Every year, I do this little, pointless tradition — I go through the list of unprotected players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and try to figure out which get picked. In many years, I think I did okay. Last year, for whatever reason, I did terribly. I highlighted 27 players, and there were only 15 picks... but 14 of those 15 weren’t the ones I highlighted, and the only “match” was a guy, Thad Ward, who was probably one of the slam dunk-iest Rule 5 picks ever. (Ward was awful at the major league level for the Nationals in 2023.)
Moreover, of those 15 picks, a few actually had meaningful major league impact. Ryan Noda had a 2 fWAR season for Oakland, Jose Hernandez gave the Pirates over 50 innings of warm body pitching, and the Rays not-so-surprisingly got an elite relief performance out of Kevin Kelly. Those guys weren’t on my list.
So, this year, I have little (well, even less, I had little to begin with) pretense of getting this right. Instead, these are just some thoughts about names teams might want to gamble on, even though they probably won’t, and instead will find other names they think they can make better use of. Anyway, here we go. I wonder how many of these 35 names will get taken when this year’s iteration of the Rule 5 Draft rolls around?
We don’t know how to use our DH slot
Zach Daniels (HOU, OF). He’s got big power, he’s got speed, he might be able to play center field, and he has a very high strikeout rate. Is it dangerous to try and roster a guy who might legitimately strike out over a third of the time in the majors without a surefire guarantee he’ll provide above-average pop or useful on-base skills? Definitely. But as I mention below, if you’re a team that’s not trying to win, you could at least have fun with your DH slot, right?
Logan Davidson (OAK, SS or 1B or something). Davidson doesn’t really belong here, because he’s more of a “well he could’ve been a utility infielder but even Oakland doesn’t think he fits there anymore” guy, and he didn’t hit well in Triple-A, either. Still, I wanted to put him somewhere, which might be foolhardy because I had him on my list last year and he didn’t get taken then either, and that was before he was terrible at Triple-A. At this point, I think the only way he gets taken is if a team thinks Oakland has just horribly bungled everything and likes the positives he’s shown amid the poor performance and the pedigree.
Alex de Jesus (TOR, 3B/SS). Another guy with massive raw power from the right side that is currently an “infielder” but probably isn’t long-term. Hasn’t played above High-A, though.
Carlos de la Cruz (PHI, OF). If you thought Oneil Cruz was a monster, you should check out de la Cruz, who is 6’8” and got an 80 raw power FV from Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs. If you have little to lose, taking de la Cruz, and dedicating some staff or services to making him a playable major leaguer is probably a fun, but more importantly, potentially profitable enterprise. It feels like the Phillies left him unprotected because they figured no one wanted the headache of developing him further, but the potential reward seems like it diminishes the tribulations of trying to do so.
Deyvison de los Santos (ARI, “3B”). Offering essentially little but raw power, I half-wonder if someone might take de los Santos just because they don’t have a good plan for the DH spot, and they think their major league hitting coaching can yield rapid gains way better than Arizona’s minor league hitting development. de los Santos hasn’t even hit at Double-A (88 wRC+ in 2023), but given how little need there is for bench hitters these days, why not tell him he’s there to try to hit bombs from the DH position against lefties for a year? It’s more fun than what most rebuilding teams are going to do with their DH slot, anyway.
Justin Dirden (HOU, OF). Dirden absolutely demolished the minors up through Double-A, and hasn’t been able to figure out Triple-A at all. I hesitate to think that anyone can outdo the Astros in terms of development, but there was a lot to like here until Dirden’s promotion to the minors’ highest level, despite a lack of pedigree. The fact that he isn’t limited to DH is also a bonus, but him entering his age-26 season probably makes most teams bow out since you don’t get a huge benefit compared to a younger guy even if you convert Dirden to a playable MLBer with his Rule 5 roster restriction year.
