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More thoughts (and names) for the 2020 Rule 5 Draft

I’m guessing the Braves won’t take any of these guys

St Louis Cardinals v New York Mets Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

As the Braves have plunged headlong into contention, they haven’t needed the Rule 5 Draft to bolster their roster. There’s nothing strange about this, no one really needs the Rule 5 Draft. I wrote a lot more about this a couple of years ago here, and not much has changed. The Rule 5 Draft is not a meaningful avenue of player acquisition, for two built-in reasons: 1) the requirement to carry a player on the roster for a full year is far too onerous for today’s constantly reshuffled rosters; and 2) there’s at least some degree of parity in league talent distribution (at least for teams that are trying), which makes it hard for one team to run out of roster spots while another has tons. The Rule 5 Draft was originally envisioned as a sop to both the players and less competitive organizations, letting them pluck prospects from teams without room for them — these days, it mostly exists as a curiosity when not much is happening. See that post above — in the 2010s, it has barely had an impact. Sure, you get your Dan Uggla, your Shane Victorino, your Marwin Gonzalez, your ha-ha-the-Phillies-drafted-and-returned-Ender Inciarte here and there, but it’s just not too big of a deal.

If we think about the Braves in particular, there aren’t too many roster holes that can be effectively filled with a Rule 5 draftee. However, the roster is a little less stuffed than in past years, as the Braves have not yet filled out their bench options. There’s also always room in the bullpen, provided a reliever is succeeding for the right reasons. So, with that said, here’s a brief run-through of some potential names of interest. Unlike other lists, this is not an array of “the best players available in the Rule 5 Draft,” but rather, “guys the Braves might legitimately be able to carry on the roster for a whole year.” It’s separated into some fairly straightforward categories.

I don’t actually expect the Braves to draft any of these guys. They haven’t had any real interest in this event over the last few years, and the lack of available information on non-major leaguers last year (both because of no official games, and because opposition scouting was substantially limited) only reinforces the “why bother?” aspect of it all. Still, if they were to bother, maybe these guys? Probably not.

Infield-y humans

  • Luis Carpio (Mets)
  • Arquimedes Gamboa (Phillies)
  • Leonardo Rivas (Angels)
  • Alfredo Rodriguez (Reds)

As it stands right now, the Braves would end up carrying recent waiver claim Jack Mayfield on their roster as a backup shortstop. These four humans are somewhat redundant with Mayfield, differing mainly in that they’re younger and more “prospect-y.”

Carpio isn’t projected to hit particularly differently from Mayfield, but the most notable thing about him is that in this post, Eric Longenhagen put him in a section titled “Depth Arms and Luis Carpio” and then didn’t say anything about him in particular. Rivas hasn’t yet played above High-A but is pretty weird in that he’s a small, slight guy with a really high walk rate. That probably won’t translate and he might just be exploiting poor command/control in the lower minors, but he seemed unusual enough to mention if the Braves want to get weird with their backup shortstop. He’s also apparently pretty fast. Gamboa is the pure fielding option here, and was actually on a 40-man roster previously but isn’t anymore. Rodriguez doesn’t stand out among these guys, he’s yet another minor leaguer who could do just fine as a defender as best we can tell, but isn’t going to hit at all.

None of these guys are wonderful fits, as they’re not great bets to stick on the roster all year. If the Braves really want a better backup infield that can play short to supplant Mayfield, they shouldn’t have trouble finding one that doesn’t have the Rule 5 roster restriction attached.

Outfield-y/speedy humans

  • Ronnie Dawson, Astros
  • TJ Friedl, Reds
  • Buddy Reed, Athletics

The Braves don’t really need this player type in any way, as they have a likely-better option in Ender Inciarte, who already exists on the roster. But, they could theoretically move Inciarte. Beyond that, the outfield is just kind of missing names right now — though this will almost certainly change before Opening Day. Still, if the Braves are done with Inciarte for whatever reason, and want to get that sweet, sweet Pache service time, they can grab one of these guys, play them for a bit, and then jettison them if they don’t work out.

Dawson is less on the speedy side and more on the outfield side, and seems to check enough boxes that he might be an okay pick for someone, but he’s more of a “this guy exists” than someone with a carrying tool. Friedl was eligible to be drafted in the Rule 5 and was not taken last year, and is your generic real-fast-fourth-or-fifth-outfielder guy. Reed is also fast and is probably better than the other two options in terms of both fielding and power, but hasn’t really succeeded in the minors yet. None of these guys project well at all, so they’re really only options if the Braves really want to have a very low cost fifth outfielder rather than just signing one or using Ender Inciarte or something.

Other hitter-type guys

Honestly, there’s no reason to take these guys. Some of the other names in this article might be okay for some teams, if not the Braves — but these guys are more in the vein of a tourist trap like an international hubcap museum or something.

