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Possible Mariners Rule 5 targets for 2020

The Rule 5 draft is coming up next week. Here are some players the Mariners FO might have a beady eye or two upon.

Seattle Mariners v Arizona Diamondbacks
The Mariners picked up Yohan Ramirez, a hard-thrower with poor control, in 2019’s draft. Will they make another selection this year?
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Traditionally, the Rule 5 Draft serves as the official closing bell for the Winter Meetings. With the meetings taking place virtually this year, the proceedings won’t have quite the same ring of finality, but it’s the showcase event of the meetings nonetheless. The Mariners have been active in recent drafts, collecting INF Mike Ford (later returned to the Yankees) and pitchers Brandon Brennan and Yohan Ramirez in the past three years. With the team not entirely in contention mode, there might be room for another selection in 2020. Also, because of the lack of a minor-league season, teams are left evaluating prospects who might have played their way into a 40-man spot in 2020 with incomplete information. Meanwhile, the tide of Rule 5 never stops, and there’s a fresh wave of prospects eligible for the Draft, while clubs remain limited by the same number of roster spots available. Here are some candidates from some roster-crunched teams whom we’d like to see get a 100K tryout with the club:

Tampa Bay Rays:

Tampa Bay’s prospect-focused approach means the club has an almost perpetual roster crunch. This year, as usual, there is a passel of intriguing arms who got left off the 40-man. RHP Joel Peguero is 23 and hasn’t pitched above A ball, but he has a 70-grade fastball that regularly hangs out in the triple digits with an above-average slider. He has the typical command issues that come with this profile and Tampa Bay kept him stashed in A ball in 2019 (maybe anticipating hiding him from prying Rule 5 eyes), but he clearly overmatched opponents in the Midwest League despite middling strikeout numbers. Peguero lands just outside the Rays’ Top 30 prospects on FanGraphs. He has some experience pitching in the ABL, where his triple-digit fastball caught local media attention:

For slightly less firepower but also at the A level, 2016 6th-rounder RHP Zack Trageton has been grinding through the low minors and posting solid results at every stop, with a iron determination not to walk people that would appeal to the C the Z Mariners. If you’re looking for a bit more seasoning, the Rays also have RHP Paul Campbell, who spent 2019 in Double-A. There’s nothing flashy about Campbell, who has been working as a starter, except consistent performance bolstered by truly elite fastball spin—2700 rpm, per FanGraphs. A forearm strain suffered this past spring kept him out of Tampa Bay’s player pool and off the 40-man roster, but might also dull his Rule 5 shine. RHP and short king Phoenix Sanders is also a possibility, as is old friend former Mariners prospect Tommy Romero. Or there’s RHP Chris Muller, also eligible for the Rule 5 for the first time. Or Brian Shaffer, who had 70 Ks in 72 IP for Montgomery in 2019. Or Montgomery workhorse and Southern League All-Star LHP Kenny Rosenberg. Or there’s groundball machine Matt Krook, acquired from the Giants. Remember how people wanted to trade some random Seattle arms to the Rays for Blake Snell? Yeah. Tampa Bay does not need arms. I’m not sure the pitching staff of the 2019 Montgomery Biscuits wouldn’t have outpitched Seattle’s 2020 bullpen.

I’m also going to group RHP Curtis Taylor in here; although technically a member of the Blue Jays organization after being traded for Eric Sogard in 2019, probably to head off this exact scenario, the Jays also left Taylor off their 40-man after he came down with a case of the sprained elbow, making him, so far, a BJINO (Blue Jay in Name Only). It’s a little troubling that the pitching-needy Jays left the 6’6’ Port Coquitlam, B.C. native off their roster, but maybe they’re anticipating a team won’t take a gamble on a hard-thrower with an above-average slider and plus extension who seems primed to work in a multi-inning or late relief role. Sure, Jays.

