The Winners and the Losers in the Other Draft

Earlier this month, the typical hardcore baseball fan was exposed to an onslaught of new names. As each team excitedly announced their picks in the Rule 4 draft, scouting reports were doled out and irresponsible comps were laid on players not yet old enough to legally purchase a beer. But nearly as quickly as the newest prospect wave was officially christened, most of the actual players who compose it have moved to the backburner of the public baseball consciousness. Each winter, we’ll check their progress via the annual tradition of prospect rankings, but it will be years before we have enough information to actually assess the results of this draft class specifically.

Six months ago, though, there was another draft — and we don’t have to wait nearly as long to find out how that one worked out. That’s right, it’s time to take a look back on the amateur draft’s nerdy cousin, the Rule 5 Draft.

The 2015 season was one of the best years for the Rule 5 draft in recent history. The Phillies picked up outfielder Odubel Herrera, who has already accumulated 5.9 WAR in his season-and-a-half as a big-league center fielder. The Rangers also snagged a center fielder, Delino DeShields Jr., who is struggling this year but successfully filled a critical outfield hole for the division champion Rangers last summer. Sean Gilmartin posted a 2.67 ERA in the bullpen for the pennant-winning Mets. Coming off these great successes, it seemed as though there was a bit more attention on the Rule 5 draft this December. Would any team be as successful this year?

Just in case you didn’t memorize the results at the time, here’s how December’s Rule 5 draft went down:

December 2015 Rule 5 Draft
Pick By Player Pos From
1 Philadelphia Phillies Tyler Goeddel OF Tampa Bay Rays
2 Cincinnati Reds Jake Cave OF New York Yankees
3 Atlanta Braves Evan Rutckyj LHP New York Yankees
4 Colorado Rockies Luis Perdomo RHP St. Louis Cardinals
5 Milwaukee Brewers Colin Walsh 2B Oakland Athletics
6 Oakland Athletics Jabari Blash IF Seattle Mariners
7 San Diego Padres Josh Martin RHP Cleveland Indians
8 Baltimore Orioles Joey Rickard OF Tampa Bay Rays
9 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Deolis Guerra RHP Pittsburgh Pirates
10 Toronto Blue Jays Joe Biagini RHP San Francisco Giants
11 St. Louis Cardinals Matthew Bowman RHP New York Mets
12 Philadelphia Phillies Daniel Stumpf LHP Kansas City Royals
13 Cincinnati Reds Chris O’Grady LHP Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
14 Milwaukee Brewers Zack Jones RHP Minnesota Twins
15 San Diego Padres Blake Smith RHP Chicago White Sox
16 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Ji-Man Choi 1B Baltimore Orioles

Of those sixteen players, only nine remain employed by their new teams. Three of those nine — Jabari Blash, Deolis Guerra, and Ji-Man Choi — were offered back to their original teams before being acquired outright and are now in the minor leagues. One more is inactive — Daniel Stumpf of the Phillies is currently serving an 80-day suspension after testing positive for the steroid dehydrochlormethyltestosterone. This leaves five men standing on the major league rosters as the Rule 5 class of 2016: Tyler Goeddel, Luis Perdomo, Joey Rickard, Joe Biagini, and Matthew Bowman.

Outfielders Goeddel and Rickard represent the two position players who remaining. Neither player has taken to the majors particularly well. Rickard is currently sitting on a 84 wRC+ through 226 plate appearances and Goeddel is well behind at 70 wRC+ in 138 PA. It may be worth noting that the younger of the two, the 23-year-old Goeddel, has shown improved results as the season has progressed:

Goeddel rolling wRC+

It’s going to take more improvements from either player to match the level of success achieved by DeShields and Herrera last summer, but the former teammates from the Rays organization have yet to completely play themselves out of the majors. That’s not a particularly glamorous or flattering description of their nascent major-league careers, but there is some small victory in simply surviving. Adding young position players through the Rule 5 draft and keeping them in the majors through June is nearly always a positive thing, but, due to their uninspiring performance, it’s much too soon to declare either the Phillies or Orioles “winners” for these Rule 5 picks.

