The 2020 Rule 5 Draft Scouting Reports

The 2020 Rule 5 Draft was conducted via conference call on Thursday, with 18 players selected during the Major League phase. Pre-draft chatter was focused on whether more young, inexperienced players would be picked this year due to an anticipation of expanded rosters, and a few picks appeared to be made with that in mind. Here are my thoughts on all those selected, as well as some on those picked during the Minor League phase. Remember you can venture over to The Board for more info on several of these players.

But first, my annual 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 that select a player must not only (a) pay said player’s former club $100,000 ($24,000 in the Minor League phase), 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 Injured List; players taken in the Minor League phase aren’t subject to roster restrictions. 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.

First Round

1. Pittsburgh Pirates
Jose Soriano, RHP (from Angels)
The general industry thought is that rosters will once again be expanded in 2021, which perhaps led to more draft-and-stash picks in this year’s Rule 5. We have one here in Soriano, who had Tommy John in February of 2020 and would have missed the entire minor league season had there been one. As a teenager, Soriano was a frame-based projection arm with feel for a good curveball. He filled out, threw harder, and sat 93-97 and touched 99 in 2019 as a 21-year-old. The strike-throwing has not developed, and it’s very likely that Pittsburgh will need to sneak him through the 2021 season in a relief role before trying to redevelop him as a starter. I tend to think he’s just a reliever long-term, but potentially a good very good one, hence his 40+ FV designation.

2. Texas Rangers
Brett de Geus, RHP (from Dodgers)
The Dodgers simply don’t have enough room for relievers who would ordinarily comprise the middle-to-bottom of most teams’ bullpens, which is the case with de Geus. He had a velo spike in 2019 when the Dodgers moved him from a minor league rotation to the bullpen, and they also made relevant adjustments to his secondary stuff. Now de Geus sits in the mid-90s with two good breaking balls. He’ll compete for a bullpen spot in Texas.

3. Detroit Tigers
Akil Baddoo, OF, (from Twins)
Baddoo has basically missed two seasons because of Tommy John (which he had in May of 2019) and the pandemic, and the Twins opted out of scouting during 2020 Instructional League, which means opposing teams weren’t able to see Baddoo at the Twins camp and could only evaluate video and data from that stretch. Because of his blend of raw power and speed, Baddoo has unusually high upside for a Rule 5 pick but it’s also easy to envision him struggling to make a leap from A-ball to the big leagues considering that when he arrives at camp he’ll have barely seen any live pitching for about the last 20 months.

4. Boston Red Sox
Garrett Whitlock, RHP (from Yankees)
Whitlock became the third pick in this Rule 5 draft to have had a TJ in 2019. He missed all of 2020 and the Yankees did not have Fall Instructional League, so Boston is going off of 2019 reports (tailing fastball up to 96, changeup, slider and curveball all average, at least) and info collected during Whitlock’s rehab. He was throwing 93-94 off an indoor mound in the Fall. I think he’s likely to stick with Boston, it’s just unclear what kind of role he’ll have, and it may be dictated by workload related to his rehab.

5. Baltimore Orioles
Mac Sceroler, RHP (from Reds)
Sceroler is a four-pitch righty with a chance to start, and for me, projects as a fringe 40-man spot start type. His fastball has plus carry but isn’t all that hard, resting in the 91-94 range. He was neither at the Reds alternate site nor Instructional League.

6. Arizona Diamondbacks
Zach Pop, RHP (from Orioles, traded to Marlins)
Pop was not on the Orioles’ alternate site roster, nor among their Instructs contingent, so unless teams saw him working out at a private facility, there’s no 2020 information here. Like several players drafted today, Pop had Tommy John in 2019. When healthy, his stuff is like that of former closer Brandon League: upper-90s turbo sinker and plus slider. Pop’s fastball sat in the mid-to-upper-90s in 2018 and then took a bit of a dip right before he had surgery in 2019. Assuming that it has come all the way back (which we won’t know until the spring), he has late-inning potential.

7. Kansas City Royals
No pick (passed)

8. Colorado Rockies
Jordan Sheffield, RHP (from Dodgers)
Sheffield, who was passed over in last year’s Rule 5, looked his usual self during 2020 Instructs. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he has plus secondary stuff with elite spin rates, but he also isn’t as dominant was you’d hope given how good his stuff is because his command is lacking. Given how disinclined Los Angeles has been to give him a real big league shot and the lack of depth in Colorado’s big league bullpen, he’s likely to stick with the Rockies.

