Potential picks for the Tigers in the Rule 5 Draft

Bless You Boys

It’s time for the Rule 5 Draft! An exciting draft where teams attempt to find hidden gems to add to their MLB roster for the upcoming season.

Because of the new CBA the regular MLB Draft now has a lottery system. However the Rule 5 Draft order is still reverse standings from the previous year. That means the Tigers have the 6th pick.

Most of you know the drill by now, but the Rule 5 draft is the final featured attraction of the winter meetings, currently underway in San Diego. A team can select an eligible player from any team that isn’t protected on their 40-man roster. To keep said player, the club has to keep them on the active 26-man roster all season, make a deal with their former club, or pass them through waivers.

Every year people will try to guess what players might be most desirable to teams and every year there is one undeniable truth to the Rule 5 Draft: No one outside of organizations really knows. Whether they are a top prospect or not is generally irrelevant. If a team covets an eligible player, then they are a possibility.

Because of that I’ve kept my selection parameters for this list pretty open. Each player on this list is a top prospect by one list or another. Generally I looked for upper minors experience, which is Double-A or higher, with a couple exceptions to that rule. Those exceptions are generally pitchers with big stuff.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some unprotected names who the Tigers might be interested in.

RHP Thad Ward, BOS

Thanks to recovering from Tommy John surgery, Ward didn’t start pitching until August this season. After his rehab stint he wound up making seven starts in Double-A where he posted a 2.43 ERA with a 11.07 K/9 through 33 innings. He made up some innings in the AFL. He works with a fastball that can touch mid-90’s, a cutter, changeup, and sweepy slider. His walk numbers have been fairly high throughout his career.

The Red Sox left Ward unprotected last year as well, likely due to his surgery, but there wound up not being a Rule 5 Draft last year because of the lockout. That recovery from surgery could also be the reason he went unprotected this year. If I were to guess, Ward is one of the top candidates to be selected this year. Probably the Tigers don’t have a shot here, and he’d be a bit difficult to fit on the roster among all the other young starters the Tigers are trying to develop.

LHP Antoine Kelly, TEX

Along with Ward, Kelly is the other name getting a lot of hype in some circles. He’s a big lefty in the mid-90’s with his fastball and a big sweeping slider to match. His data gets good marks, which will make him that much more interesting. Kelly throws from a low slot, creating some interesting angles that can deceive hitters. It’s a relief profile all the way. The Rangers acquired Kelly from the Brewers at the trade deadline then didn’t protect him. It seems curious, and could turn out to just be a bad decision in the end. There’s plenty of upside to be had with Kelly, and he’s easier to stash on a roster than a starter or a position player.

RHP Victor Vodnik, ATL

Vodnik hasn’t thrown many innings over the last few years. His appeal comes with his pure stuff. He was up to 97 MPH with a slider and changeup. Both secondaries are good enough to play against big league hitters, but his fastball is his best pitch by far. It’s a high octane offering that will likely lead the way if he’s going to find any success. Picking Vodnik would be committing to a future relief prospect. He’s been a top prospect for the Braves for the last few years, and with the Tigers recent success developing arms they may be able to get solid value out of a pick like this.

RHP Kohl Franklin, CHC

This is probably my favorite available player despite how much of a gamble it would be to select him. Franklin has a long injury history that, combined with the lost 2020 minor league season, culminated in 2022 being his first season throwing competitive pitches since 2019. His fastball was touching triple digits at times, but would live mostly in the mid-90’s when starting. He couples that with a solid curveball and a devastating changeup. The stuff is something to believe in. His numbers were less than desirable, but remember he was getting back into learning how to pitch against hitters. His command needs to come around, too. There’s a low likelihood that a team takes a chance here, but the upside is certainly something to dream on.