  • Lucas Erceg, Brewers
  • Kevin Kramer, Pirates
  • Joe Rizzo, Mariners

Erceg comes to mind because of A) his name and B) he’s like bizarro Austin Riley. Both were potential two-way players who ended up at third base, though Erceg hits lefty. The difference, of course, is that Riley made the majors, while Erceg only hit right after being drafted, and was awful in Triple-A while everyone else was partying with the happy-fun baseballs they were using in 2019.

Kramer is the relatively rare Rule 5-eligible player that’s already made the majors a few times. He hit well basically everywhere until his first call-up, and he’s been underwhelming-to-terrible since. The Braves already agreed to a deal with Johan Camargo, so claiming Kramer (Kraiming Clamer?) would be somewhat pointless, but hey, he exists.

Rizzo has only played at High-A thus far. Some observers thought he could be a big prospect breakout candidate as a guy with great contact skills that had only started to tap into his power, but then 2020 happened, and well, question marks abound. I don’t think anyone is actually going to claim Rizzo and play him (at least not this side of A.J. Preller), but it’s baseball. Who knows.

The Pitchers

It’s somewhat easier, at least in theory, to hide a pitcher on your roster than a position player. With a position player, if you don’t want to use him, you just don’t. With a pitcher, you can use him to eat the garbage time innings that still have to be thrown. On the other hand, the pitching side of rosters has gotten pretty shuffle-oriented, so in practice, it may not be feasible to carry a low-leverage pitcher for the entire year. Still, here are some pitchers that any team, including the Braves, may be interested in trying and seeing if they can ride out a full season with them.

Unorthodox “relievers”

  • Brian Howard, Athletics
  • Parker Dunshee, Athletics
  • Roel Ramirez, Cardinals
  • Sterling Sharp, Nationals

Both Howard and Dunshee come from the same organization, and have both pitched in Triple-A at this point. Howard is bizarre in that he’s a giant of a man (6’9”) but doesn’t seem to have the mechanical issues that are attributed to really tall pitchers (no idea if this attribution even has anything behind it, honestly). He doesn’t throw hard, but if used as a swingman type, I wonder if he’d bother opposing hitters. He’d also be a fun story, since he was a senior sign that somehow got way better as he worked through the minors. Dunshee is more of a throwback junkball swingman guy but represents a rare case where you can find a guy with (apparently?) legitimately good command and all of his service time for basically nothing.

Ramirez, part of the first Tommy Pham trade, is definitely not a guy that tends to exist much. He has a solid four-pitch mix and throws hard, but his command probably prevents him from being a real starter or bulk guy. It’s hard to make an effective comparison to another hurler, but the idea is that he could be used in multiple roles or situations — though the team may not be the team interested in tinkering with how best to deploy him.

Sharp, who is a trailing vowel away from being a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, was already picked in the Rule 5 last year, but was returned by the Marlins after a few underwhelming relief outings. He is a changeup-first (changeup-only, really) soft-tosser whose skills may or may not translate to the majors in any way, but have been somehow okay in the minors so far.

See if you can get more out of ‘em in relief-type arms

  • Zack Brown, Brewers
  • Enyel de los Santos, Phillies
  • Tony Dibrell, Mets
  • Brendon Little, Cubs
  • David Parkinson, Phillies
  • Cody Sedlock, Orioles

Brown is a bit of a strange case whose stuff appears to have backed up on him, leading to a terrible Triple-A season as a starter, by design. If it goes back to how it was and he’s used in relief, he might be decent. de los Santos, meanwhile, lost the velocity that made him an interesting prospect, but maybe he can get it back in relief — though he’s pitched in the majors already and hasn’t made any impression.

Sedlock was a former highly-ranked prospect and a rare college arm with little exposure and therefore substantial development needs. He’s been fairly mediocre but perhaps focusing on just his fastball and one breaking pitch will help. That’s going to be a common theme here — Little had his comeback from injury interrupted by the pandemic and has non-horrible command. Dibrell was horrendous when moving up to Double-A but decent before, could be a junkball reliever. Parkinson is a guy in the Sean Gilmartin vein but has done it as a starter so far, not exactly a prototypical relief candidate.

Relief-y guy

  • Joel Kuhnel, Reds

Kuhnel has already had a few MLB appearances and is your generic two good pitches (fastball can touch 99-101), no command reliever guy. The Braves don’t need to claim guys like him, they already have ‘em in Sobotka and others, but he exists.

Most of the guys here have putrid projections, but there are a few exceptions — Howard, Sharp, and Parkinson as starter-types, Kuhnel as a reliever, and even de los Santos isn’t being spurned that badly relative to some others. In any case, the Braves have options, though they really don’t need to avail themselves of any of them rather than just signing some random reliever or bulk guy in free agency and having the flexibility of optioning him as needed.

When I did this last year, five of 13 names I highlighted ended up being claimed. There are 21 names above — how many do you think get picked?

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