Yesterday/today was the deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man rosters or risk losing them in the Rule 5 draft. For an explanation of the Rule 5 draft, along with which Mariners prospects are eligible for the draft and who we think will be protected, click here. For an even more detailed explanation of the Rule 5 draft, click here.
The Mariners have made selections in each of the past two Rule 5 drafts: in 2017 they took Mike Ford from the Yankees’ system, but returned him before the 2018 season began (Ford eventually worked his way up to the big-league club this past season and hit .259/.350/.559 in 163 MLB plate appearances in 2019). In 2018 the Mariners took reliever Brandon Brennan after he signed an MiLB deal with the Rockies after spending the bulk of his career in the White Sox system. Brennan remained with the club all season and is now officially part of the organization, becoming one of just three of last year’s 14 Rule 5 selections who remained with their selecting club (It’s worth noting the Mariners had attempted to sign Brennan in MiLB free agency prior to the draft). The Mariners, with only 35 players currently on their 40-man roster, have the space to make at least one Rule 5 selection this year and will find themselves in prime draft position to do so, picking sixth. Here are some names they could consider, broken down by division.
The Rangers elected to add 3B Sherten Apostel, RHP Demarcus Evans, RHP Kyle Cody, IFs Tyler Phillips and Anderson Tejeda, as well as OF Leody Taveras to their 40-man roster prior to the deadline. RHP Taylor Guerrieri and LHP CD Pelham were designated for assignment. This completely fills out their roster. There was some industry speculation the team would leave a spot or two open in case the free agency hot stove picked up prior to the December 13 Rule 5 draft, but alas, here we are. Apostel and Evans in particular would have been interesting names for Seattle to target. Here’s what’s left:
RHP Joe Barlow: Barlow won’t appear on most Rangers Top 30 lists, but that’s not to say he’s not worth a flier for Seattle. Barlow possesses a plus fastball with late riding action that explodes through the top of the zone. He couples that with a still developing slurve that has the makings of a good out pitch at the big league level. Although he struggled in 17.1 innings at AAA this season, Barlow struck out 73 batters in just over 40 innings at High-A and AA earlier in the season.
IF Eli White: White, 25, won’t jump off the page defensively at any position, though his versatility does have some value. Characterized as a shortstop, White lacks the range to play the position at a high level. He’s best suited at second base. The Clemson product has received ample playing time at 2B, SS and CF in the Texas organization, so he fits the 26th man mold quite nicely. He also tapped into some power (JUICED BALL) in 2019 at AAA, hitting a career high 14 home runs. Strikeouts and consistent contact were a struggle for the former 11th round pick this season. White is currently the 30th ranked prospect in the Rangers farm according to MLBPipeline.com.
The Angels came into the Rule 5 deadline with 38 players on their 40-man roster. The biggest question for Los Angeles was did they want to protect any players and cement their names onto the roster until spring training, considering the team is expected to be very active in free agency. The Angels ended up adding both 2B/OF Jahmai Jones and LHP Hector Yan, filling out their roster. Here’s what’s left:
3B/1B Jose Rojas: There may not have been a bigger beneficiary to the 2019 baseball than Rojas. After hitting 17 home runs at AA in 2018, Rojas, 26, exploded onto the scene in 2019 crushing 31 bombs in 128 games at AAA Salt Lake. A 36th round pick in 2016, Rojas can play a little third base, but projects as a platoon option at first base. A left-handed hitter, Rojas may be able to find a home in Seattle, especially if the team has any inclination to move current 1B/DH Daniel Vogelbach.
The Astros added four players to their 40-man roster to protect them from selection in the Rule 5 draft: 1B Taylor Jones, RHP Cristian Javier, RHP Enoli Paredes and RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez. This brought their 40-man roster to 38. Here’s what’s left:
RHP Andre Scrubb: Scrubb, 24, has long been attached to the Mariners here at Lookout Landing as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers before being dealt to Houston for Tyler White. Scrubb possesses a plus fastball and a curveball that can flash plus at times as well. He can get a little wild at times, but he’s effectively wild at that. His ~10.5 K/9 at AA in 2019 shows his ability to make batters miss on a consistent basis.
RHP Brandon Bailey: Bailey, 25, is yet to pitch above AA for Houston, but the results have been impressive thus far. In 17 starts this season at AA Corpus Christi, Bailey threw 92 innings and struck out 103 batters. His 3.30 ERA was one of the better numbers posted in Texas League this year. A Gonzaga alum, Bailey is an undersized righty at just 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. A lows 90s fastball, coupled with average changeup and slider offerings make for an interesting, albeit underwhelming arsenal that may player better in the bullpen rather than a starting rotation, especially considering his size.
