Toolshed: Judging Rule 5 Draft stickiness

Burdi, Smith have legitimate chances; Gose faces uphill climb

Nick Burdi will miss the start of the season due to Tommy John surgery but could remain with the Pirates in 2018. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 15, 2017 10:45 AM

The drafting is done. Next comes the hard part.

The Rule 5 Draft took place Thursday morning to close out this year's Winter Meetings with 18 players heading to new organizations during the event's Major League phase. Of those 18, there were 13 right-handed pitchers, two left-handers, two outfielders and one first baseman. Four moved from the Yankees system and two each came from the Twins and D-backs. The Orioles made the most selections with three, while the Royals, Marlins and Pirates took a pair apiece.

Those are all fun facts, but looking ahead, all 18 players now face the challenge of sticking with their new Major League club for the duration of the 2018 season or they will be offered back to their previous organization. Of course, that's easier said than done. These players were initially left off 40-man rosters for a reason, and making the jump straight to the 25-man for an entire season is quite a task. Clubs can do their best to protect themselves from losing Rule 5 picks, like the Padres did with Luis Torrens and Allen Cordoba last season by giving them minimal at-bats. However, it's just as common -- or perhaps even more so -- that a team decides it won't work out as early as Spring Training.

This edition of Toolshed evaluates how likely Rule 5-selected players are to stick with their new club for all of the 2018 season. The scale is from one to five -- five being highly likely to stick, one being not at all likely.

1. Victor Reyes, OF, Tigers (from D-backs): This is why the Rule 5 Draft exists. Reyes showed he was probably ready for a Major League look by hitting .292 with 18 steals and 11 outfield assists this year at Double-A Jackson, but the D-backs decided he wasn't worth even a 40-man spot. So the Tigers swooped in and that should be a great fit, considering they're entering a rebuild. He should be the club's fourth outfielder right away, and Detroit will want to do all it can to keep his above-average speed and solid hit tool around. Stickiness level: Four

2. Julian Fernandez, RHP, Giants (from Rockies): Throwing hard can get you far -- a phrase that could be oft-repeated for this batch of Rule 5 picks -- and Fernandez certainly fits the bill with his ability to crank it up past 100 mph on the radar gun. The Giants want to get a closer look at that fastball in the spring. Fernandez's walk rate has dropped nicely from 19.8 percent in 2016 to 7.4 percent in 2017. But those samples are from Class A Short Season Boise and Class A Asheville, respectively. Major League hitters will be much tougher. The saving grace here, besides the velocity, is that San Francisco doesn't have a clear path to contention right now and might let Fernandez takes his lumps if he keeps lighting up the gun. Stickiness level: Two

3. Nick Burdi, RHP, Pirates (from Twins): Burdi was known as one of the hardest throwers in the Minors before he underwent Tommy John surgery around late May. The injury scared off the Twins from protecting Burdi, but it's worth a gamble for the Bucs, especially considering Burdi sported a 0.53 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 17 Double-A innings before the procedure. In fact, his recovery could help his case. Burdi could undergo a lengthy rehab assignment and then would need to be on the active roster for 90 days in order to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements. The Pirates can make that work to keep his elite fastball and plus slider around. Stickiness level: Five

4. Carlos Tocci, OF, Rangers (from Phillies): The Rangers traded cash to the White Sox to get Tocci, so they obviously see something in him. GM Jon Daniels said the club specifically likes Tocci's ability to be an asset in center field, and that could be an area of need right now. Delino DeShields is slotted into the starting center-field spot right now, but Texas could use another option out there. Tocci, who hits from the right side, doesn't have an above-average offensive tool though, and his .689 OPS in the Eastern League away from Double-A Reading last season doesn't indicate he'd help much with the bat in Arlington right away. But backup outfielders can make careers off being good fielders, so he's got a chance. Stickiness level: Three

