The Rule 5 draft will take place tomorrow morning in Las Vegas as the winter meetings conclude. The Major League version of the Rule 5 gets all of the notoriety, but there’s also a minor league version for Triple-A and Double-A. Today, though, we are only focusing on the Major League version because we actually know who is eligible.
In order for a player to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft the rules are fairly simple: If the player signed before their 19th birthday during a season, then they have five seasons before they are eligible. That would include high school draft picks from the 2014 draft. For players who were 19 or older when they signed, they get four seasons before they are eligible. This includes players drafted out of college in the 2015 season. Any player who has reached free agency, whether they meet the previous criteria or not, would also be eligible. This is rare, but does happen at times.
Any player who meets the above criteria and is not placed on their teams 40-man roster can be selected by another organization. That organization has to pay $100,000 for the player and has to keep them on the 25-man roster for the entirety of the season. If they can’t do that, they have to put the player on waivers and if no one claims him, off that player back to the team he was selected from for $50,000.
The Cincinnati Reds chose to protect one player this year: Jimmy Herget. There are over 50 players in the organization that are eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and some of them are more likely to be selected than others. Teams are weird when it comes to the Rule 5 draft, as they often go for the upside, but very risky pick over the safer but low-floor pick.
When it comes to the high upside guys that are available from the Reds, a few players stand out. The triple-digit arms jump to the top of the list. It’s a lot easier to hide a reliever on your roster than anything else. You can choose to use them in blowouts and get them experience even if they aren’t quite ready.
Aneurys Zabala topped out at 102 MPH this season and routinely sits in the upper 90’s with his fastball. He went unprotected because he struggles to throw strikes, and despite big velocity, he also struggles to miss bats. He walked nearly six batters per 9-innings pitched. That came with just 7.3 batters struck out per 9-innings pitched. Still, someone could love the velocity and think they can work with the control.
Jose Adames could be a real sleeper type of pick. He last pitched in 2016. The Reds picked him up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft that December. But he missed the 2017 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. When he returned for instructional league in October of 2017 he was throwing 99 MPH. Unfortunately, he also missed the entire 2018 season. It’s an unlikely pick given the time he’s missed, but he certainly fits into the category of big velocity arms.
Rafael De Paula doesn’t throw quite as hard as those two guys, but he’s performed in Double-A. Last season with Pensacola he posted a 3.44 ERA in 49.2 innings with 25 walks and 58 strikeouts. In 8.1 innings with Louisville he had 15 more strikeouts and five walks with a 3.24 ERA. He’s currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League with a 2.08 ERA in 21.2 innings with six walks and 23 strikeouts.
Tejay Antone has always been intriguing as a potential bullpen arm. The Reds have used him in the rotation throughout his career, but his fastball/breaking ball combination could really play up in the bullpen in my opinion. He’s never pitched in Double-A, so it would be a big jump – but he throws strikes and misses some bats as a starter.
One last name to keep in mind would be Cory Thompson. Originally drafted as a shortstop, some teams thought he was a better pitching prospect. He ultimately moved to the mound for the Reds and he’s had success over the last two seasons there. The 24-year-old has never pitched above Low-A Dayton. His velocity current sits in the low 90’s, but there’s potential for more in there. He’s also got a good breaking ball to work with. In 2018 he walked just 13 of the 304 batters he faced, so he’s also a strike thrower.
When it comes to the position players, things get a bit tougher. They are harder to hide on the roster, though teams will try it at times. A guy that a team wouldn’t have to hide on the roster is Brian O’Grady. He’s performed well at Triple-A, posting an OPS of .927 there this season. He’s not young, he’ll turn 27 in July. And he’s more of a corner guy in the outfield, but in a pinch he can handle center. And he can also fill in at first base if needed. On the bases he can pinch run, too. It’s not a sexy “upside” pick, but he might be valuable for a team looking to fill out their bench with some versatility.
Andy Sugilio could fill the “guy with plenty of tools” selection from the Reds system. But he struggled at times in 2018, though some of that probably had to do with injury. Still, he’s never played above Low-A and while he was there he did have some struggles.
