As Rule 5 Draft nears, a look at last year's picks

November 28th, 2023

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The 2023 Rule 5 Draft will take place at the Winter Meetings in Nashville on Wednesday, Dec. 6. As always, it will give teams the opportunity to find future big leaguers at a discount, diamonds in the rough that weren’t protected on their current teams’ 40-man rosters.

It costs just $100,000 to take a player in the Major League phase of the Draft, and those players have to stick on the big league roster all year or get offered back to their former team for $50,000. And while it’s been rare for there to be true impact talent to come via the Rule 5, especially since the rules changed back in 2006, giving teams an additional year of evaluation time before having to make a roster decision, there have been big leaguers to come out of it every year.

Just take a look at last year’s Major League phase as proof. There were 15 players taken last December, and eight of them saw at least a little time in the big leagues during the 2023 season. Not all of them did it for the team that acquired them. (I’m not counting the teams that made Rule 5 trades, like the Giants acquiring Blake Sabol from the Reds or the Rays getting Kevin Kelly from the Rockies.) José López, for instance, was sent back to the Rays by the Padres before the start of the season, and he pitched in one game for Tampa Bay last June. Gus Varland started the season with the team that selected him, the Brewers, then got sent back to the Dodgers in May and got some time in Los Angeles later in the summer.

Three of the players finished with a bWAR above zero. Two of the players who finished in the negative still made major contributions, with Mason Englert tossing 56 innings for the Tigers and José Hernández also topping 50 innings pitched for the Pirates. The hero of the bunch might be A’s first baseman Ryan Noda, who played in 128 games and collected nearly 500 plate appearances. He’d be the Rule 5 Rookie of the Year if such a thing existed after hitting 16 homers and drawing 77 walks en route to a .364 OBP and a 2.3 bWAR. That was the second-highest 2023 total of any Rule 5 pick taken in the last 10 years, trailing only the Orioles’ Anthony Santander (3.0).

Kelly was the next highest at 0.7. He was a valuable member of the Rays’ bullpen all year, appearing in 57 games, finishing with a 3.09 ERA, 1.015 WHIP and .211 BAA. He topped all Rays’ relievers in innings pitched (67), though he was a tough omission from their postseason roster.

Finally, there’s Sabol (0.2 bWAR). He got 310 at-bats with the Giants during the season and hit 13 homers over his 110 games. He also provided some interesting positional flexibility, catching 55 games and appearing in 43 games in left field.

So we’re not necessarily talking about All-Stars here. The last Rule 5 All-Star was Ryan Pressly, a 2012 pick who has over 100 career saves, including back-to-back 30-plus save seasons, and was named to the American League All-Star team twice, in 2019 and again in 2021. But that doesn’t mean that teams can’t find valuable big leaguers who make solid contributions right out of the gate.