The Athletics were really only posed with one question this year — to protect SP Daulton Jefferies, or not? The 40-man roster was full, so the team had to be creative if they were to elect to keep him. Oakland decided to DFA SP Jharel Cotton to make room for Jefferies, thus removing any names of substance or consequence from the Athletics’ Rule 5 eligibility pool.
The Rockies added promising LHP Ben Bowden, RHP Ashton Goudeau, 1B/3B Tyler Nevin and RHP Antonio Santos to their 40-man roster before the deadline. While Bowden and Goudeau would have been interesting pieces for Seattle, a couple names remain for Seattle to look into:
1B Roberto Ramos: You’ll be hard-pressed to find another player in the Rule 5 draft with as much power as Ramos possesses. Having hit 31 home runs over 128 games at AAA Albuquerque, Ramos has surely proven he has the raw power to fit in at the big league level. The question with Ramos is most all of his other tools. His .310/.400./.586 slash this season jumps off the page, but when you dig in deeper, there’s some concerns. Ramos hasn’t posted a K% under 28.0 since playing at AA or higher. The defense at first base leaves a bit to be desired at times as well. There’s certainly a big league slugger in there, but it remains to be seen if he fits the current mold for the Mariners are looking for. Ramos is currently the 27th ranked Rockies prospect according to MLBPipeline.com.
RHP Reid Humphreys: A former 7th round pick out of Mississippi, Humphreys has already shown the chops to perform at an extremely high level out of the bullpen. Although he missed most of the 2019 season with a shoulder injury, reports are he should be back on the mound this spring. Humphreys pounds the zone with a fastball-cutter-slider combination and does a great job varying speeds with his three pitch arsenal. The mid-90s fastball has good late life, while his low-90s cutter can be a really devastating pitch against righties. These two pitches paired with average to above average low-80s slider make for a tough assignment on most hitters. Humphreys has late-inning stuff that should be ready to play at the big league level so long as his health permits. He is currently the 17th ranked prospect in the Rockies system according to MLBPipeline.com.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers had some tough decisions to make this year as they usually do in Rule 5 drafts. Los Angeles added RHP Mitchell White, IF/OF Zach McKinstry and OF DJ Peters to the 40-man roster, capping their roster at its limit. A couple interesting names are left unprotected.
RHP Jordan Sheffield: Mariners’ pitcher Justus Sheffield’s older brother, LA’s supplemental first round pick from 2016 brings a big arm to the mound. His fastball touches the high 90s, while his curveball has consistently flashed plus with big bite. Command is the biggest question mark with Jordan. Sheffield worked through High-A and AA this past season posting more strong numbers. Walks have been an issue, but strikeout totals have never faded. He’s effectively wild right now, but the arsenal will have teams interested in the 24 year old.
3B Cristian Santana: Santana, 22, is available in the Rule 5 draft for the second time in two years. A .301/.320/.436 campaign at AA Tulsa will almost certainly get scouts attention. Santana possesses big raw power, though he’s still finding it in-game. He hit 10 home runs this year, but most evaluators believe there’s more in the tank. A strong throwing arm at third base and average fielding ability give Santana the ability to be develop at the big league level. The biggest question mark surrounding the former 2014 international signee is whether or not he can tone down his approach at the plate enough to hit for average at AAA, let alone the big league level. Santana is currently the 23rd ranked prospect in the Dodgers system according to MLBPipeline.com.
The Padres had as difficult a job as anyone. Their 40-man roster was full headed into the deadline and the team had a lot of young talent eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year. In the end, San Diego designated OF Nick Martini for assignment and added OF Jorge Oña from Double-A Amarillo. The Padres roster is now full. There’s a multitude of names eligible for the Rule 5 draft from the Padres that will jump off the page. Former top prospect outfielders Buddy Reed and Michael Gettys will be available. Both have struggled to hit. Long time Top 100 second base prospect Esteury Ruiz will be available. A multitude of arms such as Evan Miller and Trevor Megill will also be out there for teams. But three names should stand out most for the Mariners:
RHP Dauris Valdez: Valdez, 24, is a big body with a very big arm. The former 2016 international signee touches the high-90s with ease and can touch triple digits when he reaches back for it. The slider is a work in progress, but Seattle may be able to get him reasonable reps at the big league level and rely on his heater alone.
IF Jason Vosler: Vosler, 26, is a utility infielder who considers himself a third baseman. A former 16th round pick by the Cubs, Vosler spent his first year with the Padres last season and did not disappoint. In 116 games at AAA El Paso, the New York native slashed .293/.373/.538 with 21 home runs. It remains to be seen if Seattle would add another utility infielder to the mix with Dylan Moore having proving his value last season, but Vosler is a name to watch.
