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A baker’s dozen of players for the Mariners to keep an eye on in the Rule-5 Draft

With a few spots available, the M’s can bolster their youth movement this December.

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We all know Rules 1-thru-4 like the back of our hands, but on December 13th, the majestic 5th rule makes its annual traipse through our lives. The Rule-5 draft offers teams a chance to uncover the hidden gems of other teams and make them their own. The caveat, of course, is that players selected at the MLB level of the draft must be kept on the active 25-man roster or be returned to their original team. The Mariners, as they punt at least 2019, are better positioned than most to take a flier on a player another organization lacks space for. With 5 free spaces on their 40-man (although that could change due to trades at any moment), Seattle is well-equipped to make one or two selections. Unfortunately for them, the crop is not particularly rich this season. Notably, few outfielders of quality and absolutely no catchers catch the eye. Still, there are several potential bullpen arms, a number of utility options, and a slew of AAA starters who could be innings eaters with potential for more.

AAA’s Finest Starting Pitchers:

LHP Tyler Alexander - Tigers

Alexander was a 2nd-round pick in 2015, and his greatest asset is presence. The 24-year-old struggled with his first taste of AAA this year after escaping his third go in AA, but has now compiled over 135.0 IP in each full season of his pro career. Strikeouts and upside are not in the cards for his high-80s-to-low-90s fastball, but if the Mariners want a back end starter to replace the seemingly outgoing Mike Leake, they could do worse than Alexander.

RHP Spencer Adams - White Sox

Nearly everything written for Alexander can be translated to Adams. Still just 22, there’s arguably more to develop on with the high school signee from 2014’s second round. His velocity pushes 92-94, with bits of 96, but he’s still raw, and his peripherals (5.14 FIP, 11.3% K%/10.2% BB%) lagged well behind his results in his first 15 starts at the AAA level last year. A fastball slider guy at his age could nonetheless hit big for the M’s in the rotation or the bullpen.

RHP Trevor Clifton - Cubs

23-years-old with fly ball tendencies, Clifton is another innings eater who would be better served to return to AAA, but could fit in the M’s rotation. At his prospect peak, he’s been 92-95, but seemed to lose a few ticks last year.

RHP Thomas Eshelman - Phillies

What if Andrew Moore was drafted by the Astros, then traded to the Phillies? Ta-da!

LHP Brandon Waddell - Pirates

Waddell is left-handed, with 90-93 heat and a decent changeup and curveball, but his surprisingly high walk rates and command have suppressed his value. If the M’s think they can turn yet another low-90s command lefty into their best self, Waddell makes sense.

Infielders of Quirks and Character:

INF Kean WongRays

The younger brother of Cardinals regular Kolten Wong, Kean’s leading tool is his hit skill. He’s a good baserunner with experience at 2nd, 3rd, and multiple outfield spots, but his arm strength leaves something to be desired. Between limited power and an inability to fill in at SS, Wong again is a tricky fit as a UTIL, but the 23-year-old still could be an average regular if Seattle somehow ends up moving Canó and Segura this offseason.

UTIL Travis DemeritteBraves

To fit on this list demands a mixture of either results, pedigree, or a peculiar circumstance. You’ll notice nearly every player is either a top pick who has developed slowly or a late-round player/international signee with good numbers but question marks about physical tools. Demeritte fits the first box, as a 24-year-old taken in the 1st-round of the 2013 draft by the Rangers. He’s repeated Low-A, High-A, and Double-A despite performing well offensively at every stage. Demeritte’s tools are a dream for a middle infielder, with athleticism and arm to handle every position on the field. The question mark is clear: there’s a ton of swing and miss in Demeritte’s game to go along with his power: can he continue to walk and make enough power contact to be a viable UTIL, or even starter around the diamond? In a 2019 of “stepping back”, Demeritte is one player it makes sense for Seattle to target and give reps. Even if he struggles mightily, he’s got all the marks of a quintessential late bloomer.

UTIL Ray-Patrick Didder – Braves

RPD doesn’t inspire much hope for starter potential, but if you’re looking for utility skills it doesn’t get much clearer than Didder. He’s played every position on the infield besides 1st and shown plus skills defensively in center. His best offensive season came in 2016, when he posted a .274/.387/.381 line in 571 PAs in Low-A. That season, Didder was hit by a staggering 39 pitches, and he’s maintained bizarrely high HBP rates throughout his career despite a seemingly standard batting stance. He’s yet to play beyond AA, but the 24-year-old has looked good both there and in the AFL. The M’s have Dayton Moore already, but given the option to double their utility options, RPD fits the bill.

SS Drew Jackson – Dodgers

It’s a reunion! After being sent to the Dodgers for Chase De Jong, Jackson has repeated AA with LA. His second go around was more fruitful than the first brush, with his highest ISO (.196) since turning pro. His 15 HRs last year in Tulsa nearly match his entire career prior, but at 25 in the rich Dodgers system, there’s not much space for him. Jackson’s defense and speed has always drawn rave reviews, and as a Stanford guy it’s unsurprising it took a while to develop a functional professional swing. Jackson hasn’t touched AAA, but as a broken record I’ll say Seattle can afford to give him reps if they deal Jean Segura.

SS Richie Martin - Athletics

Take everything I wrote about Jackson, subtract two years and some power numbers, and you get Martin. Taken with the 20th overall pick in 2015, he’s got contact skills and speed that pair well with above-average SS defense. Someone will likely take Martin, and the M’s should certainly look closely.

INF Max Schrock - Cardinals

If you were to have heard of a player on this list besides Jackson, Schrock might be the likeliest. Schrock shares more with Wong than the rest of the players on this list, with the added benefit of having been traded twice - first from the Nationals to the Athletics in exchange for Marc Rzepcznski, and then from the A’s to the Cardinals in the Stephen Piscotty deal. He’s a hit-first 2B without much power or, well, other MLB skills.

Powerfully Available Relievers

RHP Riley Ferrell - Astros

Each arm in the “Starting Pitcher” section could just as easily slide in here, these two are simply already there. Ferrell has mid-90s velocity and a solid slider, but the command hasn’t been there. An aneurysm in his shoulder required surgery in 2016 but he seemed to regain his prior velo in 2017 and 2018. What he also gained in his first run in AAA was a healthy taste of PCL-induced dingeritis. Still, the 25-year-old could find a spot on the pile.

RHP Junior Fernandez - Cardinals

The rules about injuries for Rule 5 picks are as follows:

Should a player be injured, the caveat shifts - the player must be active for at least 90 games with their new team, so as to prevent teams from gaming the system and stashing prospects on the DL. If such an injury occurs, the player must complete the 90 consecutive active days in season, even if that means stretching into the following season.

I mention this here because the soon-to-be 22-year-old Fernandez has dealt with a spate of injuries in his career, but still brings upper 90s heat and a solid changeup. There’s plenty of volatility here, but Fernandez is the highest-ceiling arm around, and should he get the chance to keep growing in the Mariners pen, he could keep developing in the rotation or as a reliever.

I expect the Mariners to make at least one selection in the MLB portion of the draft. Prioritizing the options, I think Spencer Adams is my top choice, but would be pleased with Alexander as well if they want a rotation piece. If they dig into position players, Any of the options besides Wong and Schrock would make sense. Demeritte is my favorite of the bunch, but Jackson, Didder, and Martin all would be worth sniffing around. We’ll find out in just a couple weeks.