Toughest decisions for each team ahead of Rule 5 Draft

Detroit Tigers

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

They’re coming fast and furiously in Major League front offices now that the offseason is about to hit full swing. Expect a flurry of moves next Tuesday, when organizations must add eligible players to their 40-man roster or else leave them exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, to be held on Dec. 7 in San Diego.

We’ve organized each club’s Rule 5-eligible Top 30 prospects here, but ranked players are not guaranteed to find their way onto the 40-man. Far from it. Here are the toughest 40-man decisions ahead of next Tuesday’s deadline, one for every club:

Blue Jays: Tanner Morris, INF (No. 18)
The 2019 fifth-rounder certainly knows how to reach base. He had a .399 OBP and 55/55 K/BB ratio in 74 games between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo this season. That is always useful for a Major League club, and some defensive versatility — Morris has played second, third and left in the Arizona Fall League — doesn’t hurt either. The problem is his hit tool is his only above-average skill, and his power is a serious question after he had zero extra-base hits in 126 Triple-A plate appearances. The Virginia alum has Major League proximity on his 40-man side, but Rule 5-picking teams often search for players with multiple tools that could help them in the bigs.

Orioles: Drew Rom, LHP (No. 19)
Lefties with upper-level experience, especially those who could fit in a rotation, are always going to be of interest in a Rule 5 Draft. Rom’s ceiling is limited because of a lack of overpowering stuff, and he had a combined .276 batting average against while giving up 9.8 hits per nine in Double-A and Triple-A in 2022 (though he also whiffed 10.8 per nine). With a system as deep as the Orioles have, it could be a tough decision whether to make room for a back-end starter type of southpaw.

Rays: Ronny Simon, INF (not ranked among Rays Top 30)
With 22 homers and 34 steals between High-A and Double-A, Simon was the Rays’ only 20-20 player during the regular season. However, some aggression in his approach kept his OBP low (.304) and overall production generally average (104 wRC+). The 22-year-old infielder, who was acquired from the D-backs for Jordan Luplow a year ago, has looked dynamic in the Fall League, where he’s gotten more looks at shortstop. The trouble is that Tampa Bay already has a loaded 40-man, and that’s before it protects Top 30 standouts like Taj Bradley and Curtis Mead. Making extra room for Simon will take roster creativity, and leaving him off will be a risk.

Red Sox: Christian Koss, INF (No. 20)
Acquired from the Rockies in a December 2020 trade for Yoan Aybar, Koss is one of the better defenders in the Red Sox system and has solid raw power and speed, not to mention a high baseball IQ. He hit .260/.309/.430 with 17 homers and 16 steals in 125 Double-A games, but his lack of plate discipline could be a problem at higher levels.

Yankees: Brandon Lockridge, OF (No. 26)
Lockridge remains one of the best athletes in the Yankees system, flashing top-of-the-scale speed while displaying solid raw power and playing a fine center field. However, the 2018 fifth-rounder from Troy will be 26 next season and batted just .230/.300/.378 with 14 homers and 18 steals in 108 Double-A games.

Guardians: Joey Cantillo, LHP (No. 23)
Cantillo owns a quality changeup and gets good extension in his delivery, helping his low-90s fastball get on hitters quicker than expected. He also has had trouble staying healthy after coming to the Guardians in the nine-player Mike Clevinger trade with the Padres in August 2020, missing most of 2021 with an oblique injury and pitching just once in the final three months of this season because of shoulder issues. He logged a 1.93 ERA, .178 opponent average and 87 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings in Double-A.

Royals: Diego Hernandez, OF (No. 20)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2017, Hernandez finally broke through this season with a .284/.347/.407 line and 40 steals in 115 games at High-A and Double-A. He entered 2022 with two career homers and proceeded to go deep nine times this summer alone. Hernandez’s plus-plus speed, impressive range and strong throwing arm could all play in the Majors now, but his bat would need more time, even with the modest jump in power. It’s all part of the equation for a Royals system that can’t afford to lose any promising young talents.

Tigers: Jose De La Cruz, OF (No. 27)
Four years ago, the Tigers signed the Dominican outfielder for $1.8 million. It’s been a slow road of development ever since. De La Cruz has played in the Florida State and Florida Complex Leagues in back-to-back years, while barely hitting above the Mendoza line in either campaign. His plus raw power has been blunted by a 38.9 percent K rate in 2022, and that would be a guarantee to jump more than a few points in the Majors as a Rule 5 pick. There’s a small likelihood that any club would give him a four-level jump, but Detroit might not want to risk that given its belief in the player since that seven-figure signing.

Twins: Matt Canterino, RHP (No. 9)
From a pure stuff standpoint, not to mention success on the mound, this would be a no-brainer for the Twins. But arm issues kept him off the mound more often than not (just 85 innings since being a second-round pick out of Rice in 2019), and Canterino had Tommy John surgery in August. Now the organization must decide if they want to protect the right-hander and his four-pitch mix or risk having a team take him and letting him rehab in a new organization.