5. Brad Keller, RHP, Royals (from D-backs): It's going to be a rebuilding year in Kansas City following the expected departures of several free agents, so they might be willing to give Keller and the next pick here a longer leash. Keller has the chance to be a starter with a three-pitch mix that includes a good sinking fastball. Like any Rule 5 pitcher, he'd be more likely to stick if he moved to the bullpen, but he's never filled that role in the Minors and it's not clear his average slider and changeup would work well in that role. Of course, he could become the Royals' long man and spot starter or find a good mix of both roles. He's now Kansas City's No. 30 prospect, and as a system that'll need whatever it can get going forward, the Royals might not want to cut bait. Stickiness level: Three

6. Burch Smith, RHP, Royals (from Rays): Smith can be found four spots ahead of Keller on the latest Royals prospect list, and with good reason. The 27-year-old right-hander might have missed all of 2015 and 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, but he was effective in his return to the mound over the summer. That was especially true in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 29 in 20 1/3 innings while hitting 100 mph at times. Because of that velocity, it's not hard to see Smith working well in a relief role, should the Royals decide to use him there rather than as a starter. Stickiness level: Five

7. Anyelo Gomez, RHP, Braves (from Yankees): Gomez was a Yankees Organization All-Star. He pitched at all four full-season levels in the system and finished with a 1.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 87 strikeouts and 21 walks over 70 1/3 innings. His fastball can reach the upper-90s, and the secondaries work well to keep hitters off balance. But the new Braves regime has talked about easing in their young arms through the Major League bullpen, and it's unlikely they'd let Gomez get in the way of that development unless he can show he's ready to dominate the Majors. Stickiness level: Three

8. Jordan Milbrath, RHP, Pirates (from Indians): The stuff here is more enticing than the results. Milbrath has been lauded for his ability to throw in the high-90s with movement. However, Double-A batters didn't find much issue handling him as the 26-year-old posted a 3.90 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and .259 average-against in 30 innings at the Minors' second-highest level. The good news is he was much tougher against right-handers (.194 average) than left-handers (.333). Perhaps a low-leverage role focused on matchups could allow the Pirates to get the most out of him, but even that could be a tough hill to climb, given previous performance. Stickiness level: Two

9. Nestor Cortes, LHP, Orioles (from Yankees): Another dominant Yankees prospect heading elsewhere and the first of two going to Baltimore. Cortes worked as a starter and a reliever in 2017 to great effect, finishing with a 2.06 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 105 strikeouts and 32 walks in 104 2/3 innings across three levels. Through his five seasons in pinstripes, the 23-year-old southpaw was a control artist, and that should help his case here. The O's need pitching, especially in the rotation behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, and Cortes' success working in multiple roles should help his case plenty. Stickiness level: Four

10. Elieser Hernandez, RHP, Marlins (from Astros): Chances are anyone reading this column knows it's going to be tough sledding for the Marlins in 2018, so it came as no surprise to see them make not one but two Rule 5 picks. Hernandez is another pitcher who started and relieved in 2017, but the Marlins said they picked him to compete for a rotation spot. He put up a 3.98 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 21 walks in 63 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, and without a real standout pitch, it's his ability to throw in the zone that Miami seems to like most. If Hernandez doesn't look like he can cut it in the Majors in 2018, the Marlins won't worry much if they think he could help in 2019 and beyond. The jump from Class A Advanced can't be overlooked though. Stickiness level: Three

11. Mike Ford, 1B, Marlins (from Yankees): Reasons to like Ford include his .404 on-base percentage, 72/94 K/BB ratio and 20 home runs this season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto usually keeps his eye on moves that'll help the big club first and foremost. That said, Ford has a high hill to climb. The Mariners acquired Ryon Healy already this offseason to play first base, and Nelson Cruz isn't moving off designated hitter. What's more, the club already has a left-handed-hitting first baseman waiting in the wings in Dan Vogelbach. Ford will have to prove his on-base skills and power can translate quickly. Otherwise, he doesn't provide much that Seattle doesn't already have. Stickiness level: One

