Rule 5 guys are always interesting, as they need to stay on the active roster or DL all season to stick with the team that selects them. Sometimes there are real finds (Johan Santana in 1999) but most end up being returned or having a minimal impact. So let’s look at where all the Rule 5 selections for 2018 stand as we get ready for the season.
1) Detroit Tigers: OF Victor Reyes from the Arizona Diamondbacks – The Tigers aren’t playing for much this season as they are expected to have one of the lowest win totals as any team in baseball, so keeping a guy like Reyes around is easier.
He spent 2017 in AA and the fall in the Arizona Fall League. He has a strong enough arm to play right and can cover enough ground to play center. He is a very good 4th OF option for the Tigers and that will probably be this role for years to come as well. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, often making solid contact, but he has little power and his extra base hit production will come in the form of gap doubles more than anything else.
2) San Francisco Giants: RHP Julian Fernandez from the Colorado Rockies – The hard throwing righty has been reported to have a fastball up to 103, but he has also walked 82 batters and struck out 133 in 148 pro innings. He reached Class A Advanced Asheville in the Rockies organization in 2017, but he will open the season on the DL and it looks like he is headed for Tommy John.
3) Pittsburgh Pirates (via trade with Philadelphia Phillies): RHP Nick Burdi from the Minnesota Twins – Selected 46th overall in 2014 out of Louisville, Burdi has been tabbed as an elite reliever, including a stint in the AFL with a ridiculous bullpen that included him, Ray Black, and Jake Reed, but only threw three innings in 2016 and 14 in 2017 before finally undergoing Tommy John in May. It looks like a potential August return for Burdi, when the Pirates should be out of contention and an easy stick for him.
4) Texas Rangers (via trade with Chicago White Sox): OF Carlos Tocci from the Philadelphia Phillies – Once a highly-touted prospect in the Phillies system, Tocci appears to have made the Rangers opening day roster after a surprising early demotion for Willie Calhoun. Tocci has center fielder tools and will be the backup to another former Rule 5 guy Delino DeShields Jr. He has a career .266/.317/.337 slash line which is, well, underwhelming, so he will have to provide value by providing excellent defense in center, which he has the ability to do.
5) Kansas City Royals (via trade with Cincinnati Reds): RHP Brad Keller from the Arizona Diamondbacks – Thanks in part to a fantastic Spring where he picked up a pair of wins and an ERA under 3, Keller looks like he will stick with the Royals. He will begin in the bullpen as a long man and spot starter but may be given the first opportunity to fill in if there is an injury in the rotation. His minor league numbers are nothing special, and neither is his stuff, but he has an opportunity to carve out an extended role as a fifth starter, which provides solid value from a Rule 5 guy.
6) Kansas City Royals (via trade with New York Mets): RHP Burch Smith from the Tampa Bay Rays – A rare guy with some real big league experience, Smith made his MLB debut in 2013 with the San Diego Padres, against his future team the Rays where he was a piece of the trade that sent Wil Myers to SD. He has appeared in ten big league games, starting seven and closing out the other three, with 36.1 innings under his belt. He underwent Tommy John in and missed the 2015 season, the season he was traded to the Rays. He is more of a bullpen arm now, although he can be stretched out into a starter if needed, and will start the season on the Royals roster but his long term status is very much up on the air.
8) Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Jordan Milbrath from the Cleveland Indians – Milbrath also did not stick, being one of the last cuts by the Pirates, he is back with the Indians and will start the year in AAA.
9) Baltimore Orioles: LHP Nestor Cortes from the New York Yankees – Another Arizona Fall League alum, Cortes will break camp with the Orioles where he will be one of two Rule 5 guys seeing real innings out of the bullpen. He saw time at four levels in 2016 before heading the to AFL, then three levels in 2017 when started seeing more time out of the bullpen.
He comes from a very low 3/4 to sidearm slot as a pitcher who is already low to the ground given he is under 6’, his fastball is low-90s at it’s best but has a very good slurvy slider and a very good change. He should fit well in the middle of the bullpen for an Orioles team that should land stuck in the middle of the AL East.