White Sox: Yolbert Sanchez, 2B/SS (No. 26)
A Cuban who signed for $2.5 million in July 2019, Sanchez surprised the White Sox with his offensive production in his 2021 U.S. debut but slipped to .286/.346/.344 with 11 steals in 113 games between Double-A and Triple-A at age 25. His fringy speed and average arm limit his defensive value and he has been passed by several infielders in the system.

Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF (No. 21)
When the Angels took the two-sport standout out of high school in the first round in 2018, they knew it might take a while for his athleticism and raw tools to sharpen on the field. He’s shown glimpses at times, especially improving the use of his 80-grade speed on the basepaths (he’s long been a plus defender), and his approach improved in 2022, but was his .649 OPS as he reached Double-A enough to land him a roster spot?

Astros: Cristian Gonzalez, SS (No. 17)
The best prospect in the Astros’ 2018 international class, Gonzalez signed for $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He has 20-homer potential and well above-average arm strength, and he plays a fine shortstop, but he hit just .227/.283/.350 with 10 homers in 104 games in High-A.

A’s: Lawrence Butler, OF/1B (No. 14)
There’s 20-20 potential here, and Butler did reach double digits in home runs and steals in just 84 games in 2022. He also struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances and has yet to play above A ball. He had a better approach overall in the Arizona Fall League and if the A’s think those adjustments are real, then they’ll likely add him.

Mariners: Robert Perez Jr., 1B (No. 21)
The Mariners might have a late bloomer on their hands here, with Perez having signed back in 2016. The power seems to be legit — he homered 27 times in 2022 — and slugged .583 following a promotion to High-A Everett, then flexed his muscles in winning the first Arizona Fall League Home Run Derby. But it’s a first base-only profile, so there has to be some conviction he’s going to get to that power at the upper levels in order to protect him from the Rule 5.

Rangers: Jonathan Ornelas, SS/3B (No. 21)
Ornelas batted .299/.360/.425 with 14 homers and as many steals in 123 Double-A games at age 22. The 2018 third-rounder from an Arizona high school has solid speed and arm strength, which lend themselves to defensive versatility, but the Rangers also have an abundance of infielders with higher offensive ceilings.

Braves: Indigo Diaz, RHP (No. 28)
After a breakout in 2021 that saw him reach Double-A and absolutely dominate as a short reliever, Diaz looked like a sure-fire roster add following this season. He returned to Mississippi, and while he still missed bats (11.4 K/9), his command went south (5.6 BB/9). He was still tough to hit (.167 BAA), but the lack of strike-throwing could limit him from pitching in high-leverage situations, though the Braves know full well that power-armed relievers with upper-level success are often Rule 5 targets.

Marlins: Griffin Conine, OF (No. 23)
The son of Mr. Marlin (Jeff Conine), Griffin has slammed 60 homers in two seasons since joining the Marlins from the Blue Jays in an August 2020 trade for Jonathan Villar, and he also has plus arm strength. But he comes with severe swing-and-miss issues that resulted in a .215/.337/.435 line with 183 strikeouts in 118 Double-A games at age 24.

Mets: Jordany Ventura, RHP (No. 20)
On stuff alone, the 22-year-old righty is someone you’d want to keep around. He flashes decent velocity at 93-95 mph, and his mid-80s changeup got a healthy amount of whiffs this season at Single-A St. Lucie. Unfortunately, however, he’s managed 8 2/3 innings since 2019 due to the pandemic (2020), Tommy John surgery (2021) and a pectoral strain (2022). Rule 5 teams have done weird things in the past by selecting oft-injured pitchers and stashing them for a year, and that could be a strategy here, should the Mets leave him unprotected.

Nationals: Drew Millas, C (No. 30)
The Nats have liked Millas’ defensive abilities in terms of blocking, receiving and throwing since they acquired him from the A’s in a five-player deal at the 2021 Deadline, and he presents some offensive upside as a switch-hitter with solid walk rates. But he’s coming off a season in which he posted just a .576 OPS in 45 games at Double-A, and he faces a Washington 40-man already crowded with young catchers in Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams and Israel Pineda. (Tres Barrera was outrighted to Triple-A on Thursday.) If he isn’t added, Millas could be a decent backup backstop option for a team willing to roll the dice.

Phillies: McKinley Moore, RHP (No. 24)
Moore is big (6-foot-6) and throws really hard (up to 98 mph) with a solid slider that misses bats (12.9 K/9 in 2022, in line with his career rate). He doesn’t always know where it’s going (4.7 BB/9 last season) and his command in the strike zone has led him to be more hittable than he should be at times. Could he figure things out and help a big league bullpen in 2023? Stuff-wise, sure, and that’s the question the Phillies have to answer in making a roster decision here.

