Every December, The Winter Meetings host The Rule 5 Draft, an important opportunity for rebuilding teams like the Mariners to take advantage of teams that have a glut of experienced talent. Organizations can only hold 40 players on their 40-man rosters, and once a minor leaguer has exhausted enough time in the organization without being added, they become eligible to be selected by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.
Basically, the goal of the Rule 5 Draft is to prevent teams from stockpiling talent in the minors. This would conceivably trap very talented players in the minor leagues without giving the players a shot at the major league level. It also would allow teams the chance stash inequitable talent for years, constantly leveraging it into trades.
In essence, the Rule 5 Draft gives some power back to the players.
Rule 5 eligibility is complex, but in layman’s terms, high school draftees and international free agents are first eligible four years after signing, so long as they’re 18 or older when signing. College players are eligible three years after signing. For this exact reason, Kyle Lewis, a 2016 draft pick, had to be added to the 40-man roster in September. It wasn’t necessarily because he was ready, but more so it was a chance to see what he could do, while also protecting him from December’s Rule 5 Draft.
It is important, however, to note any player selected in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 Draft must not only be added to their new team’s 40-man roster, but also must remain on the team’s active 26-man roster for the entirety of the season. The organization can elect to return the selected player to their previous organization at any time if said player clears waivers. The player must also be active for 90 days, so teams don’t have the ability to stash a player on the 60-day IL either.
Whether the Mariners elect to add one of their eligible players is a combination of expected future value/impact, the availability of 40-man roster spots, as well as the likelihood of another team selecting the player. Seattle’s 40-man roster has more flexibility this year than during any off-season in recent memory. The 40-man roster currently sits at just 35 players.
Seattle will certainly have the opportunity to grow their organization in the Rule 5 Draft this year, but before that can happen, they’ve got to protect their own.
Below is a table of the 25 eligible players at risk of being selected in this year’s draft, along with some information regarding the levels they’ve played at the last three years, disregarding spot starts and fill-in roles at higher levels. I’ve also included some surface-level value regarding their performance in 2019.
In green, you’ll see starting pitcher Ljay Newsome. It’s a bit of a forgone conclusion that Newsome will be added to the 40-man roster before the November 20th deadline. Newsome is coming off a breakout campaign in which he posted 3.54 ERA and struck out 169 batters over 155 innings. In fact, in July, you could argue Newsome was the most valuable pitcher in all of minor league ball. He tailed off a bit as the season closed down, but he had certainly accomplished making a loud impression by then.
Still only 22, Newsome was selected as a high schooler in the 26th round of the 2015 MLB Draft. It’s been four years, thus, he’s eligible.
Newsome has an outside shot at claiming a rotation spot out of spring training this year. He pounds the zone with a low-to-mid 90s fastball that has good late life and deception. Newsome mixes in an average changeup and average curveball, though his slider has flashed above average at times. That being said, Newsome possesses plus command that should limit his floor at the big league level.
The Mariners have four other guys they’ll need to make a decision on before next Wednesday’s deadline.
The most likely add behind Newsome is probably submarine relief pitcher Jack Anderson. A 23rd round selection in the 2016 draft, Anderson has been a standout for Seattle ever since joining the organization. He consistently posts some of the best ERA numbers in the Mariners’ farm. In roughly 108 innings over A+ and AA ball these past two seasons, Anderson has posted a 2.09 ERA, as well as striking out almost a batter per inning.
Anderson is a good candidate to be selected by another team for a test run next season, so the Mariners may be better off adding him to their own 40-man and letting him debut at some point in 2020.
Starting pitcher Anthony Misiewicz is a candidate to be added as well, though his track record may suggest the Mariners roll the dice and allow him the chance to be selected by another team. The Michigan State product was actually eligible last year as well, and went unselected. Having pitched to a 5.36 ERA in Tacoma last season, it remains to be seen if Misiewicz has the chops to cut it at the big league level.
Two position players who are right on the fringe of possibly being selected this year are 1B/OF Eric Filia and OF Dom Thompson-Williams.
Filia has battled suspensions due to marijuana throughout the tenure of his career with the Mariners. There’s no doubting how good a hitter he can be — the key is keeping Filia on the field. The UCLA product has consistently posted strong hitting campaigns year in and year out. A career .320 hitter at the minor league level with an incredible eye for walks, some team may be willing to give him a shot. Filia doesn’t provide much pop in his bat, and he doesn’t have a ton of positional versatility. He’s currently a below average first baseman, and a shade worse in left field.
It’s not a stretch to say Filia could develop into a very successful contact hitter at the major league level, but has he earned it? Seattle was already willing to move him to Boston for Roenis Elias during the 2018 season. He was eventually returned for cash. From this chair, Filia deserves a shot. Even after missing most of the 2019 season and being forced to stay away from the team until July, Filia came back to slash .331/.450/.488 in 35 games with Tacoma.
Thompson-Williams was acquired as part of the James Paxton trade last offseason and by all accounts struggled to repeat his success from 2018. ‘DT-W’ posted a .299/.363/.564 slash over A+ and AA with New York two years ago, but regressed last year posting a .234/.298/.391 line in AA Arkansas. His home run tally dropped from 22 to 12, leaving Dipoto befuddled when talking about his new prospect on different broadcasts.
Whether Seattle thinks highly enough of Thompson-Williams to protect him this off-season remains to be seen, but the chances of another team taking a flyer on him and stashing him on their 26-man roster all season seems slim.
We’d be remiss not giving a huge shoutout to guys like Jordan Cowan, Mike Ahmed, Kyle Wilcox, Nick Zammarelli III, Luis Liberato, Darren Gillies, etc. etc.
These guys have been some of the cornerstones for developing a strong culture within the Mariners organization, many of whom helped contribute to an incredibly successful campaign at AA Arkansas this season. While they may not be ready to take the next step in their baseball careers just yet, another year in the organization could certainly spark a breakout campaign for any number of these guys. Newsome wasn’t on anyone’s radar at this time last year. Now he’s potentially vying for a job in 2020 in Seattle. Patience pays.
My guess would be Newsome and Anderson are added to the 40-man roster early this week. Filia’s bat deserves a shot. If the organization believes he’s matured enough to warrant a chance at breaking spring training with the big league ball club, he should be added. All that being said, if he slips up again, it’s time to cut bait.
After Wednesday, we’ll drill into what prospects went unprotected within other organizations and where opportunities lay for Seattle to improve their big league club come December 12 at the Rule 5 Draft.