10 Rule 5 Draft Prospects Who Could Make an MLB Impact in 2020
The 2019 Rule 5 Draft will take place Thursday at noon ET from San Diego at the conclusion of the annual winter meetings.
"Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 Draft process. Players signed at age 19 or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000."
Some of the biggest names available in this year's draft are low-level prospects with upside:
- OF Moises Gomez (No. 13 TB prospect, 21 years old, High-A)
- SS Wander Javier (No. 7 MIN prospect, 20 years old, Single-A)
- OF Seuly Matias (No. 11 KC prospect, 21 years old, High-A)
- SS Shervyen Newton (No. 8 NYM prospect, 20 years old, Single-A)
- RHP Luis Oviedo (No. 14 CLE prospect, 20 years old, Single-A)
- OF Jhailyn Ortiz (No. 12 PHI prospect, 21 years old, High-A)
One or two of those guys could be selected and stashed in 2020 with the intention of returning them to the minors in 2021 to continue their development.
The following will focus on the other end of the spectrum.
We've highlighted 10 players who might not offer the same upside as the guys listed above but who are capable of making a legitimate impact at the MLB level in 2020 if they are selected.
RHP Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
2020 MLB Role: Middle reliever
2019 Stats: 49 G, 4 SV, 3.16 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 42 BB, 93 K, 57.0 IP
There's a lot to like about Joe Barlow.
First, there is no ignoring those 93 strikeouts in 57 innings over three minor league levels last season, good for an impressive 14.7 K/9 rate.
He was dominant at High-A (23.2 IP, 0.38 ERA, 16.7 K/9) and Double-A (16.0 IP, 1.13 ERA, 15.2 K/9) in 2019 before getting knocked around at Triple-A (17.1 IP, 8.83 ERA, 11.4 K/9), but there is still plenty of reason for optimism.
He has prototypical late-inning stuff with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that flashes plus, and if he can improve his command, he could fill a setup role.
His command is the big red flag, though.
He walked batters at a 6.6 BB/9 rate last year, including 21 walks in 17.1 innings at Triple-A, and that's roughly in line with his 6.0 BB/9 career mark over four professional seasons.
Barlow is still polishing his game on the mound after splitting his time between pitching and catching at Salt Lake Community College, so teams could see some untapped potential to go along with his swing-and-miss stuff.
LHP Thomas Burrows, Atlanta Braves
2020 MLB Role: Middle reliever
2019 Stats: 43 G, 7 SV, 4.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24 BB, 63 K, 57.0 IP
While he has fared better against left-handed hitters, Thomas Burrows is more than just a potential lefty specialist.
MLB.com wrote: "Burrows' calling card is his breaking ball, and it's a real weapon against left-handed hitters but nasty enough to miss right-handed bats as well. He throws it with deception with late, sharp break, and hitters don't see it."
Over three minor league levels last season, he was lethal against left-handed hitters (87 PA, .173 BAA, 31.0 K%) and effective against right-handed hitters (157 PA, .246 BAA, 22.9 K%), and that came on the heels of an excellent 2018 campaign.
While his ERA climbed from 2.66 to 4.42 this past season, he quietly trimmed his walk rate from 4.8 to 3.8 BB/9 in the process, and that bodes well for his long-term outlook.
The 25-year-old works off a low-90s fastball and backs it with a 60-grade slider, and he adds some deception with a three-quarters arm slot that hides the ball well.
C Brett Cumberland, Baltimore Orioles
2020 MLB Role: Backup catcher
2019 Stats: 230 PA, .257/.404/.415, 19 XBH (5 HR), 24 RBI, 28 R
The Atlanta Braves selected Brett Cumberland in the second round of the 2016 MLB draft after he hit .344/.480/.678 with 16 home runs as a draft-eligible sophomore.
He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles as part of the four-prospect package to acquire Kevin Gausman and Darren O'Day at the 2018 trade deadline in July.
