They can't select a player and open a spot later. San Diego has been very active in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years -- they selected three players in the 2016 draft -- but, with such a stacked farm system, they have to use their available 40-man roster spots to protect their own prospects and make sure they're not eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft.
7. Reds: 1B/3B Connor Joe (from Dodgers)
Connor Joe has moved around quite a bit the last two years. He went from the Pirates to the Braves in the Sean Rodriguez trade last year, then, last winter, Atlanta sent him to the Dodgers for international bonus money. Joe hit .299/.408/.527 with 17 home runs in 106 games split between Double-A and Triple-A this year, and the Reds figure to give him a look at a right-handed hitting utility guy.
8. Royals: RHP Chris Ellis (from Cardinals; acquired from Rangers)
The Royals wound up with multiple players in the Rule 5 Draft for the second straight year. Last winter they took Keller and Burch Smith. This year it's McWilliams and Chris Ellis, who came over in a prearranged trade with the Rangers. The Angels sent Ellis to the Braves in the Andrelton Simmons trade a few years ago and then the Angels sent him to the Cardinals in the Jaime Garcia trade. Ellis had a 3.93 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A this past season, and he's a low-90s fastball guy with a quality curveball, which makes him an intriguing short relief option.
9. Giants: LHP Travis Bergen (from Blue Jays)
One of Farhan Zaidi's first transactions as the Giants president of baseball operations is selecting a lefty reliever in the Rule 5 Draft who grades out very well analytically. Makes sense, right? Bergen had a 0.95 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings at High Class-A and Double-A this past season and both his fastball and curveball register very high swing rates. San Francisco hasn't found many diamonds in the rough in recent years but Bergen looks like he has a chance to stick.
10. Blue Jays: RHP Elvis Luciano (from Royals)
At 18, Elvis Luciano is by far the youngest player taken in this year's Rule 5 Draft. He was only eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year because his original contract had to be renegotiated, and, when that happens, the player automatically becomes Rule 5 Draft eligible in subsequent years. Luciano has a very live arm (mid-90 fastball, curveball, changeup) and good mound presence, but he's never pitched above rookie ball, and this past season he threw 67 innings with 70 strikeouts and a 3.90 ERA. Needless to say, a player this young sticking in the big leagues all of next season is extremely unlikely. The Blue Jays master plan is likely hiding Luciano as the last guy in the bullpen for a year, then sending him to the minors in 2020 to continue his development at a more age-appropriate level.
11. Mets: RHP Kyle Dowdy (from Indians)
Kyle Dowdy is a very hard-thrower without much else. He struck out 120 batters in 124 innings and had a 5.15 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A this year, and it stands to reason the Mets will see what happens when he really airs it out in relief. There's a chance Dowdy becomes a Chad Green type. Green has little in the way of secondary pitches but his fastball is so dominant that he's been able to emerge as a lockdown late-inning reliever across town with the Yankees.
12. Twins: Full roster
13. Orioles: SS Drew Jackson (from Dodgers; acquired from Phillies)
The Orioles swung a deal with the Phillies to land a second shortstop in the Rule 5 Draft. Drew Jackson is a fantastic athlete and a very good defender who can play pretty much anywhere. There is some pop in his bat too. Jackson hit .251/.356/.447 with 15 home runs and 22 steals in 103 Double-A games this year. It is entirely possible both Martin and Jackson will stick with the Orioles next season, one as a starter and one as a utility guy.
14. Angels: Pass
Teams are not required to make a Rule 5 Draft pick. They can pass if no available players catch their eye. Teams that do pass can not make any selections in the subsequent rounds of the Rule 5 Draft, however. You can't pass in the first round and then decide to jump back into the mix in the second round. Once you're out, you're out. The Angels were the first team to pass this year.
15. Diamondbacks: RHP Nick Green (from Yankees)
Nick Green is one of the most fascinating pitchers in the minors. He throws a funky low-to-mid-90s sinker that also has some cutting action, and the result was the highest ground ball rate in the minors this past season (66.7 percent). Green doesn't have much else besides that cut-sinker, and he walked 64 batters in 132 2/3 innings at mostly High Class-A this summer, but he does have a dominant pitch. Hiding Green on the big league roster all next season may be a challenge for even the rebuilding D-Backs given his control issues, but, squint your eyes and you can see some Blake Treinen in Green's sinker.
16. Nationals: Pass
17. Pirates: Pass
18. Cardinals: Full roster
19. Mariners: RHP Brandon Brennan (from Rockies)
It's the second time this offseason that Brandon Brennan has changed organizations. He left the White Sox to sign with the Rockies as a minor league free agent a few weeks ago, and now the Mariners grab him as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Brennan is a sinker/changeup reliever who had a 3.25 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A this season. The Mariners tore things down this winter and Brennan figures to have a good chance to crack the team's rebuilt bullpen.
20. Braves: Pass
21. Rays: Full roster
22. Rockies: Pass
23. Indians: Pass
24. Dodgers: Full roster
25. Cubs: Pass
26. Brewers: Pass
27. Athletics: Pass
28. Yankees: Full roster
29. Astros: Pass
30. Red Sox: Pass
31. Giants: OF Andrew Ferguson (from Astros)
The Rule 5 Draft keeps going until every team passes or runs out of 40-man roster spots, and this year the Giants were the only team to make a pick in the second round. They used their second Rule 5 Draft pick on Andrew Ferguson, a well-rounded outfielder who does everything well but nothing exceptionally well. He hit .304/.432/.443 with five home runs and six steals in 71 mostly Triple-A games around a wrist injury in 2018. San Francisco needs outfielders and, if nothing else, Ferguson could carve out a role as a bench guy.