People who read Minor League Ball have a lot more fun with the Rule 5 Draft than most baseball fans. The majority of names selected in the off-season draft are no-namers and irrelevant cogs in the big baseball machine to many members of the baseball fandom world.
However, for people like us who follow the minor league circuit with a passion, Rule 5 is a very entertaining, rewarding event and one that brings a lot of fascinating discussion to the table.
As a lightning quick refresher, the Rule 5 Draft allows players with ample minor league service team to be eligible for picking by another MLB team if they were not added to their current team’s 40-man roster after the season.
The purpose is to prevent teams from hoarding too many minor league players who are good enough to earn a major league opportunity but who are not likely to get a chance to show their skills with their current team. In other words, the idea is to free up blocked talent.
Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization's 40-man roster and:
. . .were 18 or younger on the June 5th before their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming. These are usually players signed from high school or from the international market. Or,
. . .were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming. This accounts for the majority of players signed from four year colleges.
With that said, let’s take a peek at some of the more intriguing names that are in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft pool.
Travis Demeritte, IF, Atlanta Braves - Acquired rather cheaply from the Texas Rangers in 2016 for pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez, Demeritte was a top 30 prospect with the Rangers and also with the Braves. His inclusion in the Rule 5 proceedings has less to do with his abilities and more with how many mouths there are to feed in the Braves’ system.
Demeritte can play anywhere in the infield and the 23-year old brings a power tool with promise. What he can do in the majors is to be determined, but someone may be willing to take the chance right now.
Chesny Young, IF, Chicago Cubs - Perhaps a bit of a stretch here, but Young is as versatile as his suave mustache, earning a mention here. The 25-year old out of Mercer University is a minor league vet who, if not for being in a very crowded organization of bats, could have garnered a big league trial at some point in 2015, 2016 or 2017.
A true utility player, Young will slot anywhere and has great bat-to-ball skills, a career .297 hitter in the minors with a glove that would marry easily to a MLB depth chart.
Dom Nunez, C/2B/SS, Colorado Rockies - Nunez, who turns 23 in January, is a converted catcher drafted out of high school where he also played middle infield. The bat leaves a lot to be desired at the moment, but he’s young and has both some pop and speed as a hitter. While he hasn’t played middle infield in a couple seasons, he’s qualified to do so. So in addition to being behind the plate, being tried at both second base and shortstop would bring depth as a rookie while allowing time to develop the bat.
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B/LF/RF, Kansas City Royals - A system thinned out amidst their successful World Series venturing, O’Hearn looked to be part of the next wave, even perhaps proving to be Eric Hosmer’s successor. Those hopes seem dashed for now —with Samir Duenez taking reign as the first base prospect to keep an eye on in K.C.— while O’Hearn backtracked to Double-A in 2017 after his breakout 2016.
Still, the 24-year old has a lot to offer as a surprise pick. His power from first base and corner outfield is less than desired, but he’s a career .278/.356/.488 slasher in the minors and hit .291 at the Arizona Fall League in 2016.
Kohl Stewart, SP, Minnesota Twins - Drafted fourth overall in 2013, it’s been tough sledding for Stewart, to say the least. After signing for $4.5 million in a not-so-far-away era where the Twins were craving a pitcher to build their system around, Minnesota ended up not being the uniquely-spelled Kohl’s destiny.
His first three pro years went well and he entered 2015 as one of baseball’s favorite prospects. At age 21 in 2016, he advanced to Double-A Chattanooga where he was hit quite a bit but had 16 very impressive starts.
In 2017 he battled a recurring knee injury and his walk rate rose to a troubling five per nine innings. The Twins tried him out at Triple-A Rochester but all in all, it was a step back from his rising stock. Even still, it’s a tad surprising —especially considering the investment— that he goes unprotected for the Rule 5 in 2017. The Twins are definitely banking on him being passed by as there’s still much work to do.
I’ll cover more names later this week. I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that!
The 2017 Rule 5 Draft takes place during baseball’s Winter Meetings on December 14th.
H/T to the always resourceful Roster Resource.