However, after the O's took a trio of college catchers in the first 10 rounds of the 2019 draft—Adley Rutschman (first round), Maverick Handley (sixth round) and Jordan Cannon (10th round)—they didn't add Cumberland to the 40-man roster this offseason.
A switch-hitter with solid power potential from both sides of the plate and good on-base skills, he profiles well as an offense-first backup, and he's improved his receiving skills enough to stick behind the plate.
There are a lot of veteran backup catcher options available on the free-agent market, but for a rebuilding team willing to commit a roster spot, Cumberland has enough upside to be worth stashing for a year.
RHP Griffin Jax, Minnesota Twins
2020 MLB Role: Long reliever/spot starter
2019 Stats: 23 GS, 5-7, 2.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 27 BB, 94 K, 127.1 IP
There are two types of pitcher who tend to be selected in the Rule 5 draft: unpolished relievers with high-octane stuff and high-floor, low-ceiling starters who are MLB-ready.
Griffin Jax falls into that second category.
The 25-year-old didn't pitch much in his first two professional seasons while he finished graduating from the Air Force Academy, but he was finally able to turn it loose in 2018 when he was placed into the World Class Athlete Program and had his military requirement deferred.
While the 6'2", 195-pound right-hander doesn't miss a ton of bats with 94 strikeouts in 127.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, he makes up for it with his 60-grade command and heavy mid-90s sinker that generates plenty of ground balls.
MLB.com wrote: "While Jax is lean, he is in excellent military shape, and he has a bit of a bulldog mentality on the mound, perhaps handed down by his father, former NFL linebacker Garth Jax. That, plus his feel for pitching, could allow him to make a big step forward now that he can focus solely on pitching."
The Kansas City Royals found a solid contributor when they selected Brad Keller in the Rule 5 draft two years ago, and Jax offers a similar profile.
Of Jake Robson, Detroit Tigers
2020 MLB Role: Fourth outfielder/pinch runner
2019 Stats: 473 PA, .267/.352/.399, 33 XBH (9 HR), 52 RBI, 61 R, 25 SB
After an injury-plagued college career at Mississippi State, Jake Robson finally stayed healthy and turned in a breakout season in 2017, hitting .303 with a .380 on-base percentage and 21 steals in 118 games between Single-A and High-A.
The 25-year-old has continued to climb the ladder in the years since, spending the 2019 campaign at the Triple-A level.
His numbers don't jump off the page, but he fits well as a complementary bench piece at the MLB level.
With 65-grade speed, good instincts on the bases and the ability to play all three outfield spots, he has the ideal fourth outfielder profile.
Chances are he will never be much of a power threat, but after walking at a solid 11.2 percent clip en route to a .352 on-base percentage in 2019, he has enough meat on the bone offensively to think he could eventually develop into an everyday center fielder.
IF Jose Rojas, Los Angeles Angels
2020 MLB Role: Super-utility player/pinch hitter
2019 Stats: 578 PA, .293/.362/.577, 77 XBH (31 HR), 107 RBI, 101 R
It's hard to decide what to make of the eye-popping numbers that Jose Rojas put up at the Triple-A level last season.
"The hitting coaches are evaluating the players less on statistics and more on what they're seeing. But it's tough to not get influenced by someone hitting 30 homers because you just go back to your frame of reference—30 homers is a lot in Triple-A. Or it used to be," former Angels manager Brad Ausmus told Mike DiGiovanna of Baseball America.
To that point, it sounds like opinions on Rojas within the Angels organization are split.
"The Angels front office has long been lower on him than his minor league coaches and opposing scouts, who like his high-quality at-bats, knack for barreling the ball in the zone and hitter's instincts from the left side," J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote.
The 26-year-old is average at best defensively, but he's capable of manning first base, second base, third base and left field, which makes him an intriguing fit for the newly added 26th spot on the active roster.
His 22.7 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A raises some questions about his ability to make enough consistent contact. His power potential is reason enough to roll the dice, though.
