LAS VEGAS -- For anyone who's never seen the Rule 5 Draft in person, let's set the scene.This is nothing like the Rule 4 Draft (i.e. the First-Year Player Draft) that took place in June. There aren't cameras all around. There isn't a studio crew breaking down each pick for
LAS VEGAS -- For anyone who's never seen the Rule 5 Draft in person, let's set the scene.
This is nothing like the Rule 4 Draft (i.e. the First-Year Player Draft) that took place in June. There aren't cameras all around. There isn't a studio crew breaking down each pick for minutes at a time. The commissioner isn't around to announce each name or take a photo with the latest pick. There's no studio crowd. There's no studio at all.
The Rule 5 Draft occurs in a convention ballroom early Thursday at the Winter Meetings. It's the last event on the calendar. (This year's event is scheduled for 9 a.m. PT in the Islander Ballroom at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, for those keeping score at home.) It's filled with mostly Major League front-office members scrambling in, coffees in hand, while members of their scouting or player-development departments walk to the microphone to announce each selection. It's a room with little fanfare.
It's also the room where dreams become reality.
In the Rule 5 Draft, eligible players are taken by participating organizations with the express intent on giving prospects real shots at making a Major League roster for a full season. If the player can't stick for a full season, he's offered back to his original club for $50,000, half of what a Rule 5 acquisition initially costs. Rule 5-eligible players are those signed at 19 or older who have played four seasons or more of pro ball or signed at 18 or younger and have played five seasons or more. The deadline to protect such players on the 40-man roster this year was on Nov. 20. A roundup of protected MLB.com ranked prospects can be found here.
As for those still left unprotected, here's a breakdown of some of the bigger-named ranked prospects who could be chosen in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft:
Richie Martin, shortstop, Athletics: This was one of the bigger unprotected shockers on Deadline Day. The A's took Martin out of the University of Florida with the 20th overall pick in 2015, and the 23-year-old shortstop was coming off his best offensive season yet, one in which he hit .300/.368/.439 with career highs in homers (six) and stolen bases (25) over 118 games with Double-A Midland. His 121 wRC+ ranked eighth among Texas League qualifiers. (A's coordinator of instruction Ed Sprague said an offseason move to contacts might have helped with his vision and his bat.) Martin is considered a plus defender at a premium position with good range and a plus arm. He also played some second base in 2018, showing much-needed versatility for a potential Rule 5 pick. A lack of a track record may have hurt Martin's chances in the A's eyes, considering Oakland's No. 12 prospect hadn't hit higher than .237 in his first three Minor League seasons. But Martin's defensive prowess and above-average speed could definitely be of use to a Major League club right away, and his bat improved enough to bring potential value as well. Any club in need of infield help should be giving Martin a long look Thursday.
Josh Ockimey, first baseman, Red Sox: The No. 10 Red Sox prospect has been hailed as a potential power option in the middle of a lineup since he was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 Draft, and he took another step forward in that department by posting career highs in home runs (20) and slugging percentage (.455) between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this season. However, he slugged just .398 and struck out in 35.2 percent of his plate appearances in 27 games at the Minors' highest level and then struggled even more so in the competitive Arizona Fall League, where he batted .172/.280/.250 with one homer in 18 contests. Put that together with the fact that Ockimey's glove and lack of speed anchors him to first base, and he wound up on the wrong side of the Rule 5 protection fence. Still, his pop from the left side could be useful in a Major League platoon, and he does have potential, should he make more regular contact. A club that sees that might be willing to give him a Major League shot a little early.
Max Schrock, second baseman, Cardinals: There might not be a better pure hitter available in the Rule 5 Draft than the Cardinals' No. 11 prospect, a career .304 hitter over four seasons in the Nationals, A's and Cardinals systems. Statistically, he took a step back in 2018, batting just .249/.296/.331 with a 63 wRC+ in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but dig deeper and there's still a lot to like about his offensive profile. The left-handed hitter struck out in only 7.9 percent of his plate appearances, third-lowest among 118 qualified Triple-A hitters. His .260 BABIP was second-lowest among the same group and much lower than his career mark of .319. The 2018 season was very much an outlier for him at the plate. With Schrock also playing third base and left field this past season, he could be of use to a club looking for an immediate utilityman who might turn out to be even more than that if he brings his pre-2017 bat to the Majors.
