The Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft returned to the Winter Meetings last Wednesday in San Diego after the 2021 edition was canceled due to last offseason’s work stoppage.
To remember how effective the Rule 5 Draft is, look back at the Class of 2020. Five of the 18 players picked (Garrett Whitlock, Trevor Stephan, Tyler Wells, Akil Baddoo, Zach Pop) have made meaningful contributions. That may not sound great, but it’s certainly notable for the five players and their clubs.
You can read scouting reports for this year’s 15 picks here. In this space, we’re going to take the next step and categorize the 2022 Rule 5 picks based on their likelihood of sticking in the Majors next summer:
Most likely to stick
Thad Ward, RHP, Nationals (from Red Sox): After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021, Ward returned to the mound with similar stuff to his pre-surgery self, namely his 92-96 mph sinker and plus slider. The rebuilding Nats, who should have ample roster space in 2023, have indicated they plan to use him in long relief to keep him around, but it wouldn’t be a shock if Ward uses that arsenal to earn starts in the capital by the All-Star break.
They have a chance
Ryan Noda, 1B/OF, Athletics (from Dodgers): The 26-year-old is Major League-ready after hitting .259/.395/.474 with 25 homers and 20 steals in 135 Triple-A games last season, and his combination of patience, power and defensive flexibility should be valuable in Oakland.
Mason Englert, RHP, Tigers (from Rangers): Like Ward, Englert has Tommy John surgery on his resume (in his case dating back to 2019) and has shown a good four-pitch mix (highlighted by a plus changeup) since returning full-time to High-A and Double-A rotations. Strong reverse splits, brought on by the change, help his case out of the Detroit bullpen and could get him future MLB starts.
Nic Enright, RHP, Marlins (from Guardians): Spin is always in, and Enright has it in spades between his low-90s fastball with ride and mid-70s curveball. He struck out 34.5 percent of his Triple-A batters faced (walking only 4.1 percent) in 29 appearances, so the transition to the Majors won’t be as stark as others here.
Jose Lopez, LHP, Padres (from Rays): Normally, we don’t think World Series contenders will keep Rule 5 guys around all summer, but Lopez -- with his 94-96 mph fastball and strong sweeping slider -- already has the two MLB-ready pitches that could make him a bullpen option for San Diego straight away.
Wilking Rodriguez, RHP, Cardinals (from Yankees): One of our favorite Rule 5 picks. The 32-year-old struck out 73 in 44 2/3 innings in the Mexican League and had his contract bought by the Yankees in August. Now, the Cardinals will try to make use of his triple-digit fastball and hard cutter. This is an improve-now move.
Zach Greene, RHP, Mets (from Yankees): Greene was as MLB-ready as they come with a 3.42 ERA and 96 K’s in 68 1/3 Triple-A innings, thanks to a low-90s, invisiball fastball and an upper-70s sweeping slider that make him a north-south issue for hitters. The only complication is the Mets’ increasingly loaded roster.
Jose Hernandez, LHP, Pirates (from Dodgers): A mid-90s four-seamer and mid-80s slider give Hernandez a puncher’s chance in a Pittsburgh bullpen without many lefties, but it’s still a big jump for a pitcher with only 38 2/3 innings above A-ball.
Blake Sabol, C/OF, Giants (from Pirates): First drafted by the Reds and then traded to the Giants, Sabol may have seen his chances of sticking plummet with that move. After hitting .284/.363/.497 with 19 homers at Double-A and Triple-A, he could provide a nice left-handed catching option next to Joey Bart. But since San Francisco likely won’t carry many players who need to grow into the Majors, Sabol faces an uphill climb.
Kevin Kelly, RHP, Rays (from Guardians): Another traded player, Kelly shows a low-90s sinker and 79-82 mph slider from a sidearm angle that kept the strikeouts and ground balls coming at Double-A and Triple-A, and Tampa Bay certainly knows how to utilize the stuff of its relief corps. But the club’s list of bullpen options is already long.
Nick Avila, RHP, White Sox (from Giants): Avila fills up the strike zone and has a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider that could help ease his transition. But do the White Sox, who aim to compete in the AL Central, have roster space to carry a right-handed reliever who’s topped out at Double-A? Unlikely.
Andrew Politi, RHP, Orioles (from Red Sox): Politi has four pitches in his arsenal (fastball, slider, cutter, curve) and upper-level experience with 83 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A last year. None of his pitches scream plus, however, and he’s joining an O’s team that is turning the corner with fewer open roster spots.
Gus Varland, RHP, Brewers (from Dodgers): Varland started to show better stuff down the stretch with an upper-90s fastball and upper-80s slider at Double-A Tulsa, but he still finished with a 6.11 ERA in 70 2/3 innings. How that stuff holds up over a longer period will determine his fate in Milwaukee.
Chris Clarke, RHP, Mariners (from Cubs): Throwing strikes isn’t an issue here (4.7 percent BB rate at Double-A), and Clarke’s low-80s curveball could be tough on MLB hitters. But without missing a ton of bats, he might be best in the upper Minors working on staying as a starter.
The Noah Song Predicament
Noah Song, RHP, Phillies (from Red Sox): We don’t know how Song will look as a pitcher until (and if) he returns to the game after his ongoing stint as a US Navy aviator is over. In the past, he showed a 93-99 mph fastball, plus slider and decent curve. He hasn’t pitched in an affiliated game since August 2019. If the stuff comes back, this is a steal for the Phils. But there are too many unknowns in the meantime.