14 names to watch ahead of the Rule 5 Draft

December 10th, 2020

Figuring out who will get taken each year in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft is always a tricky endeavor. This year, it’s even more challenging, given the lack of a Minor League season and traditional Winter Meetings. But we’re willing to give it our best shot.

The baseball world would have assembled in Dallas for this year’s Winter Meetings and as everyone moved toward the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, sleuthing for potential candidates would happen while circulating around the lobby. This year’s Rule 5 is still taking place (12 p.m. ET today), but any and all investigating took place remotely and virtually.

Adding to that challenge is the fact that the players eligible would have been scouted all year in the Minor Leagues, and then in the Arizona Fall League, and that obviously did not happen. Many eligible players did put in work at their team’s alternate training site, but not every team is sharing video or data from that time, so teams are flying a little more blindly. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take a shot.

“It’ll be tough to take guys in the Major League phase,” an American League pro scouting executive said. “But I think there will be activity and there will be some surprises.”

As a refresher, players first signed at age 18 or younger must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years 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 MLB roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

For this year, that means an international player or high school Draft pick signed in 2016 -- assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 of that year -- had to be protected. College players taken in the 2017 Draft are in the same position.

Here’s a list of potential candidates who could be taken, with top 30 ranks in parentheses when warranted. Right now, there’s some thought the Dodgers, who do have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, could be hit the most. We’ll be updating this list up until the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Twins (No. 13)
Baddoo had Tommy John surgery in May 2019 and then the shutdown happen, so he has missed nearly two years of competitive action. He made up for some of it with a strong showing at instructs. There are serious tools here; it’s just a question of him being ready to put them to use at the big league level.

Paul Campbell, RHP, Rays (No. 24)
Campbell pitched sparingly in three years at Clemson but showed the Rays enough to get taken in the 21st round of the 2017 Draft. A starter for much of his pro career, he may profile better as a multi-inning reliever with high spin rates on his low-90s fastball and his curveball.

Omar Estevez, 2B/SS, Dodgers (No. 21)
An offensive-minded infielder, Estevez has shown the ability to make hard contact with some extra-base pop. Still just 22, he missed time in 2019 with a hamstring injury, but did hit .291/.352/.431 in 83 Double-A games. He’s fringy defensively, but could help a team off the bench with his bat while filling in at second and short.

Jordan Guerrero, RHP, Padres
Teams looking for a power arm might have an interest in the 24-year-old right-hander, who was taken by the Padres in the sixth round of the 2015 Draft. He can reach the upper-90s with his fastball, and has missed bats throughout his career (9.5 K/9), albeit with some command issues (4.2 BB/9). Added bonus: Guerrero had serious raw power when he was in junior college and would likely jump at the chance to swing the bat again as a two-way guy.

Kyle Holder, INF, Yankees
When Holder was taken in the first round of the 2015 Draft, he brought with him a reputation as being a plus defender with a bat that lagged behind. That hasn’t changed all that much, but he has shown the ability to play three infield spots well and did hit a more respectable .265/.336/.405 in Double-A in 2019. He could be a glove-first utility guy in the big leagues.

Marshall Kasowski, RHP, Dodgers
The right-hander who was the Dodgers’ 13th-round pick in 2017 has overcome a lot, most notably a very serious car accident when he was in college. He’s missed a ton of bats as a pro (14.8 K/9), but also walked a lot of guys (5.5 per nine). He pitches largely off of his fastball, which hitters have a hard time picking up (4.9 hits per nine).

Raymond Kerr, LHP, Mariners
An undrafted free agent signed by the Mariners in August 2017, Kerr has always been a lefty with power stuff but without a great idea of where it was going. After 10 starts in the California League in 2019, a move to the bullpen helped: He missed more bats (11.29 K/9) as a reliever, was tougher to hit and walked fewer batters after the move. Kerr can touch triple-digits with his fastball and has a hit-or-miss slider, enough to get outs if he can find the strike zone consistently enough.

Brendon Little, LHP, Cubs (No. 30)
A first-rounder (No. 27 overall) out of the junior college ranks in 2017, Little has seen his stuff regress a bit as a pro and he missed a lot of 2019 with a lat strain. Lefties with arm strength are tough to find, however, and if Little is shortened into a bullpen role, perhaps the 96 mph fastball he showed in school would resurface to go along with a curveball that flashes plus.

Zach Pop, RHP, Orioles
The 6-foot-4 right-hander presently is most known for being one of the many prospects sent to the Orioles from the Dodgers in the July 2018 trade for Manny Machado. Pop, 24, had Tommy John surgery in May 2019, but when he’s healthy, he misses bats and gets a lot of ground-ball outs with a fastball with heavy sink and slider that flashes plus.

Buddy Reed, OF, A’s (No. 24)
Reed was on this list a year ago, when he was with the Padres, but didn’t get selected and was eventually sent to the A’s as the player to be named later in the Jurickson Profar deal. He has tremendous raw tools and his speed and defense make him an asset right now, one who could play all three outfield positions well, with a plus arm. The bat hasn’t been as consistent, but he has 20-20 potential if it can all click.

Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Dodgers
Another repeat from 2019, Sheffield looked like he was taking a step forward when he moved to the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League in 2018. He was more effective and reached Double-A in 2019, striking out 12.1 per nine as a reliever, but he also walked seven per nine. He has a mid-90s fastball with good life, a solid curve and an effective changeup.

Alex Speas, RHP, Rangers
Call this the “leap of faith” pick. The second-rounder in 2016 has always thrown hard and started finding success with a move to the bullpen in 2018, though he ended up needing Tommy John surgery that season. He’s thrown just one competitive inning since (in 2019), but reports were that he was up to 102 mph this summer.

Zach Warren, LHP, Phillies
Since the Phillies took Warren out of Tennessee in the 14th round of the 2017 Draft, he’s been a very effective reliever, albeit only in Class A ball (and a brief stint in the 2019 AFL). He’s struck out 13.2 per nine while walking 4.9 with a fastball in the mid-90s and a curve ball that flashes plus, holding hitters to a .198 batting average in his two-plus years of pro ball.

Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Yankees
Whitlock reached Double-A quickly after signing for an above-slot $247,500 as an 18th-rounder out of Alabama-Birmingham in 2017, but his development stalled when he had Tommy John surgery in July 2019. He gives hitters a tough look with his 6-foot-5 frame, low three-quarters slot and the extension in the delivery, which combine to produce heavy low-90s sinkers and low-80s sliders.