Another toolsy outfielder that could draw some interest in Michael Beltre. He’s got good plate discipline, he’s got plenty of tools – he can run, he can throw, he’s got power potential. But he’s never played above the Advanced-A level. And while he has power potential, tapping into it could be a long process. He’s an extremely high ground ball rate hitter that may need to rework his swing in order to use his size and bat speed to get loft on the ball. He could be an intriguing piece for a team that thinks they can make it work.
Nick Longhi battled injuries during the 2018 season and it kept him off of the field, and from hitting like he has in the past when he was out there. He managed a .619 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A during the year. Before joining the Reds organization he was viewed as a guy with an above-average hit tool with a little bit of power potential. He’ll be 23 next season. There’s a chance that a team who liked what they saw in 2017 or earlier could take a gamble here.
If I had to bet money on whether or not the Reds would lose someone in the Rule 5 Draft tomorrow, I would bet that they don’t. It’s been a while since they did lose someone in the draft and I don’t think it will change this year. But there are arguments to be made that a few guys could be taken from the group above.
Who could the Reds target in the Rule 5 draft?
Baseball America has a pretty comprehensive list of potential players that teams could be looking at. The Reds have made more than a few selections over the past few seasons. One thing that sticks out is that they’ve targeted players that seemed to have lower upsides, but could be useful on the roster. When looking at the roster as it sits, they could really use a strong center fielder, or even a backup shortstop. On the mound you could be looking at a big velocity guy, or maybe a lefty reliever.
When looking at the potential needs for the Reds, at least from a defensive perspective, Ray-Patrick Didder could be a possible pick. He split his season in Advanced-A and Double-A in 2018. In Double-A with Mississippi he hit .275/.373/.374 with 16 walks and 37 strikeouts. He also stole nine bases in his 46 games played. There’s now much power to be had, but he understands the strikezone, has speed, and the most important part: He can play shortstop, second base, third base, and center field.
Drew Ferguson could be an interesting pick up for the Reds. He’s a bit older – he turned 26 in August, but he is capable of playing any of the three spots in the outfield. In half of a season in Triple-A this year (he missed the other half with an injury) he hit .305/.436/.429. There’s not a lot of power in there, but he has gotten on base throughout his career, has a little bit of speed, and can cover your outfield as a backup.
A lefty to keep an eye on could be Luis Gonzalez. He dominated in Double-A out of the bullpen, posting a 2.17 ERA in 45.2 innings with 14 walks and 58 strikeouts. The move up to Triple-A wasn’t as smooth as he posted a 5.04 ERA in 25.0 innings. His strikeout rate was still strong as he fanned 27 batters, but his walk rate jumped up as he handed out 12 free passes. He’s always missed bats. Against lefties he had 8 walks and 35 strikeouts in 118 match ups during 2018.
When it comes to big arms there are two that stick out to me. The first is Stetson Allie. He was originally taken as a position player. But in 2017 he moved to the mound. He sits at 98 MPH and touches higher. And he also brings a good slider to the table. He’ll miss plenty of bats. He also will miss the strikezone a lot. He’s got a great arm, but needs to find control. Given how new he is to the mound, and the arm – he could be worth taking a look at in the spring to see if your pitching coaches can help him along.
The other pitcher that stuck out is Roel Ramirez. He spent most of his season in Double-A between the Cardinals and Rays organizations. The Cardinals left him unprotected after acquiring him in a midseason trade. During 2018 he posted a 2.95 ERA at his three stops that included 12.2 innings in the Florida State League. In Double-A he had 22 walks and 56 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. He’s shown a fastball that will reach the upper 90’s while sitting in the mid 90’s.
The Cincinnati Reds are currently drafting 7th – if they choose to draft. But two teams ahead of them have a full 40-man roster. If that remains through tomorrow morning, those teams can’t select anyone and it will bump the Reds up in the draft. They could have some options here, and with plenty of spots open, don’t be surprised if they do choose to select someone.