After a year off due to the lockout the Rule 5 Draft returned in full force on Wednesday evening. Last offseason saw only the Triple-A phase of the event, this year the MLB phase returned. The Detroit Tigers selected two players, and lost two players.
In the MLB phase of the draft the Tigers selected RHP Mason Englert from the Texas Rangers organization. The Triple-A phase brought RHP Layne Henderson from the Houston Astros organization. They lost minor leaguers Dane Myers and Nick Kuzia in the minor league phases.
The Rule 5 Draft can be a fun event to speculate who might be protected or selected, but of course at the end of the day it’s hard to find gems. The obvious good players get protected, so it’s all about teams identifying something they like and can work with. More than a few waiver claims, this is truly the first look we’ve gotten at what the new revamped front office values and wants to work with.
If Englert makes the team then he will be under Rule 5 restrictions for the entire 2023 season. That means he will have to remain on the active roster. If the Tigers want to send him down, then Englert will be offered back to the Rangers and the Detroit will have to pay a fee. If the Rangers say no, then he remains a Tiger. If an injury occurs and Englert doesn’t meet the limit of days on the active roster, his Rule 5 restrictions will roll over to the following season.
This is the case of injury pushing back a timetable and creating an opportunity that the Tigers didn’t pass up. Englert was considered a legitimate prospect for the Rangers as a former fourth round prep arm in 2018. Tommy John surgery in 2019 delayed the start of his pro career until the 2021 season.
The headline is that Englert is a command first pitcher with a deep arsenal that can keep hitters off balance. He throws a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. While he doesn’t overpower hitters with high velocity, he’s a great pitchability guy who fills up the strike zone and throws good strikes.
Let’s take a look at some video.
Many Rule 5 pitcher selections have big stuff without much ability to command it. Englert is the opposite. His fastball is generally in the low-90’s and tops out around 95 MPH. It works because he can move it around the zone extremely well and sequence his pitches to make his fastball less vulnerable.
That said, it’s not technically a great fastball. Per Baseball America, it has a very generic shape. Coupled without premium velocity, that means it’s going to get hit if Englert makes a mistake with it. Even if he executes it might wind up in hard contact if the hitter is sitting on it. That almost immediately caps his ceiling as a backend rotation arm. However, that same report from Baseball America mentions his release height and approach angle on the fastball as positives to the pitch. Those metrics explain why Englert has a lot of success elevating his fastball, which makes the profile that much more interesting. As the 2022 season went on, Englert starting leaning into the high fastball more, and the results were promising.
The fastball does play well up in the zone, and he can work corner to corner in the lower third of the zone. How his fastball plays against big league hitters will be a big part of deciding what his ultimate role will be. It’ll be interesting to see how the development staff handles it, too. If they rework his pitch usage to not include the fastball as much, or if they find a way to optimize it and tick it up half a grade. The recent success with pitchers is enough reason to think the Tigers might have a trick up their sleeve.
Englert will throw his mid-70’s curveball early and often. He does not care what the count is, this pitch might be coming at the hitter. It breaks both vertically and horizontally taking on almost a slurvy shape. It still traditionally looks like a curveball, but does have horizontal movement.
He can generate swing and miss on this pitch for a few reasons. The first is his willingness to throw it in non-traditional counts. It takes confidence to do, but he’ll throw it in any count, whether it be to get ahead or get an out. It gets used regardless of if a lefty or righty is at the plate. The other reason this pitch sees success is because he can command it. He throws it to both sides of the plate and doesn’t hang it. He can live low in the zone, and below the zone, with it.
This isn’t a dominating hammer. It’s once again the command and sequencing that makes it successful. That is a trend that will continue throughout his entire arsenal. It’s a good pitch when used correctly, but it will be dependent on locating it and setting it up. Misses in the majors will be punished accordingly.
After a long battle with lots of foul balls, Englert drops a CB in for a strikeout. Really showcased an ability to command the whole arsenal in the AB. He threw everything competitively in this AB. pic.twitter.com/J8tbFF116u
— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) December 7, 2022
This pitch is still developing for Englert. It’s a mid-80’s pitch that has some depth to it. The shape is distinct from his other breaking ball, and at its best it shows some useful sweep that could perhaps be accentuated by the Tigers’ coaching staff. Usage wise, it’s his fourth pitch currently. He mostly throws it against same handed hitters, but has shown the ability to throw it to the back foot against lefties, too.
It can be inconsistent at times, but it has potential. Developing a more consistent fourth pitch will really cement his starters profile. Seeing what happens when he gets into the Tigers pitching lab will be an interesting development for Englert going forward.
For my money this is Englert’s best offering. He sells it well and, like the rest of his arsenal, he commands it well. He keeps it low in the zone. It’s a low-80’s offering with armside fade. It can get whiffs, but it excels at generating weak contact. Velocity separation off his fastball is very good, too.
The changeup is a very good option for Englert against left handed hitters. Like his other offspeed pitches he sequences it well, and has the movement and deception to miss bats with some regularity. The ability to command this pitch, along with the others, gives him a lot of options to get weak contact.
Englert has a starters profile with a four pitch mix and potentially plus command. His pitchability will be important to his success because he lacks premium stuff. All of his will have to play off of each other in order for him to find success against big league hitters. His ceiling is as a backend rotation arm, potentially settling in as a long relief option. He fills up the strike zone throwing good strikes.
He moves pretty well on the mound, showing good mobility in his upper half. There isn’t much room to project on his frame. Optimizing his current skillset is going to be the key to unlocking his potential. Still, the Texas Rangers are not one of the cutting edge pitch design teams in the game and Englert has only thrown 180 regular minor league innings since high school. The Tigers’ may have an edge at this point and could help Englert tune the slider and sit near the top of his fastball velocity band more consistently. More immediately, Chris Fetter appears to be quite good at developing game plans for hitters and Englert’s solid command will help him execute.
The Rule 5 Draft doesn’t generally produce superstars. As far as this draft goes, Englert is as good of a pick as any. Taking an interesting pitcher whose upside may have been dampened by injuries and lack of playing time is a typical strategy. The Tigers got a player that will slide into their top 30, potentially inside the top 15 prospects. That isn’t for lack of talent in the farm system either. Englert has a chance to be a legitimate arm, whether he reach his potential or becomes useful depth among the pitching in Detroit. That’s a very good outcome from this draft.