Major League Baseball teams have until Friday to add eligible minor league players to their 40-man rosters in order to keep other organizations from selecting them in the Rule 5 draft that will take place on the final day of the winter meetings during the second week of December. The fact that there was not a season played is going to bring about a lot of uncertainties, both for teams when it comes to protecting players, and for teams when it comes to potentially selecting players. Some of that can be mitigated by the fact that teams did have alternate sites with expanded 60-man player pools and many, but not all teams did at least join into sharing video and data (Trackman). That does give teams information on players from other organizations that isn’t available to us in the public sphere.
So, who is eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft? When it comes to players who were draft eligible, high school players selected in the 2016 draft or earlier as well as college players selected in the 2017 draft or earlier who are not on the 40-man roster.
Among outfielders we can jump right on over the 2016 draft. While the team did select a high school outfielder that year in Taylor Trammell, he was traded to San Diego in the 3-team trade that brought Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds. It turns out that we can say the exact same thing for the 2017 college draft class. The team selected Stuart Fairchild in the 2nd round with the 38th overall pick out of Wake Forest that season, but he, like Trammell, was traded away. Those two are the only draft eligible outfielders who would have been Rule 5 eligible.
When it comes to international signees who are first time eligible there are two guys who are considered prospects that fit the bill. Danny Lantigua has some of the best tools in the entire organization. Fidel Castro has some good tools to work with as well, and he also hit quite well the last time he was on the field, posting a .292/.362/.514 line between the AZL Reds and the Greeneville Reds. But while both outfielders have some promise, neither has ever played higher than Greeneville and it’s a stretch to believe that either player could stick at a Major League level.
Looking into players who would be second or third time eligible, if a player wasn’t selected in the past and didn’t play this year, it doesn’t reason that they would be selected this year. There are two exceptions to this rule, though. The first would be that a player does something in winter ball over the next three weeks that shows a different kind of skillset than the last time they were on the field. That hasn’t happened yet, so we can’t go down that road. The other scenario is for guys who were on the alternate roster at Prasco Park. Only one player falls into that category: TJ Friedl.
Last year was the first time that TJ Friedl was Rule 5 draft eligible. At the time he was coming off of an ankle injury that cut his season short on July 1st. He would wind up having surgery on the ankle, but returned in time for the start of spring training (where he went 3-5 with 3 walks, a double, drove in 4 runs, stole a base, and he scored 2 runs). When the Reds didn’t protect Friedl last November, here’s what I wrote at the time:
After being signed in 2016 for the largest bonus ever to an undrafted player that was draft eligible he’s hit .277/.369/.412 while climbing the ladder to Double-A. His season in 2019 was spent with Chattanooga where he hit .235/.347/.385 for the Lookouts. It was his worst season as a professional, and it came to an end at the beginning of July after an ankle injury required surgery. Diving a bit deeper into the stats we can see that his BABIP likely held him back during the time when he was healthy and on the field. His .277 mark was easily the lowest of his career (by comparison it was .348 in 2018). His walk rate, strikeout rate, and power were all average or better – but the low BABIP drug down his slash line a little bit.
While there have been times in his career where he’s played in the corner outfield, he’s a natural center fielder who has plus speed and can handle the position quite well. Friedl gets on base, has good gap power and there might be a little more home run power in his bat than he’s shown to this point in his career, too. On the bases he brings value both as a base stealer, and simply as a runner moving over on hits. His game is well rounded and he’s spent time in the upper minor leagues already.
It was a bit of a surprise that he wasn’t protected, and a bit of a surprise that he wasn’t selected. Things could have changed in 2020, though. While the public doesn’t know exactly how TJ Friedl looked over at Prasco Park, many teams shared data and video from the facilities with each other. That could mean that teams, and even the Reds, have different information today than they did a year ago. That may change someone’s opinion. Whether it’s the Cincinnati brass, or another team who maybe saw something this year that changed their mind – it could be an interesting Friday. Or, perhaps an interesting Thursday on December 10th when the Rule 5 draft will take place.