Toolshed: 2018 Rule 5 Draft stickiness

Royals, O's picks likely to stay; Jays teenager faces challenge

The Royals are Sam McWilliams' third organization in the 2018 calendar year. (Freek Bouw/Phrake Photography)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 14, 2018 10:15 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Getting taken in the Rule 5 Draft is one thing. Sticking to the Major League roster for an entire season as a Rule 5 pick, well, that's a horse of a different color.

Fourteen players were given Major League life Thursday when they were picked in the Rule 5 Draft, held on the final day of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. These players were available for selection after being left off their organizations' 40-man rosters ahead of the protection deadline. Eligible players are those who have played five or more seasons of pro ball after signing at age 18 or younger or those that have played four seasons or more after signing at age 19 or older. The Rule 5 Draft is meant to help veteran Minor Leaguers from getting stuck in the lower levels of one system when they could be getting big league chances elsewhere.

A Rule 5 selection is undoubtedly a joyous occasion for a player, but it's far from a guarantee that he'll even see a Major League field the next season. Eighteen players were taken in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, and only nine of those stuck with the Major League club through 2018. Of those nine, only Royals right-hander Brad Keller (with a 2.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs) was an above-replacement-level player. Giants pick Julian Fernandez was the only other one who didn't have a negative WAR, but he didn't pitch after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring. Rule 5 selections, which cost $100,000 for a club to make, are a cheap way to build a roster, but even if the players stay in the Majors, they may not provide much on-field value right away.

Still, there's always the hope that a Rule 5 pick could turn into a success story like Odubel Herrera, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Bautista or even Roberto Clemente. The following is a look at this year's Rule 5 selections -- from first to 14th -- and each pick's likelihood, on a scale of one (being the least likely) to five, of sticking with his new club for the duration of the 2019 season.

1. Richie Martin, SS, Orioles (from Athletics): It isn't entirely common that the best available prospect in the Rule 5 Draft goes first overall, but that might have been the case this time around in a great match of talent and organizational need. Martin is coming off his best offensive season as a pro, having hit .300/.368/.439 with six homers and 25 stolen bases at Double-A Midland. He's an impressive fielder at short and shows good speed. It's a small wonder that Oakland left him unprotected. It also so happens that Baltimore has an opening at shortstop after nontendering Tim Beckham last month. It's possible the O's move Jonathan Villar over to short, but he received more playing time at second base over the last two seasons. Martin's biggest pitfall would be if his bat regresses to pre-2018 levels, when he hit in the low-.200s during his first three pro seasons. But even the A's believe a vision correction issue helped him find himself at the plate this year. With the Orioles clearly in a rebuild, they'll need all the young talent they can get, and it's tough to imagine them letting the 23-year-old infielder slip out of their system easily. Stickiness level: Four

2. Sam McWilliams, RHP, Royals (from Rays): The Royals struck relative gold in last year's Rule 5 Draft and have gone back to the mine. There's a lot of projection in this pick, with Kansas City plucking the 6-foot-7 right-hander from the Tampa Bay system. It's not the first time a team has tried its hand at acquiring McWilliams, either. The D-backs and Rays both traded for the 2014 eighth-rounder in the past, but it might be the Royals that get him at the right time. Splitting the season at Class A Advanced and Double-A, McWilliams saw his strikeout rate jump to 22.3 percent, up from 18.7 percent in 2017, thanks to a solid three-pitch mix involving a mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup. Missing that many more bats is a promising sign, and the Royals said Thursday they like his jump in stuff enough that they believe he will be a starter for them at some point, even if he has to relieve initially. The 5.02 ERA and 1.50 WHIP at Double-A may look rough, but it's telling that Kansas City was willing to overlook that and bet on his stuff when they had every other Rule 5-eligible pitcher available on the board. Stickiness level: Five

3. Jordan Romano, RHP, Rangers (from Blue Jays): Romano may have been a mid- and postseason All-Star in the Eastern League for his work as a starter in 2018, but his profile screams reliever. The Rangers intend to use him as just that. His fastball can reach the mid-90s, especially in shorter stints, and his slider is his only other above-average weapon at present. This season, he held Double-A right-handers to a .216 average compared to .256 for lefties, so don't be surprised if he features heavily against righties initially. Hard-throwing right-handed relievers with two pitches can seem like a dime-a-dozen commodity, though, meaning it could be a bit of an uphill climb for Romano. He'll have to really show what his stuff can do in the spring, or else a spot will be waiting for him at Triple-A Buffalo back in the Toronto system. Stickiness level: Three

