Valuing the Rule 5 draft picks
Earlier, John Bitzer broke down each of the major trades and free agent signings from the 2019 Winter Meetings. Now we’ll take a look at how teams did in the final event of the meetings – the Rule 5 Draft.
First, two caveats: we’re sometimes playing catch-up with prospect values, as the outlets we use release their new rankings at various times; and we adjust Rule 5 eligible prospects down a notch to account for their inherit roster risk (since they need to remain on the MLB roster all season).
Let’s take a look at the values of each player taken in the MLB portion of the 2019 Rule 5 Draft, in order of their selections:
Detroit Tigers: RHP Rony Garcia  (NYY) — He hasn’t gotten a ton of love from prospect analysts, and it’s easy to see why he went unprotected in a crowded Yankees system. But he does have some upside and could make an impact as a back-end starter or a middle reliever.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Brandon Bailey [0.5] (HOU) — Best known as the prospect the Astros received from the A’s for outfielder Ramon Laureano, Bailey is a decent player in his own right. He misses bats, but doesn’t throw particularly hard and looks best suited for a long relief role.
Miami Marlins: RHP Sterling Sharp [0.2] (WAS) — He doesn’t light up the radar gun, but Sharp’s bowling ball sinker makes him an intriguing pick-up for Miami. He’ll need to develop a third pitch on top of his sinker/changeup combo to truly be effective.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Stephen Woods Jr. [0.1] (TB) — This was definitely a heavily scouting-based pick. Woods missed the 2018 season due to a labrum issue and hasn’t pitched above High-A, but when he was at his best he had electric stuff. If that comes back, this could be a steal for KC.
Seattle Mariners: RHP Yohan Ramirez [0.1] (HOU) — This is your stereotypical Rule 5 pick. Ramirez touches 99 MPH with his fastball and has two plus breaking pitches, but his poor control may limit him to a bullpen role. Seattle will likely give him every chance to figure it out.
Cincinnati Reds: OF  (OAK) — The first hitter selected, Payton is a 28-year old outfielder who had never hit more than 10 homers in a minor league season prior to 2019. But between a swing change, the Triple-A baseball and a hitter-friendly ballpark in Las Vegas, he slugged 30 bombs last year in just 447 PAs. He couldn’t break into a crowded Oakland outfield, but he should get time as at least a fourth outfielder in Cincinnati.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Dany Jimenez [3.3] (TOR) — The first pure reliever taken, Jimenez dominated High-A and Double-A last season, albeit as a 25-year-old. He misses bats with his high-spin, high-velo fastball and could be a solid reliever, though his age and injury history cast some doubt.
Philadelphia Phillies (Traded to OAK): INF Vimael Machin  (CHC) — When Philadelphia selected Machin he looked like a solid fit as a utility bench bat, but when he was flipped to Oakland after the draft for cash considerations, the fit looked even better. The left-handed hitter walked more than he struck out in 2019 and can play all over the infield. He only got a cup of coffee in Triple-A last year, but he’ll likely compete for at least a part-time share of the A’s second base job.
Chicago Cubs: RHP Trevor Megill [0.3] (SD) — Here’s another reliever with a chance to stick. Megill is your stereotypical fastball/slider righty, but his 6’8″ frame gives him a weird angle. The Cubs are trying to cut costs, and they’re hoping Megill can be a decent middle relief option for almost no cost.
Boston Red Sox: INF Jonathan Arauz  (HOU) — Of all the players taken so far, Arauz is probably the best prospect but might have the lowest chance of sticking with his new team. He has a slick glove but has only shown brief spurts of above average hitting. He’ll be a defensive replacement for Boston and might see some time at second base, but there’s a decent chance he’s returned to Houston before too long, especially if the Red Sox are competitive in 2020.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Michael Rucker [0.3] (CHC) — He flew under the radar a bit, but many (including JJ Cooper of Baseball America) have heard positive opinions on Rucker since the draft. He moved to relief full-time in 2019 and was solid, racking up strikeouts thanks to a velo bump and a deceptive delivery. As with Bailey, the Orioles aren’t playing for anything in 2020, so he’s got a good chance to stick.
To me, there were two clear trends here. Non-competitive teams took upside pitchers that they liked, since that is the easiest type of player to hide on a roster for a year. On the other hand, competitive teams tried to fill a role with a player who had shown recent success and looked like they could make a MLB impact in 2020. The only real outlier is Boston, and they’re straddling the line between competitive and non-competitive, so that makes some sense.
I was most surprised by the narrow range in values. Obviously, teams took players they liked, and not too many high-profile prospects were left unprotected. But there were a handful, and I’m surprised that not a single bottom-feeder took a chance on a player like Shervyen Newton [0.1] , Moises Gomez [2.1] , or Seuly Matias [0.1] . But then again, each of those players struggled in 2019. Perhaps immediate exposure to big league pressure could stunt their development, as we’ve seen many times in the past (and may see again with Arauz).
So all things considered, nothing too shocking out of this year’s Rule 5 Draft. A handful of upside arms and interesting bats were taken, and chances are few will among to anything. But by our numbers, Arauz and Payton have the highest value, and may prove to be capable bench bats, if not something more.