IF/OF Max Schrock, St. Louis Cardinals
2020 MLB Role: Utility infielder
2019 Stats: 303 PA, .275/.366/.381, 23 XBH (2 HR), 31 RBI, 42 R, 12 SB
A 13th-round pick by the Washington Nationals in the 2015 MLB draft, Max Schrock has raked throughout his pro career.
- 2015: 186 PA, .308/.355/.448, 16 XBH
- 2016: 576 PA, .331/.373/.449, 43 XBH
- 2017: 457 PA, .321/.379/.422, 27 XBH
He was traded for the second time prior to the 2018 season, going from the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Stephen Piscotty deal, and he struggled at the plate for the first time in his career with a .249/.296/.331 line over 457 plate appearances at Triple-A.
A return to that level yielded better results this past season, and he's now knocking on the MLB door.
The 25-year-old is a passable defender at second base, third base and left field, and he runs well enough to be a threat for double-digit steals. He's ready for a role on a big league team's bench in 2020.
RHP Sterling Sharp, Washington Nationals
2020 MLB Role: Long reliever/spot starter
2019 Stats: 12 GS, 5-4, 3.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 15 BB, 52 K, 58.2 IP
There's a good chance that Sterling Sharp will be one of the first players chosen in this year's Rule 5 draft.
The lanky right-hander offers an appealing mix of polish and upside, and he's close to MLB-ready. Teams generally don't draft Rule 5 guys with the intention of using them in the starting rotation, but it's not out of the question to think he could make his way into such a role for a rebuilding team.
MLB.com wrote: "A two-sport standout who could have played college basketball, Sharp's tremendous athleticism translates and gives him big upside on the mound. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has an exceptional sinker—it has an average spin rate of about 1900 rpm—that sits in the low 90s and nets him ground balls at an elite clip."
The 24-year-old backs a quality fastball-changeup pairing with a developing slider, and he possesses good overall command with smooth, repeatable mechanics.
A strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP with 24 strikeouts in 24 innings over six starts, should be enough to pique a team's interest.
Of Ka'ai Tom, Cleveland Indians
2020 MLB Role: Fourth outfielder/pinch hitter
2019 Stats: 554 PA, .290/.380/.532, 60 XBH (23 HR), 86 RBI, 83 R
When a player piles up 27 doubles, 10 triples and 23 home runs in the upper levels of the minors while showing an advanced approach with a .380 on-base percentage, teams are sure to take notice.
The Cleveland Indians selected Ka'ai Tom in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB draft out of the University of Kentucky, where he hit .375/.443/.528 with 22 extra-base hits and 15 steals as a junior.
It remains to be seen how well his power will play at the next level, but his .270/.360/.444 career line and 11.2 percent walk rate over 1,989 minor league plate appearances provides a promising foundation of offensive potential.
The 25-year-old fits best at a corner spot, but he's capable of playing center field, which improves his fourth outfielder profile.
For teams looking to add a left-handed bench bat and some outfield depth, he's a finished product who is ready to contribute in some capacity.
RHP Dauris Valdez, San Diego Padres
2020 MLB Role: Middle reliever
2019 Stats: 43 G, 1 SV, 4.23 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 28 BB, 68 K, 55.1 IP
Why would MLB teams be interested in a 24-year-old pitcher who posted a 4.23 ERA in 55.1 innings at the Double-A level in 2019?
"Valdez is a massive 6-foot-8 right-hander with a 98-101 mph fastball and inconsistent 84-87 mph slider that is improving," J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote.
Yep, that'll do it.
With a loaded farm system, the San Diego Padres were unable to protect everyone they might have liked to, including Valdez, when they set their 40-man roster.
He has punched out 11.1 K/9 in 199.1 innings since signing out of the Dominican Republic as a late bloomer of sorts in 2016, and he quietly trimmed his walk rate from 4.9 to 4.6 BB/9 while making the leap from High-A to Double-A in 2019.
Valdez is the definition of a boom-or-bust lottery ticket, but you can't teach the kind of velocity that he possesses. If a rebuilding team believes his command will play, he's well worth a roll of the dice.