9. Los Angeles Angels
Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP (from Astros)
Like Yohan Ramirez last year, Jose Alberto Rivera has big stuff but may not throw enough strikes to stick on a big league roster right now. He sat 97 and touched 100 in 2019, and both his breaking ball and changeup are potential swing-and-miss offerings. He may be less likely to stick with the Angels than he would have been elsewhere given their desire to compete immediately rather than deal with potential wildness.

10. New York Mets
Luis Oviedo, RHP (from Indians, traded to Pirates)
Over the last several months, Oviedo, whose conditioning and velocity have waxed and waned during the last few seasons, has tightened up his arm action and experienced a velo bump, culminating with him touching the upper-90s during short stints in the Venezuelan Winter League. He has a pretty well-developed mix (slider, curveball, changeup) for a player who would be considered a draft and stash, since he’s 21 and hasn’t pitched above Low-A.

11. Washington Nationals
No pick (passed)

12. Seattle Mariners
Will Vest, RHP (from Tigers)
Vest was sitting 90-94 in the 2019 Fall League, but his fastball had pretty good carry at the top of the zone and he had a pretty good breaking ball. That was enough to earn him a 35+ FV up/down relief evaluation. Then Vest had a velo spike throughout 2020 and was sitting 95-97 and touching 100 in Tigers Instructs. He throws strikes more consistently than Yohan Ramirez, whom the Mariners seemed hellbent on keeping on their roster last year, so I’d expect Vest to stick and contribute to the bullpen so long as he retains this big, new velocity.

13. Philadelphia Phillies
Kyle Holder, SS (from Yankees)
The Holder scouting report has been the same for quite a while: he can absolutely pick it at shortstop but doesn’t make sufficiently hard contact to profile as anything more than a glove-first utility man. Holder was one of the relatively few Rule 5 picks who was actually scouted this year, since he was part of the Yankees pre-season intrasquad group, though teams got an abbreviated look at him on video because he was shut down in mid-July with a vague core/hip/stomach issue. He’ll likely stick on the Phillies roster as a late-inning defensive upgrade to Jean Segura and Alec Bohm.

14. San Francisco Giants
Dedniel Nunez, RHP (from Mets)
Like Paul Campbell selected a few spots below, Nunez was among the 2019 leaders in fastball spin rate, which is impressive considering he doesn’t throw all that hard. Unlike Campbell, Nunez’s fastball actually misses bats, generating a 15% swinging strike rate even though as a starter he sat just 89-93 (I have him touching as high as 96). He also has a good two-plane curveball that works best when it’s dumped into the strike zone after one of his fastballs is located at the letters. He could be a bullpen weapon if he throws harder in relief.

16. Milwaukee Brewers
No pick (passed)

15. Houston Astros
No pick (passed)

17. Miami Marlins
Paul Campbell, RHP (from Rays)
Campbell was among the 2019 leaders in “Bauer Units,” a crude but interesting metric that is simply fastball spin divided by fastball velocity. Fastball spin and velocity have a positively correlated relationship — the harder someone throws, the more their balls usually spin — but sometimes pitchers who don’t throw very harder can still really spin it, and Campbell is one of those. He sat 91-94 and touched 96 in 2019 but his fastball spun at a whopping 2650 rpm on average. It, like Campbell’s three other pitches, does not miss many bats. He projects as a strike-throwing spot starter.

18. Cincinnati Reds
No pick (passed)

19. St. Louis Cardinals
No pick (passed)

21. New York Yankees
No pick (passed)

20. Toronto Blue Jays
No Pick (full 40-man)

22. Chicago Cubs
Gray Fenter, RHP (from Orioles)
Yet another pitcher with a backspinning fastball taken in the Rule 5, Fenter sat 91-93 and touched 95 in 2019 while striking out 11 per nine. He’ll flash a yacker 12-6 curveball. He’ll turn 25 in January and has never pitched above A-ball.

23. Chicago White Sox
No pick (passed)

24. Cleveland Indians
Trevor Stephan, RHP (from Yankees)
Another hard-throwing Yankees relief prospect, Stephan’s fastball and slider are a bit nastier than Whitlock’s, but Whitlock has better repertoire depth and command. Stephan is a low-variance middle relief prospect.