4. Riley Ferrell, RHP, Marlins (from Astros): There is no doubt what Ferrell's stuff looks like coming out of the bullpen. The former No. 17 Astros prospect can show a mid-to-high-90s fastball, and his slider also receives plus grades. Those two offerings were nearly untouchable at times as he fanned 67 batters in 51 2/3 innings out of Double-A and Triple-A bullpens. However, his control can be his downfall. The 25-year-old right-hander issued 34 free passes in that span, walking 14.5 percent of the batters he faced in 2018. He does have potential to work as a late-inning reliever because of his stuff, and Miami, whose rebuild continues apace, will give him every chance to earn such a role. Stickiness level: Five

5. Reed Garrett, RHP, Tigers (from Rangers): If the Rangers really wanted a right-handed bullpen arm, they could have just protected Garrett. Instead, the 25-year-old will try to fill the role in Detroit. Spending his second season as a full-time reliever, Garrett finished with a 2.04 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 20 walks in 61 2/3 innings between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He was a closer at times in both stops and ranked second in the system with 21 saves. With a mid-90s fastball and good slider, he was tough against righties (.222) and lefties (.173) at Double-A but was much more hittable (.309 average-against overall) at the Minors' top level. Like most teams mentioned above, Detroit should have the roster flexibility to keep their pick throughout the season, which the Tigers did with Victor Reyes in 2018. Garrett will just have to do a better job of keeping the game's most advanced hitters off-balance to make it an easy choice for his new club. Stickiness level: Four

6. Connor Joe, INF/OF, Reds (from Dodgers): When Joe was announced as a Rule 5 pick, he was called a catcher. Spoiler: he won't be behind the dish in Cincinnati. He could feature plenty of other places on the diamond, however. The 2014 39th overall pick has played first base, second base, third base, left field and right field during his four seasons in the Minors. He pushed himself into Rule 5 consideration by breaking out at the plate with a .299/.408/.527 line in 106 games at Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City this season. His 17 homers more than tripled his previous career high (five). The Reds don't have a very deep bench right now, so even if Joe is highly unlikely to get a starting role at a corner spot in the infield or outfield, his versatility and offensive improvement could be an asset immediately. As in Martin's case, it'll be on the player to show 2018 was no fluke at the plate. Stickiness level: Four

7. Chris Ellis, RHP, Royals (from Cardinals): Some may remember Ellis as a bigger prospect who was traded from the Angels to the Braves in the Andrelton Simmons deal in November 2015 and then from the Braves to the Cardinals for Jaime Garcia a year later. The shine has come off the 26-year-old right-hander a bit since then, but 2018 was a bounce-back season for him. He spent the majority of it with Triple-A Memphis, where he posted a 3.76 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 68 strikeouts in 79 innings. He was a starter there but previously bounced between that and a relief role at Double-A Springfield. During shorter stints, his fastball can reach the mid-90s. Otherwise, he's durable enough to handle a workload should Kansas City need him as a back-end starter. That flexibility helped Keller in 2018, and Ellis could be next. Stickiness level: Four

8. Travis Bergen, LHP, Giants (from Blue Jays): From a statistical standpoint, the southpaw was as dominant this year as Minor League relievers get. Bergen finished with a 0.95 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 74 strikeouts and 10 walks in 56 2/3 innings between Class A Advanced and Double-A. Over both stops, he was tough against righties (.185 average-against) and his fellow lefties (.227). Here come the caveats: he did that as a 24-year-old, and it was his first season throwing more than 18 1/3 innings. Luckily for him, the Giants seem willing to deal either Will Smith or Tony Watson this offseason, and that would take away one of the left-handed options above Bergen on the depth chart. Until that officially happens, he's the fourth-best left-handed relief option they have. Stickiness level: Three

