Scouting report on No. 5 pick in Rule 5 Draft

Detroit Tigers

After a one-year hiatus created by last offseason’s lockout, the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft returned Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

The Nationals used the first choice on Red Sox right-hander Thad Ward, who pitched well in Double-A (2.43 ERA, 41 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings) and the Arizona Fall League after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2021. Clubs made a total of 15 picks in the Major League phases, including 13 pitchers.

In order to hold onto a Rule 5 selection, a team must retain him on its active big league roster throughout the subsequent season. Before it can send him to the Minors, it would have to clear him through waivers and offer him back to his original club for half of his $100,000 Rule 5 price. An injured Rule 5 pick can be placed on the injured list but would have the same restrictions regarding assignment to the Minors until he spends 90 days on the active roster in the Majors.

Here are scouting reports on each player selected in the Major League phase:

1. Nationals: Thad Ward, RHP (from Red Sox)
A former Spring Training bat boy for the Red Sox, Ward signed with them as a fifth-rounder from Central Florida in 2018. He has regained the stuff he had before his elbow reconstruction, most notably a sharp 81-85 mph slider and a 92-96 mph sinker. He’s equipped to stick with his new team as much as any of this year’s Rule 5 selections.

2. Athletics: Ryan Noda, 1B/OF (from Dodgers)
He may be a 26-year-old first baseman/outfielder, but Noda is interesting because he has huge raw power, draws a lot of walks and moves well for a big man. Acquired from the Blue Jays as a player to be named later in an August 2020 trade for Ross Stripling, he hit .259/.396/.474 with 25 homers and 20 steals in 135 Triple-A games.

3. Pirates: Jose Hernandez, LHP (from Dodgers)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $200,000 in 2016, Hernandez is a lefty reliever with a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a mid-80s slider. He logged a 3.32 ERA, .215 opponent average and 69 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

4. Reds/traded to Giants: Blake Sabol, C/OF (from Pirates)
A cousin of NFL Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu and a 2019 seventh-round pick from Southern California, Sabol could be an average hitter with power to match and can catch, though he’s limited behind the plate. He batted .284/.363/.497 with 19 homers and 10 steals between Double-A and Triple-A.

5. Tigers: Mason Englert, RHP (from Rangers)
Englert set a Texas high school record with 55 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 2018, went in the fourth round that June and then had Tommy John surgery 10 months later. His best pitch is a plus low-80s changeup with sink and fade, and he also flashed a solid slider and a 92-96 mph fastball at times in 2022. He posted a 3.64 ERA, .199 opponent average and 136/31 K/BB ratio in 118 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

6. Rockies/traded to Rays: Kevin Kelly, RHP (from Guardians)
Kelly’s combination of a low-90s sinker and a sweeping 79-82 mph slider generate a lot of swings and misses (11.8 strikeout per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A) as well as groundballs (2.0 groundout/airout ratio). The 19th round in 2019 from James Madison also compiled a 2.04 ERA and .194 opponent average as a reliever.

7. Marlins: Nic Enright, RHP (from Guardians)
Another 2019 late-round reliever find by the Guardians, Enright went one round after Kelly out of Virginia Tech. He features elite useful spin and riding action on a 90-91 mph fastball that pairs nicely with a downer mid-70s curveball. He recorded a 2.88 ERA, .203 opponent average and an 87/14 K/BB ratio in 65 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

8. White Sox: Nick Avila, RHP (from Giants)
Sticking with the late-round-2019-college-relievers theme, Avila was a 26th-rounder from Long Beach State. Using a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, he fashioned a 1.14 ERA, .206 opponent average and 58/14 K/BB ratio in 55 1/3 inning between High-A and Double-A.

9. Orioles: Andrew Politi, RHP (from Red Sox)
Moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2022, Politi responded by posting a 2.34 ERA, .186 opponent average and 83/22 K/BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. A 15th-rounder out of Seton Hall in 2018, he operates with a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, an upper-80s cutter and a low-80s curveball.

10. Brewers: Gus Varland, RHP (from Dodgers)
The brother of Twins right-hander Louie Varland, Gus could join him as a big leaguer next season. Acquired from the Athletics in a February 2021 trade for Adam Kolarek and Cody Thomas, he showcased an upper-90s fastball and upper-80s slider out of the bullpen late this season. He had the roughest season of any of the Rule 5 picks with a 6.11 ERA, .289 opponent average and 85 strikeouts in 70 2/3 Double-A innings.

11. Phillies: Noah Song, RHP (from Red Sox)
The most intriguing player selected, Song led NCAA Division I in strikeout rate (15.4 per nine innings, the sixth-highest rate in D-I history) in 2019 before the Red Sox made him a fourth-round pick out of Navy. He dominated in his brief pro debut that summer, showing a 93-99 mph fastball, plus slider and signs of a plus curveball, but he hasn’t pitched since because he reported to flight school in June 2020. The Phillies placed him on the military list as he continues his active duty service, and he’ll be subject to the Rule 5 guidelines if and when he returns to baseball.

12. Padres: Jose Lopez, LHP (from Rays)
After scuffling in his 2021 full-season debut, Lopez benefitted from a full-time move to the bullpen this year and logged a 2.60 ERA, .166 opponent average and 91 strikeouts in 55 1/3 Double-A innings. His stuff played up in shorter stints, with his fastball jumping to the mid-90s and his sweeping slider to the low-80s.

13. Mariners: Chris Clarke, RHP (from Cubs)
A reliever at Southern California, Clarke became a starter after signing as a 2019 fourth-rounder but had trouble staying healthy until 2022, when he recorded a 4.64 ERA, .299 opponent average and 110/25 K/BB ratio in 120 1/3 innings. His low-80s curveball can be a hammer at times but is his lone plus offering, so he might be better off returning to the bullpen.

14. Cardinals: Wilking Rodriguez, RHP (from Yankees)
Rodriguez is 32 and hasn’t pitched in the U.S. minors since 2015, but he starred as a reliever in the hitter-friendly Mexican League this year, compiling a 2.01 ERA and a 73/13 K/BB ratio in 44 2/3 innings. The Yankees bought his contract in August after seeing him reach triple digits with his fastball and back it up with a hard cutter.

15. Mets: Zach Greene, RHP (from Yankees)
An eighth-round senior sign out of South Alabama in 2018, Greene had a 3.42 ERA, .199 opponent average and 96 strikeouts in 68 1/3 Triple-A innings. A reliever, he relies heavily on a low-90s fastball with exceptional riding life and complements it with an upper-70s sweeping slider.

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