Teams around Major League Baseball have until tomorrow to add players to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Any player not on the 40-man roster who was signed in 2017 or earlier, or who was 19 or older and signed in 2018, or who has been a free agent previously in their career will be eligible to be selected.
Cincinnati has one incredibly easy choice that general manager Nick Krall has already stated the team will make: They will be adding Hunter Greene to the 40-man roster. He’s their top prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in all of minor league baseball. I’ve also written in more depth about three players that I believe will also be added to the 40-man roster by the organization – outfielder Allan Cerda, reliever Alexis Diaz, and starting pitcher James Marinan.
The Rule 5 draft isn’t always a surprise. Sometimes, though, teams will select someone no one really had on their radar. Last year, for example, the Baltimore Orioles selected Mac Sceroler from the Reds. Nowhere really even had that one as a potential selection – myself included.
Cincinnati, of course, may also be responsible for the most outrageous and head scratching Rule 5 pick of all time. Back in 2007 they selected Sergio Valenzuela from Atlanta. He was coming off of a season in A-ball with an ERA of 7.00 where he walked 37 batters, hit 12 more, and struck out just 38 in 72.0 innings while giving up 102 hits. And it’s not like he had elite stuff and no clue how to use it, either. At best his stuff graded out as solid. It was a pipe dream of all pipe dreams, though. Valenzuela literally never pitched in affiliated baseball after his 2007 season in Low-A with Atlanta. In 2008 he failed to make the Reds and then pitched in Mexico for the next 14 seasons.
All of that is to say that there may be someone missing from my list that another team has evaluated differently and could take a chance on that I have overlooked. If that’s the case, we’ll discuss that after the draft. For now, here are some guys that I’m less certain about that are in the organization who are going to be protected, but have some kind of argument to be made that another team could select them.
A strong season split between Daytona, Chattanooga, and Louisville. Much of his season came in Double-A with the Lookouts where he threw 40.2 of his 51.2 innings on the season. He allowed just 30 hits – 2 homers – and walked 28 batters to go with 52 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. His fastball works in the mid 90’s and he’ll mix in a good breaking ball in the low-to-mid 80’s. He will also show a change up in the low-to-mid 80’s.
He’s had some struggles out in the Arizona Fall League as he’s walked 11 batters with seven strikeouts in 8.2 innings pitched. Inconsistency with the strikezone has been there throughout the 2021 season. A team that saw him at the right time could see a big league reliever with multiple pitches who throws hard and had success in Double-A. But a team may also have seen him at the wrong time when he was battling control and think he’s needs a little more time in the minors to find more consistency with the strikezone.
One of the better pitchers in the farm system in 2021, Eduardo Salacar went from a guy who made 11 starts and 24 relief appearances in 2019 to a guy who made 20 starts and threw 101.0 innings in 2021. 19 of his starts came in High-A Dayton and his final start of the year came with Double-A Chattanooga on September 4th before he was shut down for the final two weeks of the season. Between the two stops he posted a 3.56 ERA, walked 33 batters, gave up just six home runs, and he struck out 109 batters.
In the spring he touched 98 MPH, and his velocity in the season was in the 93-95 MPH range and touched higher – up from where he was in 2019. He also showed a good breaking ball in the mid-80’s as well as a change up in the mid-to-upper 80’s. A team could see someone they could put in the bullpen and try to get more velocity in shorter outings and let him work with the fastball/breaking ball combination while hoping the control he showed in High-A translates well enough. Other teams may have some questions about just how well things would translate with such a big jump from A-ball to the big leagues.
Two years ago the Reds had Joel Kuhnel in the big leagues. In 2020 he saw some limited big league action, too. But last October he was outrighted to Triple-A. He missed almost all of the 2021 season after a shoulder injury. Kuhnel returned late int he year, throwing 4.0 innings in Goodyear while on rehab with the complex level team and then joining Triple-A Louisville down the stretch where he threw another 4.0 innings.
He’s not young anymore – he will be 27-years-old when the 2022 season begins. But he’s had tons of success in the minors, he’s had some success in the big leagues, and when he returned to the mound late in the season he was throwing in the 94-96 MPH range. A team that believes he can return to where he was before the injury could see a steal here.
When you look at the statline for Ricky Karcher in 2021 you get a mixed bag. He allowed 11 hits and just 1 home run in 27.1 innings and he struck out 48 batters to go with a 3.95 ERA. But he also walked 39 batters in his time that was split between Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton.
When you look at his stuff there’s not much of a mixed bag. He sits in the upper 90’s with his fastball, topping out at 99 with above-average spin rates. He also throws a slider in the mid-80’s with above-average spin rates. A team looking for a big time arm that they can work with in the spring and see what happens with their coaching staff could see Karcher as that lottery ticket worth picking up. Other teams will look at the inconsistency with the control and the big jump from A-ball and go in a different direction.
Teams tend to look for more upside with players that they select than what Alfredo Rodriguez likely provides. He’ll turn 28-years-old next summer and he’s never been in the big leagues before. His upside is probably that of a utility player who is very much a glove-first kind of guy. But in 2021 he held his own on offense, hitting .283/.333/.354. He’s never going to hit for power, but over the last two seasons in the minors he’s actually done some sort of hitting in both Double-A and Triple-A – even if it’s been mostly singles. A team that’s very light on quality infield gloves could take a chance here and potentially use Rodriguez as a pinch hitter in the right circumstances.
The outfielder injured his ankle on a play at the wall in the first game of the season and missed the next two months before returning to re-join the Chattanooga Lookouts. Once he was back he hit well, posting a .279/.335/.495 line in 53 games with 11 home runs. The Reds then sent him to the Arizona Fall League where he’s still playing. Through 12 games he’s hit .341/.408/.455 for Surprise.
With upper minors success and a good performance out in the Arizona Fall League a team could see Mount as a potential corner outfielder with a bit of pop and speed who may be able to cover all three outfield spots off of the bench.
2021 was a bit of a breakout year for Lorenzo Cedrola. He played in 106 games with Double-A Chattanooga and hit .320/.356/.461 before spending two weeks in Triple-A to finish the season where he added his 10th homer of the season – giving him more during the year than he had hit in his career before the season began (nine). Cedrola showed improved power, an ability to play center, and a high rate of contact – he struck out in just 11% of his plate appearances.
A strong showing in Double-A, plenty of speed, plenty of contact ability, and an ability to plate all around the outfield could make for a quality 4th or 5th outfielder. Some teams could be concerned about his low walk rate, but with a high contact rate it could ease some of those concerns.
The 2021 year was a tale of two seasons for Robbie Tenerowicz. From the start of the season through June 22nd he played in 36 games for Double-A Chattanooga. He struggled in a big way, hitting just .228/.308/.281. In that span he showed no power, walked just seven times, and he struck out 40 times. Three days later he was back in the lineup, went 3-5 with two doubles and he never looked back. From June 25th through the end of the season he would hit .286/.377/.587 with 29 extra-base hits in 57 games played.
Teams that saw him in the second half saw a very different player, one who had a better understanding of the strikezone and showed off big time in-game power. While he played mostly third base in 2021 with Chattanooga, he’s spent time in the corner outfield as well as second and first base as recently as 2019. His age could work against him as he’ll be 27 when the season begins, but a player with some power who can play a lot of positions could be of value.