Brewers: Eduardo Garcia, SS (No. 21)
Garcia has shown impressive reactions at shortstop, making him a high-quality defender at such a premium position. He’s also grown into some pop as he’s coming off a 15-homer season at Single-A and High-A, so there are two tools a Rule 5 club could dream on. His plate discipline is a major question, however, considering he walked only 19 times in 480 plate appearances, and he was an average-at-best hitter at both A-ball levels in his age-19 season. It feels like Milwaukee could wait a year on Garcia’s bat to catch up with his glove, but it might see it differently.

Cardinals: Dionys Rodriguez, RHP (No. 19)
The Cards have already added Moises Gómez, and pitchers Inohan Paniagua and Connor Thomas seem like safer bets to join him on the 40-man, leaving us with Rodriguez. The 22-year-old right-hander already shows two above-average pitches with his fastball and slider but put up relatively mundane numbers (4.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 119 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings) at High-A Peoria in the summer. That marked his first time cracking triple-digit innings, meaning the workload itself was a big piece of his 2022 puzzle. A Rule 5 club could see enough in the heater and breaker to move Rodriguez back into a smaller role, but he still has plenty to work on (like developing a quality change) before he’s truly Major League-ready.

Cubs: Kohl Franklin, RHP (No. 29)
The Cubs have had high hopes for Franklin, the nephew of former All-Star closer Ryan Franklin, since signing him for an over-slot $450,000 as a 2018 sixth-rounder from an Oklahoma high school. He can touch 99 mph with his fastball and has the makings of at least a solid changeup and curveball. But after losing two seasons to the pandemic (2020) and oblique and shoulder issues (2021), he returned to the mound this year and posted a 6.88 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings in High-A.

Pirates: Tahnaj Thomas, RHP (No. 28)
A move to the bullpen in 2022 led to a lot more success for Thomas, as he finished his first year in Double-A with a 3.02 ERA and 9.2 K/9, and he featured a live fastball that has touched triple-digits in the past. He really struggled with the strike zone in the AFL, however, though he was still consistently in the 95-97 mph range, and he needs to refine his secondary stuff.

Reds: Ivan Johnson, 2B/SS (No. 28)
Johnson is a switch-hitting middle infielder with some offensive upside, showing pop from both sides of the plate at times, though his left-handed swing has been more consistent. He’s likely a second baseman only, and he’s had trouble staying healthy, appearing in just 50 games in 2022. Offseason hamate surgery slowed him early and sapped him of some power, and a shoulder issue also shelved him while he lost some of his overall approach. If the Reds add him to the roster, it will be because they feel he’ll be able to find his consistent offensive game once again.

D-backs: Conor Grammes, RHP (No. 28)
Grammes underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2021, returned this season and struck out 33 of the 89 High-A batters he faced on the strength of his mid-90s fastball and two above-average breaking pitches. He also walked 13 and allowed 17 earned runs in his 18 innings with Hillsboro. Any results are typically gravy in a year back from TJ, but a little tighter command would have helped Grammes’ case significantly. With his premium stuff, he’d be a perfect Rule 5 pick for a club looking to bulk up its bullpen, and that might be his saving grace.

Dodgers: Ryan Ward, OF (No. 30)
An eighth-round pick out of Bryant in 2019, Ward has produced 55 homers in two full pro seasons and batted .255/.319/.486 in Double-A this season. He’s an intriguing left-handed bat, albeit one with an aggressive approach and little value on the bases in the field, so he might be tough to protect on a loaded 40-man roster.

Giants: Hunter Bishop, OF (No. 23)
The best college athlete in the 2019 Draft, in which he went 10th overall out of Arizona State, Bishop has been plagued by injuries and missed time again this year with a strained oblique. He managed to play in a career-high 86 games but hit just .235/.320/.406 with 13 homers and 20 steals in High-A at age 24 while striking out at a 33 percent clip.

Padres: Jairo Iriarte, RHP (No. 10)
Top 10 prospects typically go protected from the Rule 5 Draft, but Iriarte is a bit of a different case. For starters, he has no experience above Single-A ball, making a jump to the Majors an extreme question mark. He also didn’t exactly dominate even that level with a 5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 109 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings at Lake Elsinore. The 20-year-old right-hander’s above-average fastball and plus changeup could be worth a Rule 5 look, but the whole package might be too much of a long-term project for the Padres to use on a 40-man spot right now.

Rockies: Grant Lavigne, 1B (No. 13)
Lavigne has made methodical progress up the Rockies’ ladder since they took him out of the New Hampshire high school ranks in 2018. He made it to Double-A for the first time this past season, but his numbers there were pedestrian (.717 OPS). A solid AFL showing has helped his case for a roster spot, though the Rockies could roll the dice given that first base-only types rarely get taken and/or stick out of the Rule 5.

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