The 2023 Rule 5 Draft Scouting Reports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The major league phase of the 2023 Rule 5 Draft was this afternoon at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville and concluded with 10 players being selected to join new organizations. Below are our thoughts on those players; the minor league phase of the draft was interesting enough that it might get its own post in the very near future. The numbers you see in parentheses represent each team’s 40-man roster count entering the draft.

Before we get to the reports, our 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, but also (b) keep the player on their 25-man active roster throughout the entirety of the following season, with a couple of exceptions that mostly involve the injured 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.

1. Oakland Athletics (39)
Mitch Spence, RHP, from New York Yankees

A durable righty with odd looking but fairly effective stuff, Spence is such a consistent strike-thrower and innings-eater that he is very likely to stick with Oakland’s 2024 big league staff, probably as a starter. In 2023, he worked an incredible 163 innings at Triple-A Scranton, posting a 4.47 ERA, 21.8% K% and 7.5% BB%. Spence doesn’t throw all that hard, but his stuff is kind of funky. His fastball is parked in the 90-92 mph range, and features natural cut and sometimes sink. Spence gave up a whopping 29 homers in 2023, at a ridiculous 20% HR/FB rate. That’s an unsustainably high rate, but it’s fair to predict that Spence will be homer-prone in the big leagues because his fastball is so light. In addition to his naturally cutting heater, Spence has two rock solid breaking balls that generate the lion’s share of his swing and miss. His low-80s curveball has nearly perfect 12-to-6 shape, while his mid-80s slider (perhaps explicitly a sweeper) has traditional two-plane break. The curveball’s vertical action makes it a viable weapon against lefty batters even though he does have a changeup that he throws every once in a while. He’s a big league-ready back-of-the-rotation starter who’d probably be SP7 or SP8 on a good roster.

2. Kansas City Royals (39)
Matt Sauer, RHP, from New York Yankees

A high-profile high school pitcher and second rounder from the 2017 draft, Sauer has persevered through myriad injuries and mechanical tweaks during his six-year pro career. His 2023 got off to a delayed start, as the Yankees were cautious in bringing him back from surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow. When he returned, Sauer pitched pretty well at Double-A Somerset, amassing 68 innings in 14 appearances (all but one as a starter) while striking out 29.5% of opposing hitters and walking 10.5%. The Yankees then sent Sauer to the Arizona Fall League, where he mostly sat 93-95 mph and touched 96 from his now due-north arm slot. His most-used secondary pitch is a firm 84-87 mph slider with two-plane bite. Sauer commands this pitch better than his fastball and could stand to throw it more. There’s a tertiary curveball here, too, but in all likelihood, Sauer will shift to Kansas City’s bullpen and work heavily with the fastball/slider combo in a multi-inning relief role. If he sticks on the Royals roster, they can still increase Sauer’s innings load in a role like this and prime him to start in 2025. But it’s perhaps more likely that Sauer will just be a single-inning reliever in the long run. His fastball doesn’t have a ton of life and he needs every bit of velo he has for it to be effective. If he could sit 96-plus airing it out an inning at a time, it would probably give him the best chance of sticking on a big league staff for the long haul.

3. Colorado Rockies (39)
Anthony Molina, RHP, from Tampa Bay Rays

Molina’s strikeout numbers haven’t been especially good since he was a teenager on the complex, but his prospect stock began to climb late in 2022 when he shifted from a long relief role into Tampa’s High-A rotation without losing any of his mid-90s velocity. Molina has thrown his fastball and slider for strikes at a 65% clip or better for each of the past two years, and he’s held above-average velocity during that time despite throwing more and more innings since minor league baseball returned post-pandemic. In a 2023 season split between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, Molina worked 122 total innings and posted a 4.50 ERA. He routinely sits 93-94 mph and was touching 97 late in the year. The Rays seem to have tweaked his fastball usage in 2023 because Molina’s groundball rate plummeted; now that he’s a Rockie, it’s plausible he’ll return to his older approach to pitching. Molina is definitely more of a control-over-command type, imprecisely peppering the zone with his sinking changeup and tilting slider. We’ve had a depth starter grade on Molina for the last couple of list cycles and still think that’d be his role in a vacuum, but given that Colorado badly needs to cultivate starting pitching, he may be given an opportunity in their rotation next year.