RHP Lake Bachar: Bachar was a standout in the Texas League in 2019. In 19 starts, Bacher posted a 3.98 ERA while striking out 126 batters. Walks can be an issue for the 24-year-old, but if moved into the bullpen, he could take a big step forward as a swing guy for Seattle in 2020. A fastball-slider guy, his arsenal is well-suited for the bullpen already.
The Diamondbacks elected to add IF Wyatt Mathisen, RHP Riley Smith, RHP Taylor Widener and IF Andy Young to the 40-man roster, which is now at 39 players.
Widener would have been an interesting look for the Mariners, but for now, Arizona likely doesn’t have any talent that would interest the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft.
The Giants are in a pretty reasonable position with their 40-man roster. San Francisco did not add anyone to their roster before the deadline, but that’s mostly due to a lack of established talent. One name could make sense for Seattle, though: LHP Garrett Williams. Williams, 25, represents one of the few left-handed pitching options Seattle could target in this year’s Rule 5 draft. Williams started 20 games this past season at AA and pitched to the tune of a 3.60 ERA. The wart holding Williams back has been, and still is, his control. After walking 61 batters in 110 innings this season, many evaluators believe he’s best suited for the bullpen. Seattle has almost zero southpaw options currently in the organization with the exception of Taylor Guilbeau, so there may be a match here. Williams ranks as the 28th best prospect in a thin Giants farm system according to MLBPipeline.com. It feels like now or never time for Williams, though Seattle might have just the circumstance for him to get his shot.
Chicago White Sox
With only 33 players on their roster, the White Sox had the space to add, and add they did, selecting seven prospects (RHP Dane Dunning, OF Blake Rutherford, RHP Jimmy Lambert, RHP Zack Burdi, LHP Bernardo Flores, RHP Matt Foster, and C Yermin Mercedes). With this many prospects added, pickings are pretty slim, but there are some interesting arms left. Alec Hansen is a 6’7” 2016 second-rounder with a 60-grade fastball and 40-grade command who carved in the lower minors but ran into a buzzsaw in 2018 at Double-A and his problems continued in 2019, as did some scary-sounding forearm soreness. If Seattle thinks they can figure out his control problems he’s a huge upside play for a back-end bullpen role, as his fastball easily sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. Kyle Kubat is a lefty C-the-Z type who doesn’t strike out a lot of batters but has posted excellent numbers until the Triple-A ball got him in Charlotte’s hitter-friendly park. He’s been an organizational All-Star for the White Sox even after making the tricky reliever-to-starter switch. Zach Thompson is another reliever punished in Triple-A Charlotte this year (25% HR/FB rate!) who has good-not-great K-BB numbers but has a history of limiting damage; fellow righty Danny Dopico has better strikeout numbers but poorer control, and hasn’t pitched above AA.
Cleveland entered Thursday’s deadline with 38 players on their roster and a must-add in Triston McKenzie, leaving two trade prizes in OF Daniel Johnson (Gomes trade) and LHP Scott Moss (Bauer trade) to contend for the remaining spot, a dilemma Cleveland solved by DFA’ing Nick Goody. RHP Luis Oviedo has a tremendous ceiling, but despite being Rule 5 eligible, isn’t close to MLB-ready, struggling this year at A ball due in part to a back injury. The Mariners, however, are in the position of being able to roster Oviedo, whose ceiling is as a mid-rotation starter if he can solve his command issues, and develop him and his 94 mph fastball at the major-league level should they so desire. Former first-rounder Brady Aiken is also available, although he’s available for a reason, as he hasn’t pitched since a disappointing 2017. For someone with a bit more polish, RHP Jared Robinson had excellent strikeout numbers at Triple-A Columbus this year, with a 28% K rate, and although he did struggle with his control some, that’s not been an issue for him in the past. Cam Hill actually struck out a few more batters at Columbus as Robinson’s teammate, although in fewer innings as he battled some injuries, and his career numbers are somewhat inconsistent. Argenis Angulo, Dalbert Siri, and Ben Krauth (LHP) are all high-strikeout relievers with control issues who have spent at least some time in the upper minors.
Position player-wise, the Mariners don’t need an outfielder, but OF Ka’ai Tom has been solid at every level, has some good pop in his bat, and can cover center field in a pinch, although he’s better in the corners. INF Jose Fermin is a contact monster with solid defense up the middle but hasn’t played above A ball. INF Mark Mathias, who was Rule 5 eligible, was traded to the Brewers for a teenage Venezuelan catcher named Andres Melendez.