10) Miami Marlins: RHP Elieser Hernandez from the Houston Astros – Hernandez had his wisdom teeth after having a solid start to the Spring. His spot on the club is still very much up in the air as he will start the year on the 10-day DL, but his minor league rehab assignment may determine his future. The 22-year-old has not seen time in the high minors yet, so the reality of him making it in the Marlins rotation is unrealistic. They may have to hide him in the bullpen or send him to the DL with “lingering” issues and multiple rehab assignments if they are to hold onto him all year.
11) Seattle Mariners: 1B Mike Ford from the New York Yankees – One of four Yankees that were selected in the Rule 5, he is one of the three that has been returned. The Mariners gave him a real shot to win the 1B job this Spring, but he just didn’t do enough and will start in AAA. That said, with the injury to Greg Bird, Ford just might find himself on the 40-man roster and in New York before too long.
12) Los Angeles Angels: RHP Luke Bard from the Minnesota Twins – The former Georgia Tech righty will not only make the team but has the chance to be the player who makes the biggest impact from the Rule 5 this year. He struck out 99 batters in just 65.1 innings across AA and AAA in 2017, while allowing just 24 walks. He has struggled at times in his career, but his recent resurgence thanks to a swing-and-miss slider and a mid-90s fastball with run means he will not only be with the Angels club to start the year, there is a real shot he sees time in high leverage innings for a contending team.
13) Minnesota Twins: RHP Tyler Kinley from the Miami Marlins – As of today, Kinley is slated to stick as the last man in the bullpen, but his future is uncertain. He did not have a good Spring, posting an ERA above 5.50, and had one over 5.00 in AA in limited innings in 2017. Phil Hughes starting on the DL opened the roster spot for Kinley to stick to start the year, but once he is back healthy the Twins will have a real decision especially given the fact they expect to compete for a playoff spot this season.
14) Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Albert Suarez from the San Francisco Giants – The righty saw time in the big leagues in 2016 and 2017 with the Giants but was removed from the 40-man rotation this off-season and selected by the D-Backs in the Rule 5. He has been let go as a minor leaguer twice in his career and did not make the Diamondbacks opening day roster this year. He is still with the Diamondbacks however, as the Giants did not take him back and he went unclaimed, so Suarez will start in AAA Reno this year.
15) Houston Astros: LHP/OF Anthony Gose from the Texas Rangers – While Brendan McKay during last year’s draft and Shohei Ohtani this off-season got all the attention for trying to play both ways, guys like Anthony Gose were trying to resurrect their careers by offering value on both sides as well. The former outfielder is really trying to stick as a pitcher but managed to record just two outs while allowing eight of 11 batters faced to reach and posting a cool ERA of 54.00. He was returned to the Rangers on March 9th.
16) Baltimore Orioles: RHP Pedro Araujo from the Chicago Cubs – I feel like I have said this before…the former AFL participant…Araujo will be the second Rule 5 selection in the Orioles bullpen. He has a fastball than gets up around 95 to go with a slider and change. He has a very whippy delivery with his arm lagging behind his explosive hips in his delivery. He was solid this Spring and will be a middle innings guy out of the Orioles pen this year and should stick.
17) Miami Marlins: RHP Brett Graves from the Oakland A’s – Graves struggled in AA last season and didn’t look much better this Spring, but the jury is still out as to whether or not the Marlins will keep him. He will start the season on the DL with an oblique strain and has not begun throwing yet. Obliques are notoriously lingering injuries, so it is unclear when throwing will begin or when he will be ready to return. Once he does, his rehab performance and the Marlins bullpen status will wind up being key factors on whether or not they keep him or return him to the A’s.
18) Baltimore Orioles: RHP Jose Mesa from the New York Yankees – Son of former Orioles, Indians, Giants, Mariners, Pirates, Phillies, Rockies, and Tigers (I think I got them all) reliever of the same name, Mesa had the shot to make his debut with the same organization that his father did. That dream didn’t last long as he gave up three earned runs in just 0.2 innings to start the Spring and didn’t make an appearance after St. Patrick’s Day. He has been returned to the Yankees, where he will likely start the year in AAA.