4. Chicago White Sox (39)
Shane Drohan, LHP, from Boston Red Sox

Drohan has transformed in many ways since he was drafted out of Florida State in 2020. Perhaps most notable is the degree to which he has shortened up his arm action, adding deception to his delivery that has served him well as a professional. Having steadily climbed through the Red Sox system, Drohan started the 2023 season with six starts at Double-A, during which he boasted a 0.82 WHIP and allowed just one homer and five total earned runs. His stat line sagged upon his subsequent promotion to Triple-A, due largely to his lack of precision working within the strike zone. His in-zone whiff rate went from 34% at Double-A to 27% at Triple-A, and his HR/9 grew more than sevenfold. Eleven of the 19 dingers he allowed at Triple-A came on belt-high beach balls. While his in-zone swing-and-miss took a tumble, his chase rate stayed in the mid-30s across both levels, and although he throws his slider more often, his changeup is his standout secondary, with a combined chase rate across the two levels around 46%. He rarely threw it to lefties, but righties struggled mightily against it, garnering a .154/.236/.262 slash line against the cambio in Drohan’s 89 innings post-promotion. The Triple-A struggles were the first obvious stumbling block of his professional career, and if he can regain the command that allowed him to dominate at the lower levels, he could earn a role as a back-end starter. If not, he’s got the arsenal to be a changeup-heavy multi-inning reliever.

5. Washington Nationals (38)
Nasim Nuñez, SS, from Miami Marlins

Nuñez is a twitchy, glove-first middle infielder with virtually no power. Long-term he projects as a team’s sixth infielder, a slick-fielding defensive replacement and runner. Given the relative dearth of middle-infield free agents, he’s a logical addition to the Nationals’ position player group as they shore up their defense on the dirt (most likely as a late-inning replacement for Luis García), even without contributing much at the plate. For how little power production he puts up, Nuñez maintains a good feel for getting his bat on the ball, with a swinging strike rate under 10% in 2023, and he buoys his overall profile with a ton of speed, to the tune of 52 stolen bases last year and 70 the year before. But it’s his incredible hands, range, athleticism and infield versatility that should drive a John McDonald-esque career.

6. St. Louis Cardinals (39)
Ryan Fernandez, RHP, from Boston Red Sox

Fernandez is a single-inning relief prospect with some of the best stuff of anyone available in this year’s Rule 5 draft. He began 2023 on the injured list, but was quickly bumped up to Triple-A once he was healthy. His four-seamer sits 94-96 mph and touches 97. To call his cutter a secondary would be misleading, as it surpassed his fastball usage at Triple-A, accounting for 48% of the pitches he threw at that level and inducing a 47% chase rate. His use of his gyroscopic slider dipped in 2023, but when he did throw it, it earned him a combined 63% whiffs (73% at Triple-A), and that kind of bat-missing ability is, ironically, nothing to shake a stick at. His strike-throwing ability makes him very likely to stick on St. Louis’ roster and contribute in a middle-inning capacity. This was the first relief-only pitcher to come off the board in the draft, and is the one we feel most confident will have a good 2024.

7. Los Angeles Angels (39)
No pick (pass)

8. New York Mets (34)
Justin Slaten, RHP, from Texas Rangers, traded to Boston Red Sox for LHP Ryan Ammons

Less than an hour after his Rule 5 selection by the Mets, Slaten was dealt to the Red Sox, where he’ll join Boston’s big league bullpen as a single-inning relief option. To call his command iffy in 2022 would be an understatement; he posted a walk rate just shy of 20% in his 50.2 innings of work at Double-A that season. But 2023 was a bounce-back season for the 26 year old. He spent most of the season at Double-A, where he maintained a 7.9% walk rate while striking out 37.4% of opponents. When he was promoted to Triple-A, the walks crept up a bit, though nowhere near that 2022 mark, while his strikeouts dipped, though they stayed above 30%. Across the two levels, he fanned 86 over just under 60 innings, which equates to a K/9 just under 13, and a 1.07 WHIP, both ranking third in the Rangers system for pitchers with at least 50 innings of work. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 98 mph, and he mostly pairs it with a sweeping slider that has a bat-missing track record. His cutter also garnered more than its fare share of swing-and-miss in 2023, with his two-plane, low-80s curveball and rarely-thrown mid-80s changeup rounding out his arsenal.

Relief prospect Ryan Ammons, Boston’s 2023 10th round pick out of Clemson, never pitched more 27 innings in a single college season in part because he was injured for two months of his draft spring. The drop-and-drive style lefty only throws 88-89 mph but his fastball punches way, way above its weight thanks to its extreme uphill angle, which was impossible for college hitters to get on top of. You can project on him throwing harder because of how athletic and powerful Ammons’ delivery looks, but he’ll still need to find a better secondary pitch in pro ball. His changeup looked better than his breaking ball in college and we think that pitch has the better chance to emerge as a real weapon.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates (39)
No pick (pass)

10. Cleveland Guardians (39)
Deyvison De Los Santos, 3B, from Arizona Diamondbacks

This was the sexiest pick in the entire draft because De Los Santos has plus-plus raw power, right now, at age 20. His selectivity at the plate and infield defense have ranged from “immature” to “god awful,” and the former was a big part of why he had a below-average all-around offensive season at Double-A Amarillo despite hitting 20 bombs. Both were justifiable reasons for Arizona to leave him unprotected. De Los Santos is kind of a freak, comparing physically to former NFL running back Michael Turner more than he does anyone else in baseball. He does not get cheated and swings as hard as he can at every opportunity. His slider recognition is awful and he chased them at a 49% clip in 2023, per Synergy.