The Tigers had a lot of open spaces and did a lot of adding, including everyone from slam-dunk top prospects like Daz Cameron to 2014 first-rounder Derek Hill, who has scuffled on his climb up the minor-league ladder. That leaves some fairly slim pickings from 2019’s Worst Team in Baseball. There are a group of eligible relievers, but few represent an upgrade to what Seattle already has in-house. Elvin Rodriguez was left unprotected, but hasn’t pitched above High-A. Nolan Blackwood is a 6’5” sidearmer with solid numbers who probably isn’t an upgrade on Seattle’s own Jack Anderson. Wladimir Pinto is a high strikeout-high walk reliever but has Double-A experience. Zac Houston is a 6’5” groundballer who got stung by the rabbit ball at Triple-A this year but has strong numbers otherwise. Position player-wise, the Tigers have a trio of outfielders who went unprotected and could be selected, but none represent an upgrade on the Mariners’ current crop of outfielders.
The Royals went into Thursday with no room at the inn and a group of Rule 5-eligible players who haven’t exactly made loud cases for their additions. Nevertheless, Kansas City slashed-and-burned their 40-man to make space, DFA’ing RHPs Connor Green and Arnaldo Hernandez, C Nick Dini, and OF Jorge Bonifacio to make space for four prospects. OF Seuly Matias was the Royals’ highest-ranked prospect eligible for the Rule 5 but went unprotected; Matias has big power but was streaky this year, and while he took more walks this season at High-A, which is good!, he also struck out almost half the time, which is less good! The Royals also have two infielders with Double-A experience they did not protect in 3B Emmanuel Rivera and 2B Gabriel Cancel; Cancel is the better of the two, with some power from the keystone spot, but he didn’t do much at the Arizona Fall League and his strikeout rate is concerning.
The Royals opted to protect Carlos Hernandez, whose career has been slowed by injuries but whose fastball touches 95, and LHP Foster Griffin, a pitchability lefty who wasn’t selected when eligible for last year’s Rule 5 but has made strides since then. As you might expect from those two selections, the remaining crop has some warts. 24-year-old Ofreidy Gomez doesn’t have great numbers but has been a reliable innings-eater for the past three seasons, and his fastball can get up to the mid-90s. His profile is begging for pitching expert Brian DeLunas to fix up his control which would make him quite a diamond in the rough. Grant Gavin is the reliever version of Gomez, and has upper-minors experience plus a dominating turn in the AFL last season. Also, his name sounds like the kind of name the Mariners pick in the Rule 5 draft. Keeping with the alliteration, and also if the Mariners want more prospects named “Gerson,” Gerson Garabito doesn’t have the strikeout numbers of the previous two, but does have their command issues. He’s cleared 140 innings each of the past two years, though. In the “former first-rounder” category, Nolan Watson (33rd overall, 2015) is available, but missed all of 2019 with TJ and hasn’t posted great numbers when he has been healthy.
The Twins entered Thursday with room on their 40-man for eight more players, but apparently not enough for prized 2015 international signee SS Wander Javier, who lost 2018 to a hand injury after getting off to a blistering start to his pro career. Javier was rusty coming back in 2019, posting just an 80 wRC+ in A ball, but a rebuilding team in need of a shortstop for the future could roll the dice on the former top prospect, hiding him away for the year. That’s not the Mariners, unfortunately, so perhaps they will look to Minnesota’s deep pitching corps. RHP Griffin Jax doesn’t have overwhelming stuff but has plus-plus command, a base the control-the-zone Mariners like to build on. Luis Rijo, like Jax, has excellent command; he also has big stuff and great numbers. The only issue is he hasn’t pitched above A ball—a downgrade from where he ended in the Yankees system as the Twins have converted him to a starter. Sidearmer Tom Hackimer scuffled a little after being promoted this year to Double-A, and has control issues, but the Mariners love a sidearmer and have experience developing them. Jovani Moran profiles much the same as Hackimer, but switch “lefty” for “sidearmer” as his defining characteristic. Sam Clay is also a lefty although on the older side, at 26, with a fastball-curveball combo and dynamite strikeout numbers who has mastered the upper minors and is ready for a big-league bullpen role if he can get the walks under control. RHP Tyler Wells is a starter with solid numbers who missed the 2019 season with an elbow injury.
Offensively, the Twins don’t have much to offer compared to the riches of their pitching, and added every position player who was intriguing to their 40-man, no matter how fringe-y the bat: OFs Gilberto Celestino and Luke Raley, and 2B/3B Travis Blankenhorn.
Prior to the Wednesday deadline, there was one player universally agreed-upon as a roster lock—catcher Miguel Amaya—with a host of other names battling for one of the eight other spots available. This doesn’t mean the Cubs system is deep; most of the remaining prospects are considered interchangeable by outside evaluators. The Cubs wound up adding SS Zack Short, who I was unimpressed with in the AFL this year, and RHPs Tyson Miller and Manuel Rodriguez. 6’7” RHP Dakota Mekkes was a popular choice among Cubs bloggers to be added, but didn’t make the cut despite strong strikeout numbers in the upper minors; command has been an issue for the 25-year-old even before Triple-A’s move to the rabbit ball. Starter Matt Swarmer is to me a touch more interesting than Mekkes; he was similarly victimized by the Triple-A ball but in addition to a deceptive low-90s fastball that tunnels well with his slider he has a plus changeup that’s helped him strike out about a quarter of batters as a starter, and he controls the zone well. For a pure bullpen arm, Michael Rucker has a plus curve and deceptive delivery that’s helped him rack up the strikeouts.