New York Yankees:

Like the Rays, the Yankees seem to perpetually face a roster crunch, with more good prospects than can be jammed onto their 40-man, especially among their pitching corps. RHP Trevor Stephan tumbled from Top 10-adjacent on FanGraphs’ 2019 Yankees list to barely Top 30-adjacent after an uneven 2019, but he’s Double-A-experienced and his underlying metrics are good, with an FIP almost two full runs lower than his ERA and strong strikeout numbers. RHP Garrett Whitlock also has significant Double-A experience under his belt and probably the most prospect buzz of any of the players on this list, if not the most name recognition (in that category, he’s edged out—barely—by Colorado’s Riley Pint). Injuries have slowed Whitlock’s ascent, including Tommy John in late 2019, which could cloud his Rule 5 outlook, but an ability to generate grounders from a 6’5” frame and a track record of success in the upper minors make him an appealing target. The Yankees also declined to protect RHP Addison Russ, acquired in trade from the Phillies, despite sparkling K-BB ratio numbers from Double-A Reading in 2019. Russ’s omission from the 40-man seemed to come as a surprise to many Yankee fans; his will definitely be a name to watch during the Rule 5 draft.

San Diego Padres:

Once shoppers who tore, Supermarket Sweep-like, through the Rule 5 draft, the prospect-rich Padres now find themselves with more deserving mouths to feed than spots on the roster for yet another year. The biggest name is 2B/OF Esteury Ruiz, who is ranked among the Top 20 of Padres prospects, but with the Mariners positively bedeviled by super-utility types, he’s not a great match for the club. A better fit might be found in a more seasoned arm like RHP Evan Miller, who ascended quickly though the Padres’ system in 2019; RHP Lake Bachar, a pitchability righty with a fastball-slider combo, whose 2019 numbers at Double-A Amarillo, a relentless hitter’s park, should be approached with caution; or undersized RHP Pedro Avila, who has been a solid performer throughout the minors and even had a cup of coffee with the Padres in 2019 but had to have TJ in 2020.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Like the teams listed above, the Dodgers seem to find themselves perpetually in a roster crunch; annoyingly, they are also perpetually good at managing that roster crunch, seemingly effortlessly finding spots for everyone who needs a spot while also managing to bring on that season’s most coveted free agent. I am realizing now that my relationship with the Dodgers is very much like with a popular, hot friend, who is always very nice to me but I cannot help resenting a little bit anyway. Anyway, Brett de Geus, I guess? He hasn’t pitched above High-A but has the K-BB ratio that makes the Mariners swoon. “We think he’d be good for you, just your type” say the Dodgers, patting us on the shoulder as they waltz off with Francisco Lindor. I was also surprised to see the Dodgers didn’t protect INF Omar Estévez, who was a real little pest whenever the Arkansas Travelers played the Tulsa Drillers in 2019. If the Mariners weren’t already aswim in bat-first utility infielders I’d like him as a target. Someone from the Drillers who was perpetually annoying but would be a good fit on the Mariners is RHP Marshall Kasowski, who has one of the more difficult deliveries to pick up in all of MiLB, leading to outrageous (like 40% and above) K rates. 2017 first-rounder OF Jeren Kendall was also left unprotected but an unsightly strikeout percentage throughout his minors career tells you why. RHP Jordan Sheffield is also available in the Rule 5, if the Mariners want to give up their dreams of a Seager duo and settle instead for the Sheffield Brother Act.

Philadelphia Phillies:

The Phillies went into this off-season with a roster crunch, with a lot of prospects needing to be added, but managed to make room for six additions. That still left plenty of players on the outside looking in, including former Mariners prospect RHP Enyel de los Santos, who has had a couple short unsuccessful jaunts with the big-league club, and a top-10 Phillies prospect in OF Jhailyn Ortiz, who is unfortunately too raw for the outfield-rich Mariners. LHP David Parkinson is a likelier target with a strong college pedigree and consistent performance into the high minors; think of him as a taller Anthony Misiewicz but with a plus changeup instead of the curveball. Another lefty reliever who may be of interest is 6’5” Zach Warren, although he hasn’t pitched above High-A and has some command issues to go along with K rates of northward of 30%.

