Inbox: Rule 5; Tigers arms; J-Rod

November 5th, 2020

The bizarre season of 2020 is now officially over, with awards season getting going (I’d pick Kyle Lewis and Jake Cronenworth for Rookie of the Year in each league if it were up to me, though I wouldn’t be upset if Devin Williams wins in the NL). But that doesn’t mean we have a lack of things to talk about on the prospect side of things.

We’ve been rolling out instructional league reports for all teams and our annual State of the System reports are coming soon. Beyond that, we’ll roll out our Top 100 Draft prospects list for the 2021 Draft and, of course, will have coverage of the Rule 5 Draft. That’s where we kick off this week’s edition of the Pipeline Inbox.

In a word: No.

We dug into this a bit during this week’s Pipeline Podcast, though, truth be told, there’s not that much digging to do. The Rule 5 Draft has long been a relatively inexpensive and risk-free way to uncover big league talent. As we’ve said time and time again, ever since they changed the rules and teams have an extra year to make a decision on whether to protect a player, there have been fewer impact type players coming out of the Rule 5.

But even finding big league contributors, the long reliever or the utility guy, requires having scouted those players. Remember, when you take a guy in the Rule 5 Draft, he has to stick on your big league roster or get offered back to the original team. So having recent reports on players is kind of crucial.

That, obviously, is not possible now since there was no Minor League Baseball in 2020. Perhaps there’s some shared video from alternate sites and a few weeks of scouting at instructs this fall, but that’s it. How many teams are going to take the chance on adding a big league player without much data? The flip side of this is how teams are going to decide on whether to protect a player, but at least they have a closer relationship with each player than other teams trying to evaluate options.

There were 11 players taken in the Major League phase of the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. I’m not going to speak for MLB Pipeline as a whole, but I’m pretty sure most of us would take the under in terms of how many players get selected in this year’s edition.

We get a lot of questions like this during the offseason (and the Trade Deadline, of course). Here’s a team with depth in an area, could they use that depth to improve the big league team?

The quick answer in the case of the Tigers is yes, they have some pitching they could use to make trades if they wanted to because, and I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but you can never have too much pitching. That also could be a reason why the Tigers wouldn’t deal away any arms.

Another reason would be the organization is in full-on rebuild mode and is headed in the right direction. I recently put them at the top of a list of teams poised for a turn-around in 2021. I think top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are going to play a large part in that climb, as will Matt Manning. So I’d take those three off the table.

Beyond that, could arms like Alex Faedo or Joey Wentz (who just got there!) be dangled? Sure, I could see that happening, though I don’t know if a package of that next tier of pitching would bring in the kind of bat you’re looking for. So rather than do that, I’d just let this rebuild go and get the kind of offensive boost from Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, who are not too far away. Now, if things happen quickly and the team is competing in 2021, we can look at this again as next year’s Deadline.

I really do! Yes, I’m aware Julio Rodriguez is only 19 (he turns 20 at the end of December) and I know he’s yet to officially play above A ball and only had 17 games at the Class A Advanced California League in 2019. But there are certain players where age or Minor League plate appearances aren’t as important data points and Rodriguez is one of those types of players for me.

There are some things we know. He more than held his own in the Arizona Fall League as an 18-year-old in 2019 and even though he got hurt this summer, he was impressive during summer camp, then worked hard to get back in time to continue smoking the ball at instructs. This would have been a year for him to either start the year back in the California League and earn a quick promotion, or even begin in Double-A. And when this guy is on the field, he performs. So I’m going to guess he begins the 2021 season in Double-A, hits his way up a level in short order and starts knocking on the big league door loudly by the All-Star break.

Robert Puason is in a bucket of players that’s really hard to figure out what to do with because of the shutdown. There’s no question of his talent, but we really haven’t seen him play any baseball yet.

The club’s No. 2 prospect signed in July 2019 for $5.1 million, and the plan was for him to make his official debut in 2020 after attending instructs last fall. And we all know how planning went in 2020.

There were some positives for Puason this year. He spent the summer at the A’s alternate site, and while he didn’t put up big numbers, the player development staff thinks he likely got more out of being around older professionals and learning about routines and preparation than playing in the AZL or the Short-Season New York-Penn League. Hopefully, those lessons will carry over to 2021 when he actually gets to play for real.

So, to answer your question … Puason will be 18 for all of the 2021 season. Could he be ready to head to full-season ball right away? That remains to be seen. He has the talent and upside to be a Top 100 player for sure, but I think like with a lot of players in that bucket, we (and scouts we talk to) need to see him play before we can rank him. If he goes to the Midwest League, I could see him playing is way onto the list during the year or during our midsummer re-rank.