Major League Baseball teams have until this 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.
When we look back at the 2016 high school draft class there were two high school pitchers signed that year. One of them has been released and the other one, Nick Hanson, has battled injuries since being drafted and has thrown a total of 20.2 innings in his career. Moving onto the 2017 class of drafted pitchers we see a lot of college pitchers, but also one high school pitcher who is eligible because he was 19 by the time he was drafted. Most of these pitchers, though, aren’t starters. Some are no longer with the organization.
Jacob Heatherly was taken in the 3rd round out of Cullman High School in Alabana in 2017. When he was drafted he had already turned 19, making him Rule 5 eligible this year instead of next year like much of the same high school class. There’s plenty to like from Heatherly when he’s healthy. The left-handed starter can throw hard – he’s been up to 97 MPH in the past – and he’s got a potentially plus breaking ball to go along with a solid change up. Those are the selling points on the now 22-year-old lefty. The flip side to that is that he pitched in four games in 2019 at the Low-A level before an injury cost him the rest of the season. Toss in that he’s walked 66 batters in 87.0 professional innings and there’s plenty of concern that should be had about him finding a way to stick in a big league bullpen in 2021.
In the 5th round the Reds took their first college pitcher, Mac Sceroler, out of Southeastern Louisiana University. His 2019 season in Daytona was a good one on many fronts. While he was a little old for the league at 24-years-old, he allowed 101 hits and walked just 29 batters in 117.0 innings while striking out 127 hitters to go along with a 3.69 ERA. He’ll be 26 on April 9th, so he’s not a spring chicken, so to speak, but in his last time on the mound he pounded the strikezone and he got plenty of results. On the other side of that coin, though, is that in an age when everyone you’ve never heard of before throws 96 and up, Sceroler has worked in the low 90’s as a starter. Perhaps there’s more there as a potential reliever, and he can let a good breaking ball work with that fastball – but it’s something a team would need to be sold on since it’s not something that he’s done in the past.
In the 11th round in 2017 the Reds took another starting pitcher, Jared Solomon. The last time he was on the mound was in 2019 with the Dayton Dragons and Daytona Tortugas. In 115.1 innings he allowed 116 hits, five homers, walked 61, and he struck out 111 hitters to go with a 3.98 ERA. The results were solid, but unspectacular. Most scouts I spoke with during and after the 2019 season saw Solomon eventually moving to the bullpen. But, he has started for his professional career, and after working in the 92-94 MPH range for most of the 2019 season (a few games he did sit a little higher), he was throwing up to 98 in instructional league this year. Toss in a solid breaking ball and a change up and there may be enough there to entice a team to select him if he goes unprotected.
That’s it from the drafted by the Cincinnati Reds group of starting pitchers. But that doesn’t end the group as a whole to look at. One player acquired in a trade is now Rule 5 draft eligible, and an international signing is worth looking at, too.
Riley O’Brien was acquired in late August of 2020 from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Cody Reed trade. The 2017 8th round pick for Tampa Bay spent the 2019 season in Advanced-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery where he made 17 starts and three relief appearances. In his 102.2 innings he allowed 76 hits, just six homers, walked 44 batters, and struck out 107 hitters to go with a 3.16 ERA. After his acquisition, the Reds assigned him to their 60-man player pool at Prasco Park where he pitched for the next four weeks before the season came to an end. The right-handed pitcher can reach 97 MPH, but sits in the 91-95 MPH range with his fastball. He also throws a plus breaking ball, and he has a change up – but it’s one that needs work. The now 25-year-old has upper minors success in Double-A, and he has two above-average offerings to work with. Rotation depth and a bullpen today profile likely makes him a pick if he is left unprotected.
On the international signing side of things we have Vladimir Gutierrez. The right-handed pitcher last pitched in 2019 with the Triple-A Louisville Bats, and in the first year that Triple-A used the big league baseball that was juiced to the gills, things were a struggle as he posted a 6.04 ERA in 137.0 innings while giving up 26 homers. He finished the year strong, making six starts in August with a 3.74 ERA, 14 walks, and 41 strikeouts in 33.2 innings – easily the best month he had all year.
He showed up in 2020 big league spring training and was throwing harder than he has in the past, reaching back for 95-97 MPH – and area that he would touch on a rare occasion in the past. While we didn’t learn of it until long after baseball was shut down, during the spring he did test positive for stanozolol and faced an 80-game suspension. He has served 60 of those games and will have to serve the remaining 20 when the 2021 season begins. That, along with his performance during 2019 could hold teams back from selecting him. He did pitch in instructional league this year, and he’s currently in the Dominican Winter League – so teams will have had a chance to see him before the draft.
The flip side of that is that he could probably stick in a bullpen today to let his plus breaking ball work along with a mid-90’s fastball and a solid change up. If left unprotected it feels like he would be taken by a team looking for rotation depth with an insurance policy of a quality reliever.