The Rule 5 draft doesn’t really matter — I think we all knew this. It’s just a fun bit of arcana that spices up the offseason a bit. It was more relevant back at the time of its inception, when teams would hoard potential contributors without calling them up to the majors, but that doesn’t mean that come this Wednesday, teams won’t try to supplement their organizations with some unprotected prospects.
To that end, I don’t have any pretenses that the vast majority of the names below are going to get picked, much less actually stick on the active roster all season. But, I do think that the players below are ones that the right team might find an interesting add to round out their roster.
Most Rule 5 draftees fall into the “work-in-progress starter that maybe you can use as a reliever in the immediate future” archetype. I do include a bunch of names pertaining to that archetype below, but also some other types that are perhaps more niche, but kinda interesting.
Ye Olde Reliever Now, Starter Later
Carlos Duran (Los Angeles, RHP). This is like the prototypical guy for this archetype, including elbow and shoulder injuries. The whole package, really — including a starter’s arsenal and incredibly high-rated pitches, no innings above High-A yet, you get the idea. This is like the guy teams trip all over themselves to take in the Rule 5 with an intent of stashing him and returning him to developing as a starter the following year, who also gets returned to his original team at least half the time because of the inflexibility of having to keep him on the active roster all season.
Jorge Juan (Oakland, RHP). Dude is a really tall hard thrower with a long history of health issues. A really speculative add since he doesn’t seem like a super-great starter candidate, but someone might be interested enough in the stuff to bite — especially after the Athletics already added him to the 40-man once (before DFAing and re-signing him later).
Antoine Kelly (Texas, LHP). Sidearming lefty with great stuff, no command, that just made it to Double-A. Injury history, not-great minor league stats, etc. etc. Stuff seems unhittable but he’ll walk you if you don’t swing, just like most relievers that are already in bullpens!
Erik Miller (Philadelphia, LHP). Another very generic guy in this category, with the “caveat” being that the Phillies already transitioned him to relief despite the starter-esque pitch mix in 2022. A team could take advantage of the role change while still seeking to keep him a starter long-term. Also like most non-protected arms, a lot of injuries in his past.
Jayden Murray (Houston, RHP). The rare senior sign with a potential future in MLB, the Astros got Murray in the Trey Mancini, Jose Siri, etc. deal, but left him unprotected a few months later. Murray didn’t pitch super-well as a starter, but unlike most guys in this archetype, he actually has command in lieu of overpowering stuff that flies any which way out of his hand. Not every team will find his change-of-pace profile appealing, but some probably will.
Colin Peluse (Oakland, RHP). Guy wot throws hard and easily fits into bullpen (including mediocre starting numbers in Double-A) and then can work on a third pitch after his team control is secured.
T.J. Sikkema (Kansas City, LHP). On this list in exactly the Jayden Murray mold, including being acquired at the Trade Deadline (as part of the Andrew Benintendi package from the Yankees). Another command-over-velocity guy, that you’d stash as a mop-up option in the hopes of getting a backend starter eventually. Had great numbers in the Yankees’ system at Double-A, and horrible ones with the Royals after the trade, which might get teams to bite in the hopes of getting natural improvement by getting him away from the Royals’ lacking player development.
Thad Ward (Boston, RHP). There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled over Ward already, as a surprising non-protectee. He has a starter-ish arsenal but his best offerings are, apparently, his slider and cutter secondaries, which makes him all the better to shunt in a relief role. Ward returned from Tommy John Surgery in the middle of last season, and while there may be concern that he won’t have the stamina to last the whole season, there are plenty of teams who rarely use their last guy in the bullpen that could basically stash Ward in his age-26 season and realize his potential as a starter or bulk guy later.
Corner/DH Platoon Bats
The universality of the DH, combined with the fact that there just aren’t 30 guys out there that hit well enough, but field poorly enough, to warrant full-time DH duties, means that we are seeing teams treat the position as somewhat of a liminal space to give regulars some semblance of rest or play matchups with second-tier roster options. Some of those second-tier roster options could be acquired for cheap via the Rule 5 draft, like...
Dominic Canzone (Arizona, OF). This 25-year-old lefty swinger put up video game numbers in two short stints at Double-A, and spent most of the year last year putting up good-but-not-great (107 wRC+) numbers at Triple-A. There are probably worse ways to devote 200 PAs against mediocre righties, and a commitment to doing so can keep Canzone on your roster all season.
Griffin Conine (Miami, OF). Conine is the minors version of Joey Gallo at this point, including the fact that Gallo’s production has dropped off recently. Some team might want his hilarious no-contact, all-power profile to try and terrorize some righties here and there. You could probably do worse as a PH/DH guy just in terms of amusement value.
Heriberto Hernandez (Tampa Bay, OF). The pros are that Hernandez has really hit everywhere. The cons are that he hasn’t played above High-A. Would you dedicate a roster spot to a guy like that? Maybe he’s easier to hide as the weak side of a platoon that also doesn’t face tough righties, but then is that worth it?
Gabriel Martinez (Toronto, OF). Basically exactly like Hernandez above, but younger.
Jairo Pomares (San Francisco, OF). Much more speculative than the other guys in this section given that he hasn’t played above High-A, but this is a chance to get a prospect expected to continue to gain helium over time and stash him in that bad righty-hitting part-time DH role.