Jesse Franklin V (ATL, OF). Okay, I don’t really think Franklin’s going to get taken, but if he were on another team that I had less awareness of, I could squint and see a “maybe,” for the same reason as other guys in this section. Franklin didn’t hit that well at Mississippi (95 wRC+), but he hit 15 homers there, and he might even cut it in an outfield spot for some added roster flexibility. The real downside here is that as a lefty bat, he’d eat up a lot of PAs that you probably want to give to someone else at DH, even if your team isn’t trying to win this year.
Heriberto Hernandez (TB, LF). Look, just go read the Fangraphs report on Hernandez. It includes both “Heribertgod” and “T-Rex arms.” This subcategory basically exists for his sake. I don’t know if anyone will take him, but they should, because using the DH position to rotate regulars on a rebuilding team is so, so boring.
Dariel Lopez (PIT, 3B). Lopez missed all of 2023 due to a knee injury, so he hasn’t played above High-A. He’s kind of a 3B/SS right now, but he’s a big guy and is probably going to be a 3B/1B or more of a DH as he matures. Like other guys here, grabbing him is pretty much just hoping for a one-year DH stash that doesn’t interrupt his development too badly; it’s also very unlikely to happen since he also went unclaimed last year, when he wasn’t coming off a catastrophic injury.
Malcolm Nunez (PIT, 1B). I think of Nunez as “Ryan Noda if Ryan Noda hadn’t actually hit well at Triple-A before being taken in the Rule 5.” He’s run big minor league numbers and turns just 23 in March, but unfortunately, he was pretty unplayably bad (and injured) in Triple-A in 2023, so he’d be a real speculative add as a righty DH candidate.
Tirso Ornelas (SDP, LF). Ornelas figured out Double-A last year, but not so much Triple-A. He doesn’t project super-terribly by Steamer as a big leaguer. You could do worse as a relatively young (he’ll turn 24 in March) contributor that you could retain, if you were looking to spend essentially nothing.
Jairo Pomares (SFG, LF). Another big power guy with swing-and-miss issues that could be fun, but “Joey Gallo in the low minors” isn’t that exciting considering that things only get worse as you move up the ladder. Again, a team has to be all-in on completely jumpstarting his development to bother.
Dasan Brown (TOR, OF). Your generic speed-and-defense outfielder. He’s not gonna hit short of a .400+ BABIP, but that’s not why he’s here. Of course, with Forrest Wall types freely available, there’s not too much benefit to plucking a guy like this out of High-A and sticking him on a roster, but he is there for the taking.
Brayan Buelvas (OAK, OF). A pure projection pick — Buelvas turns 22 next year and barely played in Double-A so far, where he was horrid (38 wRC+). This is basically just a stash play for a kinda-fast, kinda-good-at-fielding outfielder; it seems unthinkable that he’s actually going to help your team in any capacity in 2024 if you take him.
Hudson Haskin (BAL, OF). Haskin seems like a guy for another era, as he slaps at the ball and tries to outrun the throw from an infielder to first. From what I understand, he also has the physical tools to hit the ball hard and over the fence, but has to change approach to do so, which could make him interesting for a team. On the flip side, he isn’t a true speed-and-defense savant, so a team taking him would need to gamble on him making up for what he loses in immediate non-batting value with the bat, eventually. He also spent most of 2023 injured, so a selection here would be based on his tools and pedigree as a second-round pick.
Kameron Misner (TB, OF). I wrote about Misner last year, and he went unselected and then put up a 107 wRC+ at Triple-A. He’s a very three-true-outcomes guy that plays fringy center field, and that seems way more interesting than most fourth or fifth outfielders, even after not being selected last year. Maybe this year’s the charm.
