Toolshed: 2020 Rule 5 Draft preview
Readers might note this edition of Toolshed does not come with a Dallas dateline. Like so many events in 2020, baseball's Winter Meetings are being held virtually this year rather than from deep in the heart of Texas. That, of course, includes the Rule 5 Draft. The annual event typically
Readers might note this edition of Toolshed does not come with a Dallas dateline. Like so many events in 2020, baseball's Winter Meetings are being held virtually this year rather than from deep in the heart of Texas.
That, of course, includes the Rule 5 Draft. The annual event typically takes place on the final day of the Winter Meetings as a capper to the week's events. Shortly before flying home, journalists and front-office execs -- breakfast items of choice in hand -- file into a large convention room to hear all 30 organizations pick or pass on eligible Rule 5 players. It's typically a simple process. No mentions of clubs being "on the clock" or large delays in picks. Just the naming of players who will get the biggest opportunities of their careers to stick with a new Major League club after previously getting passed over for the 40-man roster.
Again, simple but potentially life-changing.
To prepare for this year's Rule 5 Draft, Toolshed previews what to expect ahead of the selection process coming at noon ET on Thursday.
Basics: Before we get into the changes that could be coming to the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, let's focus on the constants.
Only certain players are eligible to be taken. As tempting as it would be to nab
For some broad examples, a junior-college or college player taken and signed in the 2017 Draft is eligible this year. High-school players selected in 2016 are eligible for the first time, and international players signed during or before the 2016 season (including those on July 2) could be taken in this year's event.
Players were protected from the Rule 5 Draft if they were added to their respective organization's 40-man roster before the Nov. 20 deadline. Toolshed previewed which ranked prospects were eligible this year a few weeks ago in this column, and MiLB.com recapped the biggest names who were protected in this table.
On Thursday, teams will go in reverse order with the opportunity to select any of the Rule 5-eligible players left unprotected last month. The clubs do not necessarily have to take a player, and it's also possible they could make multiple selections. By choosing a player, the organization pays $100,000 to the player's original team. That player must stick on the 26-man Major League roster for the duration of the following season or he will be offered back to his previous club for $50,000. If a player requires time on the injured list, then he must be active for at least 90 days before the Rule 5 roster requirements are lifted.
This whole process is meant to give full Major League chances to younger players who might be overlooked in their current situations. Roberto Clemente is the most successful Rule 5 pick of all time, and there have been others like
There is also a Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, featuring players not protected on the Triple-A rosters of their current organizations. Minor League Rule 5 picks cost $24,000 and do not come with any roster requirements. Players protected from this phase can be found on the roster pages of each organization's Triple-A affiliate for 2020. (Note: That does not incorporate any changes in affiliation coming next season.) For example, the Mets' roster of Triple-A protected players can be found on the Syracuse roster page.
Audio of the event will be streamed Thursday on MLB.com.
The situation in 2020: Nothing about the Rule 5 process has changed in 2020, other than the announcement of picks virtually rather than in the same room. But baseball is in a different place than it was during last year's event in San Diego, and that should have some effects on the proceedings this time around.
Start with the lack of a Minor League season due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the few exceptions of those who played in the Majors, Rule 5-eligible players weren't afforded in-game action in 2020 following the cancellation of play for the lower levels. Sure, there were other opportunities like alternate-site workouts and instructs, but only the latter involved scouts from other organizations. Even then, not every club allowed scouts to view their players in instructional league play. For the most part, any organization looking to make a Rule 5 pick this week will be relying on 2019 stats and reports or, at best, brief looks from the fall. The lack of recent information could lead to clubs to shy away from the Rule 5 process.
On the other side of the coin, each Major League team only played 60 games during the regular season, none of which involved fans. As such, teams are claiming financial losses and could be looking to build their Major League rosters on the cheap. A $100,000 Rule 5 pick (along with the player's salary) is certainly a cheaper alternative than a seven-figure free-agent addition. Some clubs could consider the Rule 5 route for roster construction and perhaps be willing to make multiple picks, as the Orioles did in 2019, the O's, Royals and Giants did in 2018 and the Padres famously did with three in 2016.
Clubs might have left clues on how active the Rule 5 Draft will be in weighing the above conditions. This year, organizations protected 86 of MLB.com's ranked prospects from the Rule 5 Draft with 40-man additions before the deadline. That number was up a tick from 83 in 2019. If teams thought others would be scared away from a Rule 5 pick by the lack of a Minor League season, they may have not been as aggressive in protecting so many of their own players. The fact that they were means Thursday probably won't be completely quiet on the Rule 5 front, but we won't know until the process is complete.
Recent history: It may be tempting to throw out the book completely in an abnormal year, but it can never hurt to revisit history.
Over the last five Rule 5 Drafts, there have been an average of 15.4 players taken, ranging from 11 last year to 18 in both 2017 and 2016. The number of picks made has gone down in each of the last three events, and 11 represented the lowest number since nine were selected in 2013.
A reason for the dwindling number is the lack of impact in recent Rule 5 Drafts. Taking a player who went unprotected by the team that knows him best and thrusting that player into the Majors always comes with risk that things won't work out, but the payoff has been lower in recent years. After the 2018 Draft, only three of the 14 selected players stuck with their new Major League clubs --
That said, the pull of the potential reward for picking the next Keller remains strong and keeps clubs coming back to the Rule 5 well.
Draft order: The order is set in reverse order of Major League record the previous season. As such, the 19-41 Pirates get the first selection. There is no fixed number of rounds in a Rule 5 Draft. Teams make one selection at a time and can conceivably keep going until they have a full 40-man roster or choose to pass on their pick.
The following is the order for the 2020 Rule 5 Draft. The amount of players on each club's 40-man roster as of Monday evening is included in parentheses. Teams can continue to make 40-man moves to free up space for a potential Rule 5 pick before Thursday's proceedings.
1. Pirates (38)
2. Rangers (38)
3. Tigers (39)
4. Red Sox (38)
5. Orioles (38)
6. D-backs (39)
7. Royals (36)
8. Rockies (38)
9. Angels (34)
10. Mets (34)
11. Nationals (34)
12. Mariners (38)
13. Phillies (38)
14. Giants (35)
15. Brewers (35)
16. Astros (38)
17. Marlins (38)
18. Reds (31)
19. Cardinals (37)
20. Blue Jays (40)
21. Yankees (39)
22. Cubs (34)
23. White Sox (38)
24. Indians (37)
25. Braves (38)
26. A's (35)
27. Twins (35)
28. Padres (39)
29. Rays (39)
30. Dodgers (37)
Possible picks: The Rule 5 Draft is notoriously difficult to predict, and the 2020 edition will be no different. That said, here are some prominent prospects who could hear their names called Thursday, listed alphabetically by last name:
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.