Los Angeles Angels:

The Angels opted not to protect INF Kevin Maitan, a once-hyped international signing whose star has since fallen, hard, but also didn’t protect LHP Packy Naugthon, whom they just received in trade from the Reds. Packy’s name is admittedly more interesting than his stuff, but if you like crafty lefties who survive on low-velocity stuff with deception, funk, and outsmarting the other bears, you’ll be part of the Packy Pack. On the other end of the spectrum is RHP Oliver Ortega, whose fastball is more in the mid-90s but who struggles with command; the Angels had him starting at Double-A Mobile, but with two above-average weapons in the fastball and a hard 12-6 curveball, a move to the bullpen and an increased focus on commanding just the two pitches makes him a prime Rule 5 target.

Cleveland Indians:

Position players are less popular targets during the Rule 5, but loud tools always speak loudly and OF Will Benson has 70-grade raw power. Benson struggled at High-A in 2019, slugging a mere .300 while striking out almost a third of the time, but can also take his walks, leading to a potential three-true-outcomes player if he can solve his timing issues at the plate. It’s not a profile that fits the Mariners super-well, but there are other players without Benson’s buzz available from Cleveland’s system. RHP Luis Oviedo is still figuring out where the ball is going and hasn’t played above A ball, but is currently playing winter league ball and showcasing his impressive 97-98 mph fastball.

Miscellaneous prospects:

Obviously Rockies 2016 first-rounder Riley Pint will attract his fair share of headlines, but will a club roll the dice on carrying the troubled pitcher in an MLB bullpen all season? Feels unlikely, which is a shame, because a change of scenery might be exactly what he might need. Still, some team that believes strongly in their ability to tame wild young pitchers and wants to earn some major development cred quickly might take a shot at the former No. 4 overall pick, but that feels like a splashier move than we’re used to seeing out of the more staid Seattle FO. The Twins rudely added my pet pick for the Rule 5, RHP Bailey Ober, to the 40-man, but they have a roster crunch of their own; RHP Jovani Moran has a 70-grade changeup and 40-grade command, while A-level RHP Luis Rijo is inexperienced but projectable, ranked around the top-20 of Minnesota’s system. The perpetually-cronched Houston Astros left RHP José Alberto Rivera off the 40-man, if the Mariners would like to return to that well for the second year in a row; JAR is another low-dollar-figure success story from the Astros’ storied international signing department who is, as all Astros pitching prospects are legally bound to be, a hard-thrower with some command issues (although not as severe as fellow Astro refugee Yohan Ramírez). The White Sox offer RHP Will Kincanon, who really needs to make some decisions about double-consonant consistency, who also topped out at High-A in 2019 but generates a ton of groundballs with a heavy sinker and struck out 71 batters in 58 innings, showing he was maybe playing a little below his correct developmental level. He’s college-experienced and could be a quick mover despite lacking high-minors experience. And finally, one personal wish: OF Buddy Reed, traded to Oakland this past season, is ten pounds of joy in an eight-pound bag and I would love to see him in Seattle. Does he strike out too much? Yes. Would he be entirely overmatched by being thrown onto a big-league roster? Also yes. But I saw him play at the AFL a couple years ago and he was an absolute delight, the star of the dugout and a fan favorite, unceasingly kind and patient with kids and older fans alike. Reed is tooled-up and a terror on the basepaths but has trouble accessing those tools in game because of the contact issues and I just really hope he can figure it out somewhere. Even if it’s Oakland. Ew.

Not all of these players will be available when the Rule 5 Draft rolls around next Wednesday; several will have been traded in small-potatoes deals engineered so the trading club can recoup something other than just having their player snatched away in the draft, and the receiving club with some 40-man space to spare doesn’t have to worry about sheltering a player on the big-league roster all year. That’s perhaps a better place for the contending competitive not-abjectly-horrible 2021 Mariners to be, as a team that can’t afford to throw away 26-man spots but might have some room on the 40-man. So hey, maybe my Buddy Reed dreams can still come true.