Mop-Up Guys / Rotation Depth
Coleman Crow (NYM, RHP). Crow is a weird case, as he was acquired by the Mets in the Eduardo Escobar trade, and then went down with Tommy John Surgery before throwing a pitch for his new organization. If not for his injury status, he probably would’ve been protected (though who knows what the Mets are doing, ever), but as it is, he’s available for Dan Winkler-esque shenanigans. Both ZiPS and more traditional prospect evaluation seem to think Crow has a major league future in some capacity, so a team that loves delayed gratification might deploy a pick here.
Shane Drohan (BOS, LHP). Drohan spent much of the year at Triple-A, where he was awful. He’s kind of a soft-tossing lefty, which is not the most exciting profile for a Rule 5 pick, but has apparently been in the midst of a giant overhaul of everything about him pitching-wise. If a team thinks they can finish that overhaul even better than Boston, at the major league level, then have at it.
J.T. Ginn (OAK, RHP). Ginn keeps getting hurt, and differs from most guys on this list because he has some semblance of minor league success... when he’s been able to actually participate in games. There might be some late bloomer/bounceback potential here, and it might even be easier to retain Ginn long-term if he has to spend a bunch of time on the Injured List, but you may find yourself asking, “Why bother?” In other words, why take a maybe-good pitcher with a horrible injury history, when you could just make random waiver claims and get other maybe-good pitchers without said injury history or any roster restrictions? At least some of the other guys on this list can give you bulk innings, and Ginn is more of an extreme mystery box.
Matthew Thompson (CWS, RHP). Has never really succeeded at anything and was bad at Double-A, but was a second round/top 50 pick at one point and has reasonable durability for a bulk role. Would probably be awful in the majors, though.
Dayan Frias (CLE, INF). The plus side is that he switch-hits and seems to have tools both defensively and offensively that evaluators tend to like. The downside is that he hasn’t played above High-A and doesn’t seem to project as more than a backup infielder at all, so all you’re getting here is a high-risk, roster-restricted guy you could probably just sign for league minimum, without the extra upside. But, maybe a team sees something they can work with here.
Nasim Nunez (MIA, INF). From what I can tell, Nunez is the defensive specialist’s defensive specialist. He has zero pop, has generally not hit anywhere in the minors, and is slight enough that it doesn’t look like he’s going to grow into his body and be able to hit the ball with any more authority than he has so far. But, the defense seems to be more than legit in terms of “people writing about minor league defense online,” which I’m not super-sold on, but there’s a dearth of other information to go on in this regard. I hesitate to say “bargain bin Nicky Lopez,” but yeah, Nunez seems like a freely-available Nicky Lopez that might have some growing pains defensively and probably won’t even hit as well as Lopez. If you’re really worried about having your 26th man be able to play the infield well when needed, though, he seems like your guy.
Eddinson Paulino (BOS, INF). Paulino is more hit-over-defense and probably can’t hack at it at short. He also hasn’t played above High-A. Given how rarely teams actually need a utility infielder these days, drafting him becomes a question of whether a team is willing to stymie or stall a 21-year-old’s development for a year just to get him into the organization. The Red Sox gambled that no one would, but he’s hit pretty well at every stop in the minors so far, even without BABIP helping out to inflate his lines.
Freddy Zamora (MIL, INF). Zamora was a second-rounder in the 2020 draft, and has spent a ton of his baseball roster time being injured, both pre- and post-draft. There’s performance risk here because he’s been hurt enough that his actual identity at the plate is a little unclear, but that also means there may be some upside he hasn’t had a chance to flash yet. It’s weird to think of a Rule 5 claim for a role that won’t get many PAs to have any real semblance of risk, but in my head, Zamora is the higher risk, higher reward option in this section.
Pablo Aliendo (CHC, C). There are enough organizational depth-type catchers floating around (hi, Chadwick Tromp) that no one needs to use a Rule 5 pick and attendant roster restriction on them, but still, some guys are around. Some, like Aliendo, have even hit pretty well at Double-A. Unfortunately, Aliendo isn’t much of a receiving/blocking wizard, so if teams really just want a competent backup catcher, they’ll probably pass.