Dom Nuñez, catcher, Rockies/Ali Sanchez, catcher, Mets: Backup catchers who can bring value defensively usually have a place in the Rule 5 Draft, and these two would seemingly fit the bill. Nunez is the more experienced of the two, having played two straight seasons at Double-A Hartford, and is coming off a season in which he threw out 38 percent of attempted basestealers in the Eastern League. However, Colorado's No. 27 prospect went unprotected last year as well and was unpicked in part because of his bat -- a tool that didn't improve in 2018. Sanchez was further away this year, splitting time between Class A Columbia and Class A Advanced St. Lucie, but he may have even better defensive tools than Nunez. Sanchez caught 41.9 percent of attempted basestealers in 2018, and his receiving skills are considered to be plus. With front offices placing higher values on framing, New York's 23rd-ranked prospect could be of use right away behind the plate, even if his bat isn't quite up to snuff just yet (.294 OBP, .681 OPS in 2018).
Riley Ferrell, right-handed pitcher, Astros: Back on June 27 -- the day Ferrell was promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi to Triple-A Fresno -- it definitely looked like Houston's No. 17 prospect would be a lock for Rule 5 protection, if not a Major League debut in the second half. The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 1.90 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings, overcoming control issues in which he walked 17.3 percent of batters he faced. That wild side caught up to him in the Pacific Coast League, however, where Ferrell posted a 6.75 ERA, a 1.79 WHIP and 16 walks in 28 innings. Still between both spots, Ferrell fanned 67 batters in 51 2/3 innings (or 28.5 percent), thanks to a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a plus slider. A Ferrell pick gambles that the Major League club can corral that stuff and help Ferrell find the zone with more regularity. If he can, he's got the pitches to be a late-inning weapon quickly.
Tyler Jay, left-handed pitcher, Twins: At No. 6 overall, Jay is the highest eligible player from the 2015 Draft to go unprotected. Of course, a lot has happened since then. The Twins initially took the University of Illinois left-hander with the dream of converting him from a reliever to a full-fledged starting pitcher on the strength of his four-pitch mix. Three-plus years later, Jay has yet to pitch more than 83 2/3 innings in a Minor League season -- neck and shoulder injuries played their part -- and was back to being a full-time reliever this year at Double-A Chattanooga. He posted a 4.22 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP with 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 59 2/3 innings with the Lookouts -- mediocre numbers at best. There's still the off chance an organization in need of left-handed bullpen help could be willing to take a cheap look at Jay. Minnesota's No. 22 prospect can still throw in the mid-90s, and his slider can be above-average at times.
Spencer Adams, right-handed pitcher, White Sox: On stuff alone, Adams might not get in here the way baseball used to operate. The No. 26 White Sox prospect doesn't have a true plus pitch and throws around 90 mph with his fastball. Control might be the best skill on his scouting report. That led to very few missed bats in 2018 as the 22-year-old fanned only 95 over 159 innings between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. However, he did put up solid traditional stats, like a 3.19 ERA in 90 1/3 innings at the Minors' highest level. Adams' stuff might be more hittable the more a batter sees him. In fact, first-inning hitters batted just .212 against him in the International League while that jumped to .339 in the third. However with his pitchability, he could handle turning over a Major League lineup once or twice. That might make him perfect for a club looking for a long man to come out of the bullpen following what's been called "the opener." Adams' lack of K's makes him a severe dark horse Thursday, but if his name does get called, this type of role could be a big reason why.
Junior Fernandez, right-handed pitcher, Cardinals: Who doesn't love a heater? Fernandez has one of the best available in the Rule 5 Draft. MLB.com grades it as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he earns that mark by hitting the upper-90s with regularity. His changeup also can be a weapon, though St. Louis' 14th-ranked prospect lacks the quality third pitch to make starting pitching a real option. He went unprotected in part because of control issues (18 walks in 30 2/3 innings overall), general production (5.14 ERA in 16 appearances at Double-A) and arm health issues. But the stuff is too good to be ignored in a Draft with a history of favoring high-octane potential relievers.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.