The Cubs’ system is thin, especially at the higher levels, and any position players would be extreme projects. Jhonny Pereda is a catching prospect with strong C the Z numbers even as his bat scuffled a little in his first taste of Double-A, but any other players are just too low-level to consider.
The Reds had two clear-cut adds to a roster already sitting at 35: standout catching prospect Tyler Stephenson and hard-throwing righty Tony Santillan. They also added RHP Jose De Leon from the Rays in exchange for cash/a PTBNL. From their own system, the pitching-starved Reds also added reliever Ryan Hendrix, who should be able to contribute at the big-league level this year, and starter Tejay Antone, who will turn 26 at the end of this month and is a groundball-heavy pitcher without overwhelming stuff. The remaining options aren’t particularly compelling: Dauri Moreta has excellent stuff but hasn’t pitched above A+; and TJ survivor Wyatt Strahan has a mid-90s fastball but was just transitioned to the bullpen this season.
Position player-wise, there’s not much else that’s appealing here. OF TJ Friedl is a true center fielder who has hit decently throughout the minors, but his 2019 campaign was marred by a late season-ending ankle surgery, bad news for a speed-and-defense prospect who’s already 24. The Reds also opted not to protect SS Alfredo Rodriguez, who received an enormous signing bonus as an IFA out of Cuba in 2016, but has failed to put up a triple-digit wRC+ at any stop in the minors.
The Brewers, with plenty of space on their 40 but few names to slot in, started by adding INF Mike Mathias in trade from Cleveland. They also added promising-but-derailed-by-injury outfielder Corey Ray and reliever J.P. Feyereisen, most recently seen pitching for Team USA. Surprisingly, they did not opt to add righty starter Zack Brown, who, previous to a brutal turn in the PCL, had never posted an ERA over 3.39 and was the 2018 Brewers MiLB Pitcher of the Year. Also left off was intriguing power prospect 3B Lucas Erceg, whose numbers in the upper minors aren’t quiiiiiite good enough for the Brewers to need to protect him, or for another team to select him. Similarly, reliever Braden Webb has stuff that flashes plus, but walked as many batters as he struck out in a brief taste of Double-A before being busted back down to A ball. In our “troubled former first-rounder” category, 2015’s 18th overall pick Phil Bickford (traded from SF to Milwaukee for Will Smith, ouch) has a fastball that can touch 98 but has dealt with injuries, suspensions, and command issues; he was sent to repeat High-A this season where as an overage prospect for the league he struck out over 40% of batters he faced, but his transaction log is a mess. The Brewers have one of the thinnest farms in baseball and that’s evident in what’s available here.
The Pirates came into Thursday with only one spot on their 40-man but two must-add prospects in 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes and John’s favorite leggy shortstop Onil Cruz, plus power arm Blake Cederlind, homer-mashing 2016 first-rounder 1B Will Craig, and 2019 Peoria Javelina RHP Cody Ponce, acquired in the Jordan Lyles trade. To make room, the Pirates DFA’d Dario Agrazal, Montana DuRapau, Luis Escobar and Williams Jerez. This is a poor system to begin with and with that many adds, there’s likely nothing Seattle wants remaining.
The Cardinals entered Wednesday’s deadline with 38 on their roster and two must-add prospects in 3B Elehuris Montero and RHP Jake Woodford. They also added RHP Alvaro Seijas, DFA’ing old friend Dominic Leone to make room. That leaves RHP Connor Jones and his 70-grade fastball unprotected—likely because of his 40-grade command. It’s a risky profile to make stick on a big league roster, although the worst that can happen is you return the player after a spring audition. With a bowling-ball sinker that can touch 98 and the attendant propensity to generate tons of ground balls, plus an average-to-above-average curveball, it’s certainly an appealing risk to take, and the Mariners have room in their bullpen to take on a project.
The Cards’ offensive struggles in the playoffs are mirrored in their farm system. In the “former first-rounder” category, OF Nick Plummer (#23 overall, 2015) is available, but consistently strikes out a third of the time and posted an 88 wRC+ this year at High-A. The Cardinals’ second-rounder from 2015, OF Bryce Denton, has also struggled and hasn’t advanced beyond A-ball. 2B Max Schrock is more advanced, but with similarly wimpy offensive numbers at Triple-A. OF Connor Capel was often a thorn in the side of the Arkansas Travelers, but wasn’t able to produce much power even in one of the hitter-friendliest parks in the Texas League.
