The Cincinnati Reds selected outfielder Mark Payton in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this afternoon. Reminder that players selected in the Major League version of the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the Major League roster all season and can’t be sent to the minors unless it’s on a rehab assignment. If they are not going to be on the big league roster they must be placed on waivers for any other team to claim, and if unclaimed, offered back to the team they were originally selected from.
Mark Payton was a 7th round draft pick in 2014 by the New York Yankees. He was drafted twice before signing, once in the 31st round out of high school in 2010 by Minnesota, and then in the 16th round in 2013 by the Indians. He went to Texas where he had a career OPS of .869, but was at .900+ for his last three seasons, including a big junior season where he hit .393/.483/.545, that somehow came without a single home run.
He’s listed at 5′ 8″ tall and 190 lbs. He hits and throws left handed.
Minor League Playing History
In his professional debut he put up a strong season, hitting .320/.418/.497 with the Yankees Low-A and Advanced-A levels in 48 games. But he couldn’t carry that forward, posting an OPS of .714 the following season, then a .780 OPS in 2016 between three stops. IN 2017 his OPS dripped to .702. During 2018 he spent his entire season in Triple-A, but missed the first half of the year. Once he returned he hit .259/.368/.401.
The 27-year-old had a big time break out season in 2019. He joined the Oakland Athletics organization after being selected by them in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, and for the first time since 2016 he stayed on the field for a full season, or close to it. In 118 games he hit .334/.400/.653 with 30 doubles, three triples, and 30 home runs across 447 plate appearances. He walked 45 times with 76 strikeouts. Most of his time was split between the corner outfield spots, but he did see a limited amount of time in center field – which has been the case for most of his minor league career.
Nearly half of his minor league home runs came during the 2019 season. Entering the year he had only one double-digit home run season, back in 2016 when he hit 10. With a total of 32 career homers before the year, 30 of them was a big step forward. Between moving to the Pacific Coast League and the juiced baseball in use in Triple-A during 2019, he went off in the power department like never before.
Scouting Report on Mark Payton
Let’s start with the good: He seems to get the strikezone fairly well. In his career he has 233 walks with 384 strikeouts in 2248 plate appearances. While he’s not a big time contact hitter, he makes contact at a rate that’s better than average. And his walk rate for his career is over 10%. While he’s not likely an every day option in center field, he’s capable of being a back up guy there, and can play in the corners.
Now let’s focus a little bit on the questions. He’s going to be a 28-year-old who has never been in the Major Leagues. And his breakout season came in the most hitter friendly league, in the most hitter friendly park, in a year with a baseball that was juiced to the gills.
It’s not unheard of for guys to figure something out and explode onto the scene. For Mark Payton the question is did he do that, or are we seeing a perfect situation of circumstances for 2019? Honestly, it’s tough to say. He almost certainly saw some benefit from the playing environment and the baseball in use. Everyone did. His team hit .298/.371/.531 as a whole. THE TEAM HAD AN OPS OF .902.
But there could be something going on here a little more than just that. Entering the 2019 season Mark Payton had a career ground ball rate of 44%. In 2019 that rate dropped to 34.7%. He started hitting the ball in the air with far more frequency than ever before. Obviously with the playing environment and baseball, that’s really going to help out. But even without those things, that’s usually going to help. You aren’t racking up extra-base hits on grounders. Let it fly, as the kids say.
As a left-handed hitter he showed some splits last season. He hit an absurd .357/.417/.697 against right-handed pitchers. Against lefties he hit .263/.346/.516. His strikeout rate was also significantly higher versus lefties (24.1% vs 14.7%).
Can Mark Payton stick and how would he be used?
The rosters are moving to 26 players for the 2020 season. The Reds are looking to add offense this offseason, and while I doubt they are looking at Mark Payton as a guy who they are going to pencil into their lineup every day, if they can’t land that kind of outfielder, he certainly could fit into an outfield rotation. A left-handed hitter who can cover all three outfield spots on a given day who has a good approach at the plate, and perhaps some real power that he found due to a change in approach is certainly useful.
The question is can he stick to the roster? That’s a tougher question. It’s probably easier to do that in 2020 than ever before given that there is an extra roster spot. The big question may come down to whether or not his breakout in 2019 was real. If he gets to Goodyear and looks like it was more real than environment created, he’s probably going to have a good chance to stick on the roster.
The minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft
The Cincinnati Reds didn’t lose any players in the Major League phase of the Rule 5, but they did lose several in the Minor League phase. The rules are a bit different than the Major League phase. Players do not have to remain on any given roster. Essentially, the Minor League phase is simply a “sale” where teams are permitted to acquire for a cash fee players that are left unprotected on the minor league roster.
Players that were lost:
But the Reds were also buy selecting players in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, too. They picked up shortstop Michael De Leon from the Texas Rangers organization and right-handed pitcher Miguel Figueroa from the San Francisco Giants organization.
Michael De Leon is a 22-year-old shortstop who played in Double-A in each of the last three seasons. His OPS in those seasons has been .541, .623, and once again, .623. He’s a glove first player who doesn’t bring much with the bat – he’s a career .249/.294/.321 hitter in 676 career minor league games. He hit .164/.164/.209 in 67 plate appearances with Licey this winter in the Dominican Winter League.
Right-handed pitcher Miguel Figueroa turned 22 at the end of the 2019 season. He’s yet to make it out of rookie league baseball. In 2019 he posted a 3.00 ERA in 15 games where he threw 36.0 innings without allowing a home run, walking 15 batters, and striking out 45. He split his time with the Giants Arizona Rookie League team and their short-season team in Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League.