Will Banfield (MIA, C). Banfield hit well enough in Double-A to suggest that he’s not going to be a complete no-show at the plate (100 wRC+, 23 homers in 495 PAs), and he seems to be fine enough defensively to get spot starts. You can have Chadwick Tromp for free, but if for some reason you don’t want to have Tromp for free and want to commit to a major league backup you can’t cut without losing him, I guess Banfield exists.
Brandon Valenzuela (SDP, C). Hit well in High-A and terribly at Double-A, and is more of a higher risk, higher reward backup option.
Ye Olde Starter-Turned-Reliever Role
Ian Bedell (STL, RHP). Low arm slot, quality curveball, recovered from Tommy John Surgery pretty well in 2023. What’s not to like? Well, the fact that Bedell hasn’t pitched above High-A yet. Still, there are relievers with all sorts of worse stuff on paper than what Bedell has to offer, so it’s really just a question of risk tolerance for a team that doesn’t immediately hang up the phone when you talk about taking a guy that hasn’t even hit Double-A with a Rule 5 pick.
Tanner Burns (CLE, RHP). Only really has a slider at this point, but there are so many of these guys. Why not him? A point in Burns’ favor is that he was non-horrible at Double-A, but there isn’t too much projection left here.
Taylor Dollard (SEA, RHP). The real stinger here is the shoulder/labrum injury that wiped out most of his 2023; otherwise, Dollard is an obvious fit with a quality slider for a short-stint role after being swiped. Not everyone likes relatively slow throwers that rely on command and east-west wipeout stuff in the bullpen, but you can stomach it if you then get to retain Dollard long-term. However, the shoulder injury makes it a much iffier proposition, since you might need to baby his usage while having him eat up a spot on the active roster.
Kohl Franklin (CHC, RHP). Throws reasonably hard, has at least one good secondary, little command to speak of? Yeah, that’s almost everyone in this category, but if you have him throw mop-up for you for a year, you get a shiny new pitching project in your system. Franklin got crushed at Double-A in 2023, but has a four-pitch mix and is only 24, though having to roster him all year would be a pain.
Justin Jarvis (NYM, RHP). The Mets acquired Jarvis in exchange for Mark Canha at the 2023 Trade Deadline, but then left him unprotected after he struggled badly in nine starts for their Triple-A club. Jarvis has multiple somewhat-workable pitches but has no command to speak of; he’s kind of a prototypical Rule 5 role conversion candidate under the premise that focusing on fewer pitches, mostly right-handed batters, and better stuff might pay immediate dividends, and pave the way for further development into a swing or starting role down the road.
Dahian Santos (TOR, RHP). He’s a sidearming, approaching submarine delivery right-hander that gets tons of whiffs and has no idea where the ball is going. He hasn’t yet pitched above High-A, but when you’re largely there to give guys a different look, does that matter? We’ll find out, but we probably won’t since I’m guessing no one takes him in the Rule 5. But maybe they should?
Ian Seymour (TB, RHP). Seymour, like the Rays, has nothing conventional about his path or potential selection. He was drafted in 2020, pitched at three levels in 2021 including Triple-A, and then went down with Tommy John Surgery after a few starts in 2022. He only pitched around 35 innings in 2023 with mixed results, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer weirdness of a short guy with a good attack angle that gets by on a changeup coming out of a delivery that looks like it’s trying to put a pitch through the catcher and the backstop. Is there a team Brave enough to take peak Rays weirdness and make it their own? Seymour is out there, if you don’t fear Akerlof’s lemons.
Misael Tamarez (HOU, RHP). Good stuff, no command, and honestly, no track record of effective pitching as a starter. A team interested in applying mechanical adjustments to wild throwers might want to use him as a test case, as he clearly has some issues with everything carrying way too high, and an arm slot adjustment might give him the type of platoon-advantaged performance that could make him a great fit for short-stint relief, and then reevaluation of his career path later.