Last year, the Orioles were the league’s most aggressive Rule-5 drafters, taking on two shortstops in Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. Unfortunately, they quickly returned Jackson, and Martin was one of the worst full-time players in recent memory, with a 50 wRC+ in 120 games and -1.0 fWAR. Their rebuild has years to go yet, with a few exceptional players far off and little else inspiring confidence in the interim. As such, most imminent glimmers of intrigue have been swaddled into the 40-man fold, meaning 1B/3B Ryan Mountcastle, RHP Dean Kremer, and LHP Keegan Akin won’t be on the block.
C Brett Cumberland: Say it with me: switch-hitting catcher. It’s a beautiful phrase, and one made even better when the player in question absolutely clobbers the ball every side they try from. Cumberland was seen as a bat-first backstop who might not have enough bat-to-ball a year ago, but after a season shredding both A+ and AA at age 23-24, he is worth targeting, for the Mariners. While it’d be tricky to line up, if Seattle can gauge interest in either Omar Narváez or Tom Murphy during the Rule-5 draft, Cumberland would at least be worth thinking deep on. Yes, he’s had barely 230 PAs at the AA level, but since joining the newly forward-minded O’s he’s unlocked the full potential many saw in him behind the dish. His glovework reportedly has made progress as well, and the idea of both Cumberland and Cal Raleigh on a 2021 roster could make for a thoroughly dangerous set of backstops.
RHP Cody Sedlock: There’s not a lot to love about Sedlock’s career thus far, as he’s ostensibly a starter who has yet to throw 100 innings in a single professional season. Now 24, the Orioles 2016 first rounder (27th overall) is working back from health issues and shoddy command. Still, a strikeout machine in college who flashed that same knack in AA at last could at least get a bullpen role to work out some mechanical kinks. His repertoire is already well geared to the pen, with a mid-90s fastball and a pair of solid breaking balls that could play up with just a bit of command.
Okay I’m being told we do actually have to put people down, in theory. Fortunately, what the Red Sox lack in quality prospects still in the minors, they make up for in a few personal favorites. Even with 3B Bobby Dalbec on the 40 now, the Red Sox have one of the most uncertain winters of any club ahead of them. They will need to make at least some moves if cutting costs is a must, and that means spreading money around, which portends an even tighter 40-man crunch than things look today.
LHP Dedgar Jimenez: Have I wanted the Mariners to acquire for this guy ever since I came up with Deadgar Weekend? Yes. Does he still make sense for the Mariners given their mediocre pitching depth? Yes. Is he actually good? Look, that’s enough questions you little twerp. Jimenez is shaped a bit like a candidate to play The Penguin on Fox’s Gotham (I’m sure the sponsorship money is in the mail), but he’s just 23 and had a decent time in AA. Statline checkers will note he had a thoroughly indecent time in AAA, but so did Forrest Whitley, so nobody can tell Dedgar anything. Unlike Whitley, Jimenez sits in the 88-91 range, working high-level command, a 79-81 changeup, and a big breaking curve, with an overall approach that would go far more favorably in T-Mobile Park than Fenway. Jimenez probably doesn’t have big league starter in him, but he is one of the closest things to literally Wade LeBlanc minus 15 years out there.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed RHP Tanner Houck as Rule-5 eligible. He is sadly not, and his write-up has been removed.
New York Yankees
No, Seattle won’t be getting their mitts on RHPs like Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, or even Miguel Yajure or Nick Nelson through the Rule-5, nor OF Estevan Florial. As is commonplace this time of year, the Yankees, who operate more minor league teams than anyone in the league, run into an immense 40-man roster crunch.
1B Chris Gittens: Would you like Greg Bird minus two years and a lot of hype? Gittens might be the right fit, as the grande RHH absolutely clobbered his way through the Eastern League after an injury-shortened 2018. Gittens might well be another Mike Ford, but he has the size to back up immense power numbers, and has reportedly worked hard to improve his athleticism and fitness since becoming a pro, with great results. The 25 year old is well and truly blocked at the AAA and big league levels, even with Bird DFA’d, but his 164 wRC+ on the back of a 14.9% walk rate and 23 HRs in 478 PAs is impressive. His swing and miss penchant may be exploited in the bigs, but between him and Austin Nola at 1B, Gittens could at least provide an above-average bat with upside.
2B/SS Hoy Jun Park: Middle infielders who can hit are always appealing, and after a strong season in AA at 23 and good numbers at every level, Park is just that. He’s run double-digit walk rates at every step of his minor league journey, striking out under 20% of the time in the process, and showing base-stealing ability. The efficiency on the bags took a hit in AA, and his power numbers demand a search party to be discovered, but he’s managed nearly a 50-50 split of positions up the middle, and might not go unselected in his second go through the Rule-5 Draft.