RHP Jayden Murray, HOU

Murray was a Rays prospect that was traded to Houston at the deadline. Those two organizations are smart. To be frank, he throws strikes. He lacks the wow factor in his stuff that the last couple pitchers listed have, but he has experience in the upper minors and fills up the strike zone. His success will come from his ability to command all three of his pitches. His fastball is generally low-90’s with a slider and changeup. Sequencing those offerings is very important. This pick would lack the flash of some others, but he’s still got enough upside to make sense. He’s probably a better fit for a team in need of pitching depth, which is probably the least of the Tigers’ problems.

OF Orlando Martinez, LAA

In the past the Tigers have loved Rule 5 outfielders such like Victor Reyes and Akil Baddoo. That was also a previous regime. Martinez is a solid candidate to be next in the line of Rule 5 outfielders to wear a Tigers uniform. He’s a lefty swinger with solid contact skills and a feel for the zone. His power isn’t great, probably a handful of homeruns at his peak. That’s not exactly what the Tigers need, but he can draw walks and get bat to ball. He was a .250 hitter in 267 Triple-A at bats in 2022. Again, not a flashy pick, but certainly one worth considering if the Tiger choose to go the route of a bat.

RHP Carlos Duran, LAD

A theme among arms is betting on the stuff. There are gems in this draft, but for the most part there’s no formula to know what the right pick is. Duran is coming from a very good organization and has some very fun stuff. He has a massive, imposing 6’7” frame. He throws a fastball that gets into the mid-90’s with a big slider. Those two pitches will likely lead his bullpen future. There’s a changeup, too, that’s not as far along. All that said, he doesn’t have any experience above High-A. This is extremely unlikely, but if the Tigers see something in that fastball/slider combination then Duran becomes a bit more interesting.

RHP Steven Cruz, MIN

Another 6’7” pitcher, except Cruz lives in the upper-90’s and triple digits. He throws hard. That’s the appeal here. His walk numbers are very high and it’s a longshot bet at a reliever. I’d imagine if a team made a second round pick, that’s where any interest in Cruz comes in. There’s a decent slider, too. However the command is a huge ding to the profile and makes him nearly impossible to bet on as a Rule 5 pick.

RHP Jordany Ventura, NYM

This is another wild pick, but hear me out. Ventura threw his first innings since 2019 this year and he didn’t throw a lot of them. He also never eclipsed Single-A. Remember Akil Baddoo? It’s not unheard of. It’s also a little crazy to think Ventura would be on a teams radar in the Rule 5 Draft. He throws fastball in the 93-96 range with a solid curveball and changeup combination. He’s a top prospect in the Mets organization, which is why he’s here. Still, it would be a longshot to think he’s on the Tigers shortlist of potential picks unless Scott Harris really gets bold.

1B Malcom Nunez, PIT

This pick would make some degree of sense for the Tigers. Nunez has a very nice bat, but he’s defensively limited to first base. He packs a punch at the plate and shows some nice plate skills, too. Nunez can walk and keep strikeouts down, which he proved at the Double-A level with both the Cardinals and Pirates. For Detroit, the question becomes if they want to carry his bat to backup Spencer Torkelson or give him at bats in the DH spot. It wouldn’t be a bad decision by any means, however it would create some roster construction questions because of his defensive limitations.

2B Nerwilian Cedeno, SD

This is another long shot for selection at all in the Rule 5 Draft. He’s an interesting prospect though. He only has low minors experience, but he can cover the zone extremely well. If there were ever a skill I’d want to bet on from a low minors bat, it’s that. It’s not unheard of for a guy like this to be taken if a team believes in the upside. The only question is if Cedeno has that kind of upside. I’m still not sure, but his hands are something to believe in.

3B Andres Chaparro, NYY

If I got to make the pick based on all the information I have in the public space, it would be Chaparro. He plays third base, which is something the Tigers could use. He hit 19 homers in Double-A while slashing .289/.369/.594. He put up numbers, and he has a quick, compact swing that can cover the zone. His plate skills and ability to field at the hot corner give him a very interesting floor as a Rule 5 pick. If there were ever a gamble to take, I think Chaparro would be the one for the Tigers to gamble on.

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