Austin Shenton (Tampa Bay, 3B). Shenton is kind of an awkward fit on this list as he’s more a 1B/3B guy and his ability to be okay at 3B means he’s not purely a DH play, but he also hasn’t hit that well and may offer little of interest except in the rare case that a team really wants a lefty partner for an existing righty-hitting 1B/3B/DH guy or two already on their roster. The plus side is that he’s never really hit poorly — it’s just not clear what he offers beyond a more-flexible guy with options or a better carrying tool.
You don’t really need to get these guys in the Rule 5 draft; there are enough fringy major leaguers of this sort already floating around. (For example, see Rylan Bannon, who looks like the position player version of Oliver Drake’s wild ride, at this point.) But you could, I guess.
Logan Davidson (Oakland, SS). Not a super-interesting option on this list, a guy that hasn’t really hit at Double-A that has some speed and defense, but not overwhelming amounts of either. Your generic “hey I want a utility infielder from the Rule 5 draft for some reason” option.
Jeremiah Jackson (Anaheim, 2B/SS). Jackson kinda sucked as a 22-year-old in Double-A (86 wRC+), but it was a season where he seemed to rein in his huge power potential for more contact. Teams may have more interest in him as a platoon, lefty-bashing infielder that can be fine at shortstop for brief stints than what he showed with his changed approach. In other words, a team may have interest just to get him out of the Angels’ system and see what happens afterwards.
Ivan Johnson (Cincinnati, 2B/SS). Switch-hitting guy that can play shortstop that really struggled with contact in Double-A. What’s working against picking him is the idea that a team will want to take a guy that didn’t even hit well at Double-A here, but maybe someone really wants a pinch-runner/defensive sub for their 26th man, especially given how the 2023 rule changes seem to make rangy defense and the ability to steal bases somewhat more important.
Chase Strumpf (Chicago Cubs, 2B/3B). Appears to have washed out of a shortstop role, but has good defensive reports at 3B, and hit pretty well in Double-A last year (125 wRC+) as a 24-year-old. His profile (deep counts, three true outcomes) makes him an easier fit into a lot of organizations as a source of cheap power and infield defense than more contact-reliant bench pieces.
Felix Valerio (Milwaukee, 2B). The yang to Griffin Conine’s yin, this is an all-contact, no-power, undersized, 2B-only righty bat. He adds some stolen base potential which could help in 2023, and there will probably be only some teams that want a guy with so little pop. His really poor 2022 (78 wRC+ in Double-A) will also probably scare people off, but if a team really wants contact above all else, here you go.
Alexander Vargas (New York Yankees, SS). There’s a lot you can read about Vargas if you’re so inclined — he’ll only be 21 next year and seemed to have the sort of profile that would earn millions in international free agency (he came over from Cuba), but he hasn’t really advanced through the minors much. This would be the most speculative add of the names on my list, I think, but if you want to burn a year of his development on hanging out providing defense and maybe stealing some bases and then see what happens as he gets into his mid-20s, he’s out there for the taking.
Will Wilson (San Francisco, INF). I’m guessing almost no team will think Wilson will ever hit enough to warrant a pick and stash, but maybe? He generally hasn’t hit enough, even at Double-A, to deserve much of a look, but his projections are non-awful and he can play all over the infield.
Fifth Outfielders / Pinch-Run Specialists
I mean it’s not a great use of a roster spot, but...
Jordyn Adams (Anaheim, CF). He’s really fast, and probably can’t hit, but you’re not in this category for hitting. You don’t really need a toolshed who put up an 84 wRC+ in Double-A last year, even if he can play a good CF, but if you’re really myopic about tools above all else, here you go, Adams is your guy in this draft.
Korry Howell (San Diego, UTIL). The fun part of Howell is that, unlike other guys in this section, he both A) has played all over the diamond except catcher and first base, and B) has actually hit pretty well, like a 124 wRC+ in Double-A last year. The less fun part is that he appears to be constantly, mysteriously injured. He would be a Rule 5 pick with pizzazz, though, assuming his injury isn’t like, having his axons devoured by an eldritch god or something.
Kameron Misner (Tampa Bay, OF). A three-true-outcomes-ish guy with legit center field defense and speed, who has also succeeded quite nicely at Double-A last year (120 wRC+ in 510 PAs)? Seems like that’s way more interesting than Generic Reliever Guy #17, but then again, I’m not all MLB teams. Misner seems like he’d be better than many fourth or fifth outfielders teams are carrying right now, so someone should take a flier.
Carlos Rodriguez (Milwaukee, OF). If this were another era, Rodriguez would probably be in the majors already, bunting his way around the bases and whatever else hitters did before it became obvious that homers were a more efficient way to score runs. He’s basically your prototypical old time-y fifth outfielder with good defense, elite speed, and one of those now-bizarre, swing down at the ball approaches, which at least he’s been working on amending.
Drew Millas (Washington, C). He was really terrible at Double-A but apparently had a good defensive reputation, and if all you want is a complete no-hit backup catcher with good throwing, blocking, and framing tools, why not?
Brandon Valenzuela (San Diego, C). A breakout candidate that hasn’t played above High-A, this could be a pick for a team that just wants more catcher prospect depth with upside and is willing to suffer on the field for it. If you’re already getting, say, -1/600 from your backup catcher, what’s the harm in making it -2/600 and getting a prospect for it?