RHP Rony Garcia: Garcia turns 22 in December, and has not put up quite the same eye-catching strikeout numbers, but he’s been quite solid against older competition. He made 20 starts at 105.1 IP in AA-Trenton, getting dingered around a bit for the first time in his career. There’s a great chance Garcia heads to the bullpen, but at the moment he’s a 6’3 RHP with mid-90s heat, a good curveball, and the vague concept of a changeup. Seattle could stow Garcia in the bullpen at a minimum and help him refine his offerings, then give him his time in the minors in 2021 if needed.
It’s extraordinary that the two teams resembling one another most this time of year are those who could not be much more different the rest of the calendar year. The Yankees and Rays share the terrible struggle of having too many talented players to fit on their 40-man roster. Tampa’s spendthrift ownership creates an environment where Tampa is more dependent on retaining their minor leaguers, however. While there was hope that a top prospect like SS Lucius Fox or a pop-up standout like 3B Kevin Padlo might sneak through, Tampa still has some interesting names exposed.
1B Dalton Kelly: Want that Eric Filia flavor without the hazy eligibility? Another former Mariners 1B who can spell in corner OF might fit the bill. Kelly was part of the package to bring Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer to Seattle, along with since-released RHP Dylan Thompson and reliever Andrew Kittredge. Kelly remains what he was - a speedy, sizable 1B with excellent walk numbers, manageable strikeouts, a line drive contact profile, and single-digit dingers. Only difference now is instead of in Low-A-Clinton, he’s hitting in AA-Montgomery and AAA-Durham. Kelly doesn’t scream starter long-term, but his type of profile is well-made for the juicier ball if nothing else.
LHP Resley Linares: The Rays protected nearly all their most exciting options, so we’re digging deeper. Linares would represent the Elvis Luciano of this Rule-5 season, swooping a 21 year old with just 4.2 innings above Low-A. But the slender lefty could easily find himself in the bullpen long-term, and with a mid-90s fastball and nasty spinning curve, he’s already most of the way to a big league reliever already. His changeup is more advanced than many pitchers his age, and Seattle could easily work him in the bullpen in 2020 with some length, with an eye on moving him back to a rotation role in the minors for 2021.
Toronto has the youngest 40-man roster group in baseball, with several high-level talents, but the depth is a question mark.
RHP Dany Jimenez: A classic Rule-5 profile is the slow-developing high-velocity reliever. Jimenez turns 26 in December, but his upper 90s velocity/decent slider profile is prototypical modern reliever stuff. Add in striking out over a third of batters he faced and a single-digit walk rate, and there’s plenty to suggest Jimenez could hop into a big league bullpen as well as anyone in Seattle’s system.
Atlanta opened the wave of setting their roster for the Rule-5 draft, putting five players on, led by OF Cristian Pache. Still, their stacked system has a few players of interest just like last year.
LHP Thomas Burrows: We all know how much the Mariners love reunions, but if you forgot the 25 year old was once a Mariners prospect you’d be forgiven. He was a 4th round pick in 2016, but was dealt to the Braves along with Luiz Gohara for Mallex Smith (round one) and RHP Shae Simmons in what would ultimately become the Drew Smyly trade. He’s since progressed more or less as expected, working out of the bullpen his entire professional career with good numbers every season. If Seattle is unsatisfied with Taylor Guilbeau and Aaron Fletcher as lefty relievers, they could probably do worse than bringing home an old friend.
RHP Bradley Roney: Looking for a reliever with a bit more upside? Roney has some oomph with some effort, and the strikeouts to match. After struggling to find the strike zone with any consistency for the first four years of his career, Roney missed all of 2018 with injury, but returned to dramatically improved command. A career reliever like Burrows, his velocity is mid-to-upper 90s where Burrows sits a few ticks lower. His lack of command in the track record makes him a bit dodgier, but there’s more high-leverage ceiling than many options at this point.
The Mariners can pick from two former M’s shortstops whose power numbers do not jump off the page in Bryson Brigman (tops at AA) and Christopher Torres (tops at A). While their farm has improved to respectability, their big league club is a catastrophe, and much like the Orioles, it’s not certain things will line up for contention for many years.
LHP Will Stewart: This is, essentially, the player you want your team to gamble on in the Rule-5 draft. Stewart is only 22, just a year removed from being the third, but not-insignificant, piece in the J.T. Realmuto return from the Phillies. He’s one of the worst pitchers by results on this list, getting knocked around in High-A to a 5.43/4.43/6.78 ERA/FIP/DRA. His groundball rate fell from an extraordinary 63% to the low 50s, but he still has one of the better sinkers in the minors, and could at minimum be a Mark Rzepczynski facsimile for a year, with a long relief and spot start tinge, while getting Seattle’s more well-regarded pitching coaching on him. The downside is obvious - he’s struggled to get results in Jupiter, FL, so doing so against the AL West is a daunting ask, but for a long-game play, a groundball specialist lefty can survive better than most.