9. Elvis Luciano, RHP, Blue Jays (from Royals): Luciano is 18, an age rarely if ever seen in the Rule 5 Draft. But the Royals' No. 23 prospect had a contract voided early in his career, and the one he re-signed made him eligible for this year's Draft. The Jays are the ones taking the bit, based on Luciano's ability to show a plus fastball, an above-average curveball and an average changeup. He used all three to fan 70 batters in 67 innings last season. The problem: those 67 innings came between Rookie-ball stops in Burlington and Idaho Falls. Luciano hasn't played for a full-season affiliate yet, never mind played a full season. This is reminiscent of when the Brewers took Wei-Chung Wang in 2013 after he hadn't pitched above the Gulf Coast League. It took injuries and some creative roster moves for Wang to stick in 2014. It's worth a shot for the Jays to get a hard look at Luciano, given his potential, but there's just too much going against him experience-wise to make his staying likely. Stickiness level: One

10. Kyle Dowdy, RHP, Mets (from Indians): This might come down to who the Mets want to be this season. Dowdy is a hard-thrower capable of touching the high-90s. That'll jump off any scouting sheet. What doesn't jump off are his 2018 numbers. The 25-year-old right-hander had a 5.15 ERA and 1.48 WHIP with 50 walks in 124 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in the Tigers and Indians systems. He's capable of missing bats (as shown by 120 strikeouts in that span) but is also capable of being hit (as shown by a .282 average-against). Velocity isn't everything. The Mets said Thursday they hope to use Dowdy as starting depth, but it's tough to see how a pitcher with those numbers can crack New York's rotation when everybody's healthy. Even if he moves to the bullpen, where his velocity could be of special use, the Mets relief corps is already righty-heavy following additions of Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. If the Mets really are going for it under the new front office regime, it'll be tough to find a spot for Dowdy. If contending isn't a primary goal, his odds get slightly better. Stickiness level: Two

11. Drew Jackson, SS/2B, Orioles (from Dodgers): It might end up being an outright Rule 5 competition for that shortstop job in Baltimore. The O's also grabbed the Dodgers' No. 19 prospect after trading international money to the Phillies, and while Jackson was taken 10 spots below Martin, he's got an equal shot at winning a gig. Jackson showed more pop than his new teammate while in the same league, hitting 15 homers in 103 games with Double-A Tulsa, but showed less of a hit tool with a .251 average and .356 OBP. Interestingly, things evened out relatively with both posting a 121 wRC+ in the Texas League. Jackson is also a speed demon and shows a great arm. But if this is a competition to be a shortstop, he might have some catching up to do. That hasn't been his full-time position since 2016, as the Dodgers have given him more time at second base and even some at center field and third base. Again, it's the Orioles; they won't let Jackson's speed and arm get away easily regardless of who wins the shortstop job. Stickiness level: Four

12. Nick Green, RHP, D-backs (from Yankees): All anyone needs to know here is that Arizona general manager Mike Hazen said to MLB.com that this pick was "a little bit of a flier." Acquired by the Yankees in the August 2016 deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers, Green reached Double-A at 23 and did so for only three starts in 2018. His Class A Advanced Tampa numbers were modest: 3.28 ERA, 93 strikeouts, 57 walks in 115 1/3 innings. Hazen added that the D-backs were impressed by Green's cutter and curveball, and it's also worth noting he's much more of a groundball pitcher than a K-heavy hurler. But if Arizona is already acknowledging that Green is coming in for more of an audition than a firm chance at making the club, then we should all know how to view this. Stickiness level: Two

13. Brandon Brennan, RHP, Mariners (from Rockies): There's usually a funny one like this. Brennan was actually a free agent this offseason and signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies in November. The Mariners admitted they tried to sign him then and, in failing to do so, have given him a full-fledged Major League chance instead. Brennan had a 3.25 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 79 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in the White Sox system while showing some improvement when it came to control. The stuff doesn't immediately stand out, however, with a low-90s fastball and changeup, and the Mariners bullpen is already righty-heavy. It might take some real adjustments for Brennan to finally get his first Major League look out of Spring Training. Stickiness level: Two

14. Drew Ferguson, OF, Giants (from Astros): Like the Orioles and Royals, the Giants round things out with two picks. Their second one is a real threat to stick, as Ferguson is a ready-made fourth outfielder for San Francisco. The 26-year-old has split his Minor League time almost evenly among all three outfield spots and showed a good offensive skill set with a .305 average, .436 OBP and 46 walks in 65 games at Triple-A Fresno last season. He would have played more if not for fracturing his right ulnar styloid in June. He's shown good speed in the past as well, and with San Francisco containing a bunch of question marks in the outfield these days, Ferguson's versatility means he deserves a long look. Stickiness level: Four

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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