The major-league phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 draft began with its annual roll call of club confirming the number of players currently on their 40-man rosters and ended with a total of 18 players added to new big-league clubs. Below are brief scouting reports on the players selected. I also encourage you to read Chris Mitchell’s stat-focused preview of the group, overall.
But, first: a refresher on the Rule 5 Draft’s complex rules. Players who signed their first pro contract at age 18 or younger are eligible for selection after five years of minor-league service if their parent club has not yet added them to the team’s 40-man roster. For players who signed at age 19 or older, the timeline is four years. Teams with the worst win/loss record from the previous season pick first, and those which select a player must not only (a) pay said player’s former club $100,000, but also (b) keep the player on their 25-man active roster throughout the entirety of the following season (with a couple of exceptions, mostly involving the disabled list). If a selected player doesn’t make his new team’s active roster, he is offered back to his former team for half of the initial fee. After the player’s first year on the roster, he can be optioned back to the minor leagues.
These rules typically limit the talent pool to middle-relief prospects or position players with one-dimensional skillsets or sometimes more talented prospects who aren’t remotely ready for the majors. This creates an environment where selections are made more based on fit and team need than just talent, but teams find solid big-league role players in the Rule 5 every year and occasionally scoop up an eventual star. Let’s dive into the scouting reports on this year’s group.
1. Detroit Tigers
Victor Reyes, OF (from Arizona)
Reyes is a 23-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder who slashed .292/.332/.399 at Double-A Jackson during the 2017 regular season and then hit .316 and stole 12 bases in 20 Arizona Fall League games. He’s a plus runner with good hand-eye coordination and feel for contact as a left-handed hitter. He also lacks any modicum of in-game power and his right-handed swing is a mess. Scouts are not in unanimous agreement about his defensive ability in center field, though the ones who think he can play there every day believe he could make up the larger half of a platoon in center. Others see him as a bench outfielder.
2. San Francisco Giants
Julian Fernandez, RHP (from Colorado)
Fernandez, 22, was Rule 5-eligible in 2016 but was passed over because his command and secondary pitches were undercooked. His ability to throw strikes greatly improved in 2017, as Fernandez cut his walk rate from 20% down to 7%, though reports from scouts indicate his control is still well below average. Fernandez, always a relief-only prospect, still doesn’t have much feel for his breaking ball but does have one of the better arms in the minors, sitting 96-99 and touching 101 with his fastball. If he can throw enough strikes, even as a one-pitch reliever, he could stick in a lesser role in a rebuilding Giants bullpen this year and then continue to polish his slider into his mid-20s. He has a late-inning arm if he can.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Nick Burdi, RHP (from Minnesota, traded to Pittsburgh)
This looks like an instant win for the Phillies, who paid $100,000 to select Burdi and then immediately flipped him for a $500,000 international bonus slot from Pittsburgh. Philadelphia, of course, doesn’t receive actual funds from Pittsburgh, but they do acquire the opportunity to spend an extra half-million on the international market between now and June 15, when the signing period ends. There’s some benefit to that. That said, it requires losing Burdi who, when healthy, has closer stuff. Burdi sits 96-99 and will touch 101, complementing that elite velocity with a plus-plus slider. He has barely pitched the last two years due to recurring injuries which culminated in Tommy John surgery in May.
4. Chicago White Sox
Carlos Tocci, OF (from Philadelphia, traded to Texas)
Tocci slashed .307/.362/.398 as a 21-year-old at Double-A Reading before spending a fruitless final few weeks at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s a skinny 6-foot-2, 160 pounds and has very little raw power, but Tocci has good bat-to-ball skills, is an above-average runner with good instincts in center field, and has a plus arm. His lack of power will likely prevent him from everyday duty; instead, he profiles as a competent fourth outfielder.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Brad Keller, RHP (from Arizona, traded to Kansas City)
Though he made 26 starts at Double-A in 2017, Keller and his hooking arm action are likely to pitch in the bullpen, where his below-average command is more acceptable. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but Keller can manipulate its movement, and he has two solid secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup, both of which project to average. He’ll likely pitch in relief initially, but some scouts give him a chance to develop into a back-end starter.
6. New York Mets
Burch Smith, RHP (from Tampa Bay, traded to Kansas City)
Smith didn’t pitch in 2015 or 2016 as he recovered from Tommy John. He also made just 12 appearances during the 2017 regular season before impressing scouts in the Arizona Fall League with a nasty three-pitch mix. He sits 93-96, will touch 97, and has an above-average curveball and changeup. It’s starter’s stuff, but Smith’s delivery is ugly and he had trouble holding his velocity deep into games as a starter back in 2013, when he made his major-league debut. He could pitch in a late-inning relief role for Kansas City next year.
7. San Diego Padres
8. Atlanta Braves
Anyelo Gomez, RHP (from New York Yankees)
Gomez had barely pitched in full-season ball entering his age-24 season but shot from Low-A Charleston all the way to Triple-A Scranton this year while striking out 87 hitters in 70.1 innings. His delivery is oddly paced and naturally deceptive, allowing his mid-90s fastball and plus changeup to play up.