RHP Tommy Eveld: When you’re 6’5 and throw 95-97, they let you go by Tommy as long as you like. Eveld has been sterling in AA his entire career, and while his command slipped in the PCL upon promotion, he still has the size and track record of command to be a reasonable look in the bullpen.
LHP Dylan Lee: If you’re not in this game for lefty relievers, you’re in the wrong business. Lee at least brings it with panache, striking out almost a quarter of his charges even on the moon that is the PCL. The 25 year old is a fastball-changeup worker, up to 91-94 on the heater with enough of a changeup to keep righties off-balance. His curveball can get loopy, but a tighter version, or a better cutter/slider, could make him a formidable full inning option.
A fun new thing that I (John) am doing is writing on occasion for the minor league coverage of our sister site, Amazin’ Avenue. Because of that, I can tell you there are not many players the Mariners should sweat it taking in the Rule-5 Draft from the system.
2B/SS Luis Carpio: If you’re desperate for a name, Carpio is worth keeping an eye on. He formed the lesser half of an interesting double play combo for AA-Binghamton this season, spending most of his time at second base due to the impressive glovework of his counterpart, Andrés Giménez. Carpio is just 22, with good bat to ball skills but a slight frame that neither hints at more power nor has displayed it in games. While fellow SS Shervyen Newton is a bit more hyped long-term, the big, lanky infielder is too raw and far off to justify on a big league roster, even for a non-competitive club.
I have a single name for you, from the City of Brotherly Love. That name is Cornelius.
OF Cornelius Randolph: The No. 10 overall pick of the 2015 draft, Randolph has neither flopped nor flourished as a pro. He’s just 22, having held his own in AA and carried over the first bits of power he showed in 2017 in High-A. Splitting time between corner outfield spots, with a dash of time in center, Randolph should have the athleticism to at least spell all three spots, though he’s better served in a corner. The bat, of course, must play accordingly, and while his strikeouts spiked in 2019, he’s long displayed good bat-to-ball skills. For a top-10 talent, a fourth outfielder role and the chance to work full-time under and with MLB players and coaches could be invaluable, but it’s always tricky taking a player in need of reps and upping the challenge level while cutting their playing time.
The National Champs (haHA) emptied the clip in their unsuspecting title run, and there’s not a ton of intrigue here despite the club adding just one player (LHP Ben Braymer) for a total of 31 current rostered 40-man spots.
RHP Sterling Sharp: Despite an abundance of space, Washington neglected to protect Sharp, who missed time in 2019 but was one of the best groundball starters in the minors in 2019. Sharp learned his sinker from looking up Blake Treinen’s grip on the internet, in true millennial fashion, and likes to bring funk out of his 6’4 frame and mix it with a changeup and slider. He’s in the low-90s with the fastball, but has run >60% groundball rates most levels of his progression. Seattle might work with a six-man rotation this season, depending on their roster, and Sharp could benefit from that spread of usage, or a long relief role as well.
After all that, the least anyone who made it through this monster of an article deserves is a few rankings. So, to wrap up, our individual top-5 choices from our respective regions covered:
1. RHP Joe Barlow (TEX)
2. RHP Jordan Sheffield (LAD)
3. RHP Reid Humpheys (COL)
4. RHP Brandon Bailey (HOU)
5. 3B Cristian Santana (LAD)
1. RHP Zack Brown (MIL)
2. RHP Matt Swarmer (CHC)
3. RHP Connor Jones (STL)
4. RHP Alec Hansen (CWS)
5. OF Ka’ai Tom (CLE)
1. 1B Chris Gittens (NYY)
2. RHP Sterling Sharp (WAS)
3. LHP Thomas Burrows (MIA)
4. C Brett Cumberland (BAL)
5. LHP Resley Linares (TBR)
And last but not least, after putting our top fives out there and making our cases for a few favorites and hearing thoughts on others... our cumulative Top-Five (not ordered):
RHP Zack Brown
RHP Jordan Sheffield
RHP Sterling Sharp
RHP Alec Hansen
1B Chris Gittens
Note that this article has been published almost an hour and we are still debating among ourselves which names we might want to swap in and out on this list. John is torn between his switch-hitting catcher Cumberland and Gittens. Joe wonders about leaving boring-but-safe Garrett Williams (SFG) off entirely and has serious concerns about Hansen’s control issues despite his upside, although Kate counters that the White Sox haven’t wowed in the player development department in past years. About the only thing we all agree on is we desperately want Jordan and Justus Sheffield to be Mariners teammates and have the Costacos Brothers immortalize the moment in a poster. What do you think? Weigh in on your favorites (or what you think our list should like like) in the comments!