DDLS’s defensive issues are mostly to do with a lack of arm accuracy. He looked better on defense late in 2023 and actually made some slick plays at both first and third late in the season. With José Ramírez entrenched at third base in Cleveland, a 1B/DH role seems to be in line for Deyvison. The Guardians desperately need impact power like this in their lineup, so badly in fact that I think De Los Santos has as good a chance to stick on this roster as any because of how devoid of pop Cleveland’s non-Ramírez and Naylor (Josh and Bo) sticks have been. He has a chance to hit 30 or more bombs at peak regardless of whether he learns how to identify spin, and De Los Santos will be a middle-of-the-order force if he can learn to be more selective.

11. Detroit Tigers (38)
No pick (pass)
12. Boston Red Sox (37)
No pick (pass)
13. San Francisco Giants (36)
No pick (pass)
14. Cincinnati Reds (39)
No pick (pass)

15. San Diego Padres (31)
Stephen Kolek, RHP, from Seattle Mariners

Kolek, the younger brother of former Marlins top five draft pick Tyler Kolek, has yo-yo’d back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation in the Dodgers and Mariners systems since being drafted in 2018. After spending the back end of 2021 and all of 2022 as a starter, the Mariners shifted him back into the bullpen in 2023 and Kolek had a two-tick fastball bump, sitting 94-95 mph and touching 98. Kolek also seemed to work more with sink in 2023, and his groundball rate spiked from 47% to a whopping 57%. He’s also capable of varying the shape of his breaking ball, from more of an in-zone curveball to a chase-inducing slider. He has a good chance to be a low-leverage middle inning contributor in 2024.

16. New York Yankees (37)
No pick (pass)
17. Chicago Cubs (37)
No pick (pass)
18. Miami Marlins (39)
No pick (pass)
19. Arizona Diamondbacks (38)
No pick (pass)
20. Minnesota Twins (36)
No pick (pass)
21. Seattle Mariners (36)
No pick (pass)
22. Toronto Blue Jays (37)
No pick (pass)

23. Texas Rangers (35)
Carson Coleman, RHP, from New York Yankees

Coleman had Tommy John in early April and didn’t pitch in 2023. The Yankees have added about four ticks to his fastball since he signed after the 2020 draft, and when you combine the mid-90s velocity with his heater’s nasty uphill angle and tailing action, he now has a vicious plus-plus fastball. That is almost solely why Coleman was able to punch 95 tickets in just 63 innings throughout a 2022 season spent as Somerset’s closer. His command and secondary pitches are all well below average and at least one other aspect of Coleman’s skill set needs to evolve if he’s going to an impact big leaguer, but if he develops another plus characteristic, he’ll have a chance to work late innings. His slider (which hitters struggle to parse from his fastball, but which Coleman struggles to locate) is his best shot.

24. Philadelphia Phillies (38)
No pick (pass)
25. Houston Astros (39)
No pick (pass)
26. Milwaukee Brewers (36)
No pick (pass)
27. Tampa Bay Rays (40)
No pick (full 40-man)
28. Los Angeles Dodgers (40)
No pick (full 40-man)
29. Baltimore Orioles (36)
No pick (pass)
30. Atlanta Braves (34)
No pick (pass)

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4 months ago

Commenting here since there’s nowhere else to do so, but the A’s got screwed in the draft lottery again this year – last year 6, this year 4, and now since they’ve had two top-6 picks in a row they won’t be eligible for a top-6 next year. Tears in Las Vegas.

CC AFCmember
4 months ago
Reply to  synco

Wow, yeah, too bad for the team that wasn’t making any attempt to win. One might even say the draft lottery worked exactly as intended.

4 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

The A’s were such an embarrassment last year. It’s bad luck to fall that far but I don’t feel sorry for them one bit.

4 months ago
Reply to  synco

Not anywhere else, methinks.
More pity directed at the Nats, who actually got and lost the first pick.

Cleveland getting their first pick *ever* suggests some incoming Dolan angst: “He wants what?!”

Will they be choosing their usual or try something different?

4 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

He’s a Dolan. That really all that needs to be said. Can’t run anything outside of moneymaking ventures to save their lives. Which sucks as several are politicians.

Old Washington Senators Fanmember
4 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

The Nats got the 2nd pick, too, but can’t because of revenue sharing rules, from what I can gather – too bad as they need top picks right now but them’s the rules.

Petey Bienelmember
4 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

The sham that they are a revenue sharing payer when their tv revenue is tied up in MASN and the Os is pretty galling

Ashburn Alley
4 months ago
Reply to  synco

Thank goodness. Great news they will pick no higher than 10 next year. The lottery system did exactly what was hoped so good job mlb

4 months ago
Reply to  synco

Only losers in sports care about draft order. If you have confidence in your player evaluation, then you know that losing organizations like the Royals and Rockies aren’t even going to like the same players you like and they will drop to you.

Last edited 4 months ago by nah