Video: Ford blasts go-ahead homer for RailRiders

12. Luke Bard, RHP, Angels (from Twins): Bard used his mid-90s fastball and average slider to great effect in 2017, striking out 99 over 65 1/3 innings at Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester. He was going to earn a Major League look in 2018, regardless. The good news is the Angels don't have a ton of relief talent who could push him out of a role; Eduardo Paredes (No. 13) is the only reliever ranked higher on the list of Angels prospects than Bard (No. 19). The bad news is the Angels are going to try to do all they can to compete in 2018 with the arrival of Shohei Ohtani, and keeping a two-pitch reliever with no Major League experience just for the sake of keeping him could get in the way of that goal. Stickiness level: Two

13. Tyler Kinley, RHP, Twins (from Marlins): The Twins grabbed Kinley because he can throw at or around 100 mph. But that didn't do much for him at Double-A Jacksonville, where he had a 5.19 ERA with 16 walks in 26 innings. Kinley's 72 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings across all levels last season make him enticing, and the Twins are certainly within their rights to take a closer look. But if that type of control can't play in the Southern League, it's definitely not going to play in the Majors, barring some changes. Stickiness level: One

14. Albert Suarez, RHP, D-backs (from Giants): Suarez is the rare Rule 5 pick who already has Major League experience. That's part of the reason Arizona took him; they don't have to worry much about an adjustment period. However, it also takes away some of the guesswork. Suarez sported a 5.12 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 11 walks in 31 2/3 innings with the Giants this year and was designated for assignment earlier this offseason. To his credit, his FIP was much lower at 3.79. The D-backs just want to see him compete for a bullpen spot and thus saw the acquisition cost of the Rule 5 to be low, but Suarez hasn't proven to be the type that demands to be around the Major League club from Opening Day through Game 162. If the rule regulations weren't there, it'd be an intriguing pickup. But they are, so he could be back with San Francisco before long. Stickiness level: Two

15. Anthony Gose, LHP, Astros (from Rangers): This remains the strangest pick of the Draft, and if it works, it'll be perhaps the most unique Rule 5 selection in recent memory. Gose is a former outfielder that the Tigers converted to the mound last season at Class A Advanced Lakeland. He threw 10 2/3 innings before experiencing elbow issues, but the Astros apparently saw enough in his impressive velocity and slider to take him from the Rangers, who had signed Gose to a Minor League deal earlier this offseason. Perhaps the defending World Series champs weren't aggressive enough in their free-agent pursuit of him; now they'll have to kick his transition into overdrive if they try to keep him. It's tough to imagine a contending club holding a 25-man spot for an inexperienced pitcher, but it's fun to think about. Stickiness level: One

16. Pedro Araujo, RHP, Orioles (from Cubs): Despite having played almost exclusively at Class A Advanced in 2017, Araujo has all the pieces to make a successful jump. His fastball and slider earn impressive marks, and he used them to post a 1.81 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 83 strikeouts and 17 walks in 64 2/3 innings at Buies Creek. The Orioles have a recent history of trying to keep their picks as best they can, so that bodes well, too. The lack of high-level experience keeps this from being a Four or Five, but don't count Araujo out by any means. Stickiness level: Three

17. Brett Graves, RHP, Marlins (from A's): As alarming as the 5.97 ERA at Double-A might be, Graves' value is better seen in the peripherals. His 3.09 FIP in 31 2/3 innings at the level was much more palatable, and he did strike out 57 and walk only 13 in 56 1/3 frames between Class A Advanced Stockton and Double-A Midland this season. His mid-90s fastball and slider earn solid marks. Add the fact that he throws in the zone, and it's not hard to see why the Marlins want to give him a starting chance. They'd likely have better results with a direct move to the bullpen, but as was the case with their earlier selection, the Marlins will take whatever they can get in 2018. Stickiness level: Three

18. Jose Mesa, RHP, Orioles (from Yankees): The 24-year-old gets a Rule 5 look after what was easily his most successful Minor League season -- a 1.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .166 average-against and 101 strikeouts in 84 innings. He's got four pitches with a fastball in the low-90s, and while nothing on the scouting report jumps out, the results sure do. Mesa started and relieved in 2017, once again helping his case for a Baltimore roster in need of arms. How the stuff plays remains a question. Stickiness level: Three

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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