25. Atlanta Braves
No pick (passed)

26. Oakland A’s
Ka’ai Tom, OF (from Indians)
Tom is one of those prospects who makes me wonder, “Are we all idiots?” because he has a consistent track record of above-average offensive performance all the way from college through the upper minors, and yet because he’s a little guy without huge power he is consistently dismissed by scouts. While they’re not as strong as his superficial statline, Tom’s underlying data is pretty strong. His average exit velocities and hard hit rates were a hair above big league average, and his expected SLG% was in the .430 range. He might be a suitable Robbie Grossman replacement.

27. Minnesota Twins
No pick (passed)

28. San Diego Padres
No pick (full 40-man)

29. Tampa Bay Rays
No pick (passed)

30. Los Angeles Dodgers
No pick (passed)

Second Round

Baltimore Orioles
Tyler Wells, LHP (from Twins)
Wells missed 2019 because of Tommy John. His pitches have tough angle because of his size (he’s 6-foot-8) and arm slot. Wells also has unusually good release consistency and control for someone so big. Pre-surgery, his secondaries were average and his heater was above. He’s another backend starter candidate in Baltimore.

Oakland A’s
Dany Jiménez, RHP (from Blue Jays)
Jiménez was picked in last year’s Rule 5 by San Francisco and was later returned to Toronto. He’s a pretty typical middle relief prospect with a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider with downward vertical action. You can catch him pitching for Licey in the Dominican Winter League.

Minor League Phase Guys I Care or Know About Off the Top of My Head
The Pirates took Shea Spitzbarth with the first pick of the Triple-A phase. He doesn’t throw all that hard (91-93 for me) but his heater has nearly perfect backspin and he has a plus changeup. Rangers pick Matt Wivinis is another Bauer Units darling, sitting 90-92 with 2500 rpm on his fastball. The Tigers drafted wild arm strength lottery ticket Yunior Perez, who I’ve seen sit 92-96. He was on the Cubs list. Boston selected Tyreque Reed, one of several power-hitting leviathans in the Rangers system. His 2019 average exit velo was a whopping 91.5 mph. The Rangers also lost Brendon Davis (part of the Yu Darvish return from the Dodgers) to the Angels, who like to acquire post-hype prospects. Davis was a projectable infielder who’s never figured out how to make consistent contact.

The Mets took a slew of upper-level depth types. Drew Ferguson and Drew Jackson have been a big league Rule 5 picks before. Ferguson is a contact-oriented tweener outfielder while Jackson has a 70 arm and plays all over the field. They also took sinkerballing Jesus Reyes, who was once on the Reds prospect radar.

The Reds also went deep, taking glove-first shortstop Errol Robinson (from Dodgers), contact-oriented catcher Wilfred Astudillo (from Mets), and Beer League softball style hitter C/DH Chuckie Robinson (from Houston), among others.

San Francisco also took power-hitting Rockies outfielder Vince Fernandez to add to their contingent of older sluggers with hit tool questions; lefty-hitting second baseman Mitchell Tolman was selected from the Mets.

Tampa Bay lost several prospects during the minor league phase. Amador Arias (Seattle) is a well-rounded young infielder, while Matt Krook (Yankees) has a great sinker and changeup but poor command and a rough medical history, and Jhonledier Salinas (acquired in the Brandon Guyer deal, drafted here by Minnesota) is a giant dude with an upper-90s fastball but is otherwise still pretty crude.

The Marlins had an interesting minor league phase, selecting low-slot lefty Jake Fishman from Toronto (his fastball was top 10 in horizontal movement among upper-level lefties in 2019), Dylan Bice from Texas (more typical power arm up to 97), and Marcus Chiu from the Dodgers (great-bodied infielder with some pop, poor bat-to-ball skills).

A.J. Puckett (drafted by the Braves from the White Sox) and Garrett Williams (by the Cardinals from the Angels) were two prominent college pitching prospects with a good changeup and curveball, respectively.

Two interesting catcher bats also changed orgs. Yohel Pozo was a (somewhat infamous) Rangers prospect with great feel for contact who left via minor league free agency just a few weeks ago. They plucked him back from San Diego today. Ryan January (to the Dodgers from the D-backs) has a great-looking swing but can’t catch.

Finally, Baltimore drafted Ignacio Feliz, a converted infielder who is a plus on-mound athlete with below-average stuff at present.

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 Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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3 years ago

If the A’s get Robbie Grossman-level production out of Ka’ai Tom, I expect Cleveland fans to have a very small, very short meltdown.