9. Oakland Athletics
10. Baltimore Orioles
Nestor Cortes, LHP (from New York Yankees)
A squat, low-slot lefty who struck out 105 hitters in 105 innings across three levels in 2017, Cortes made some spot starts at Triple-A late in the year. He has terrific command of a fastball in the 88-92 mph range and a big, looping curveball that is difficult for left-handed hitters to pick up. On the surface, he looks like a lefty specialist, but his command might enable him to be more versatile than that and perhaps pitch at the back of a rotation.
11. Pittsburgh Pirates
Jordan Milbrath, RHP (from Cleveland)
Milbrath is a 26-year-old, sinker/slider reliever who lowered his arm slot this year. He sits 93-96 and his short little slider is below average in a vacuum but plays up due to his slot. He’s likely a righty specialist.
12. Toronto Blue Jays
13. Miami Marlins
Elieser Hernandez, RHP (from Houston)
An athletic, 6-foot righty who spent most of the year in High-A, Hernandez has a plus fastball and plus fastball command. His slider is inconsistent but flashes average and needs only to mature there to be effective, as his command is so exceptional. Hernandez’s changeup is below average and its development might be slowed by a quick move to the bullpen. He otherwise had No. 4/5 starter projection.
14. Seattle Mariners
Mike Ford, 1B (from New York Yankees)
Ford went undrafted out of Princeton despite being named both Ivy League Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year as a junior, so the fact that he’s going to wear a major-league uniform at all is incredible. He is a long-time statistical performer with more career walks than strikeouts in five pro seasons. As a first-base-only prospect, Ford needs to hit a ton to stick in the big leagues. He has excellent ball/strike and breaking-ball recognition and tracks pitches well. He doesn’t have prototypical first-base raw power, but his swing does have some natural loft and he taps into most of what he’s got. Scouts think he can be beaten with velocity up in the zone, but he’s an otherwise solid offensive player whose pure physical talent may just be short of viability at first base, like Dan Vogelbach. Or, as odd as it is to say this about someone from Princeton, he could be one of the great underdog stories in baseball next year.
15. Texas Rangers
16. Tampa Bay Rays
17. Los Angeles Angels
Luke Bard, RHP (from Minnesota)
The 42nd overall pick in 2012, Bard had trouble staying healthy and threw just 20 innings combined from 2012 to -14 and then didn’t miss many bats in 2015 or 2016. This year, Bard upped his delivery’s tempo and he was nails, striking out 99 hitters in 65.1 innings. He sits 93-95 with an above-average slider that he locates consistently to his glove side. Bard is already 27 years old and profiles in middle relief.
18. Kansas City Royals
19. St. Louis Cardinals
20. Minnesota Twins
Tyler Kinley, RHP (from Miami)
Kinley spent most of 2016 at Double-A and reached Triple-A New Orleans at the end of the year, but he was demoted all the way to Hi-A to start 2017. After tearing up A-ball he was back in Double-A where he struck out 34 in 26 innings but posted a 5.19 ERA. Kinley utilizes a slider-heavy approach. It has two-plane tilt but is hard and has more depth than is typical for its upper-80s velocity. It flashes plus. His fastball is 95-98, and he has well-below-average command.
21. Milwaukee Brewers
22. Colorado Rockies
23. New York Yankees
24. Chicago Cubs
25. Arizona Diamondbacks
Albert Suarez, RHP (from San Francisco)
Suarez is a 28-year-old righty who has spent time in the big leagues each of the last two seasons. He throws strikes with a four-pitch mix – a fastball in the 92-94 range that touches 95, an average, low-80s slider, mid-70s curveball, and below-average changeup. He’s a long-relief piece and spot starter.
26. Boston Red Sox
27. Washington Nationals
28. Houston Astros
Anthony Gose, LHP (from Texas)
Some teams preferred Gose on the mound when he was touching 97 with a promising breaking ball in high school, but Gose wanted to play every day. The Phillies drafted him as an outfielder, but his bat never developed and Detroit moved him to the mound last year. He was 96-100 with an above-average curveball almost immediately. The upcoming spring training will be Gose’s first pro camp as a pitcher, so while everyone in the Rule 5 room immediately thought about this when Gose’s name was announced, his initial focus will be on making Houston’s active roster as a pitcher. Any creative shenanigans would probably come later in the season.
29. Cleveland Indians
30. Los Angeles Dodgers
Pedro Araujo, RHP (from Chicago Cubs)
Araujo struck out 87 hitters in 66.2 innings in 2017. He only averaged 92 mph on his fastball in the Arizona Fall League, which is below average for today’s relievers, but scouts have a 70 on his curveball or at least think it flashes 70. He has below-average command and profiles in middle relief.
Brett Graves, RHP (from Oakland)
Graves was injured for much of the year, but I saw him up to 96 during fall instructional league, with an above-average changeup and fringe slider.
Jose Mesa, Jr., RHP (from New York Yankees)
Mesa has his father’s build and delivery and is a below-average athlete with some arm strength, sitting 91-95 with the fastball. Mesa has below-average command despite an effortless-looking delivery, a fringe slider, and below-average changeup.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.