The three Rule 5 pitchers left — Perdomo, Biagini, and Bowman — are a bit more interesting. Perdomo was drafted by the Rockies from the Cardinals and traded immediately to the Padres. From a performance perspective, he has been a clear loss. Through 42 innings pitched, he’s compiled an 8.79 ERA, which is the second worst in the majors (min. 30 IP) behind only Alfredo Simon’s cringe-worthy 9.45 ERA. However, it’s clear that the Padres view Perdomo as a long-term investment. As Kyle Glaser of Baseball America recently pointed out, there is projectability in a pitcher like Perdomo who utilizes mid-90s fastball in addition to developing secondaries. Glaser notes that there have been successful Rule 5 pitchers with long-term projectability, notably Johan Santana and Joakim Soria, but they are far outnumbered by the failures. It’s reasonable to wait on a final evaluation for Perdomo, but optimism should be tempered.

Which brings us to our two “winners”: the Blue Jays’ Biagini and the Cardinals’ Bowman. Out of the bullpen, Biagini has relied heavily on his mid-90s fastball, using it 64% of the time. Entering his appearance on June 11th he was sporting a sub-2.00 ERA, and after allowing earned runs in three of his last four appearances, it still sits at a palatable 2.92 ERA.

Bowman has fared slightly worse by the basic performance metric of runs allowed, as his 3.90 ERA suggests, but he utilizes a fastball/slider combination that has resulted in an impressive 65.9% ground-ball rate which ranks fourth in the majors among all relievers with 30 or more innings pitched. The fact that the Cardinals and Blue Jays — two teams with playoff aspirations this season — have successfully used the Rule 5 draft to bolster their bullpens with controllable and productive relievers makes them the easy winners.

I don’t know that there’s such a thing as a Rule 5 Draft loser, but if there is, the Cincinnati Reds have a strong case for that title this year. Prior to the start of the season they returned their Rule 5 draftee, 23-year-old outfielder Jake Cave, to the Yankees organization. The Reds are in the midst of a frustrating rebuild without any hope of being competitive this season and their most heavily used bench outfielders have been 27-year-old Tyler Holt (70 wRC+) and 25-year-old Scott Schebler (49 wRC+). Meanwhile, Cave posted a 141 wRC+ in Double-A before receiving a promotion and proceeding to record a 143 wRC+ in Triple-A. Cave was essentially a free prospect whom the Reds could have developed during this otherwise lost season, but they declined to seize that opportunity.

If the Rule 5 draft successes last season were a sign of things to come, we haven’t yet seen those things that are coming. There are still hopes that the young guys in this year’s class — Goeddel, Rickard, and Perdomo — will develop and grow into players with viable long-term major-league roles, but so far their play has been uninspiring. However, Biagini and Bowman do stand as proof that Rule 5 draftees can find immediate success for contending teams. There are very few ways to cheaply acquire talent in the major leagues, but the Rule 5 draft remains an intriguing one that we’ll continue to follow throughout the course of each season in the hopes of finding the next Odubel Herrera-esque breakout.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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7 years ago

Having watched Goeddel this year, I think he is going to improve into what you’d call a legitimate major leaguer by the end of the season. His bat’s probably never quite going to get to a point where you’d want to trot him out every day, but he’s already added some power and turned a couple doubles into triples. If he ever learns how to play steady defense, he’ll be a good fourth option/borderline starter. Out of the Rule 5 draft, that’s not bad at all, especially since the Phillies don’t really have anything to gain by giving that roster spot to someone else this season.

7 years ago
Reply to  jruby

Dan F gave him these grades in March and he’s at least shown off the arm so far this year. Everything else…well, he tries hard.
Hit: 50/50/50+ Power: 40/40-45/45 Run: 55/55/55+ Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 45/45-50/50