The Orioles concluded the 2020 virtual Winter Meetings by adding two intriguing right-handed pitching prospects and losing two others during the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. Baltimore selected Mac Sceroler from the Reds and Tyler Wells from the Twins, while losing Zach Pop to the D-backs and Gray Fenter to the Cubs.
As Rule 5 Draft selections, Sceroler and Wells must remain on the Orioles' active roster for the entire 2021 season, or else be offered back to their respective clubs for $50,000. The selections each came with an initial cost of $100,000 for Baltimore. Sceroler and Wells will report to Spring Training with the chance to win big league jobs, likely as bullpen depth.
“Both of these guys fit an attractive archetype as strike-throwing starting pitchers with deep repertoires,” Orioles pro scouting director Mike Snyder said. “In both cases, we have excellent performance and a very appealing pitch mix.”
The nephew of former O’s pitcher and current broadcaster Ben McDonald, Sceroler is a former fifth-round pick in the 2017 Draft who reached Class A Advanced Daytona with the Reds in '19, pitching to a 3.69 ERA in 26 games (20 starts). The 25-year-old struck out 127 batters against just 29 walks in 117 innings with Daytona in ’19.
“We were attracted to the four-pitch mix,” Snyder said. “It’s a good fastball, good traits and flashes of power. He leverages the curveball downhill and throws the slider for strikes and for chases. He can get a lot of awkward swings on a plus splitter.”
The 6-foot-8, 265-pound Wells, 26, is a former 15th-round pick of the Twins in 2016 out of Cal State San Bernardino. Wells reached Double-A as a starter in '18, posting a 2.49 ERA and 121 strikeout in 119 1/3 innings across two levels, before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is expected to be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training.
“He’s a 6-8 monster,” Snyder said. “2020 would’ve largely been a lost season for him anyway. In that respect, the shutdown probably wasn’t as detrimental to him as it was to some other players.”
It was the second consecutive year the rebuilding Orioles used the Rule 5 Draft to take fliers on two pitchers (they ultimately returned both 2019 picks, Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, during '20 Spring Training). But it was the first time since '15 that the club lost a player in the Major League phase, and the first time since '10 that it lost two. Both Pop and Fenter had been ranked among the O’s Top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline at times over the past two years, before falling off due to injury and other factors.
Part of the return package for Manny Machado in 2018, Pop looked like a fast-moving reliever before requiring Tommy John surgery in '19. A hard-throwing sinkerballer with a plus slider, Pop reached Double-A Bowie before getting injured, posting a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings there between from '18-19. The D-backs traded Pop to the Marlins hours after Thursday's Rule 5 Draft for a player to be named later.
The Orioles gave Fenter a significantly over-slot $1 million bonus after selecting him in the seventh round of the 2015 Draft, convincing Fenter to forgo his commitment to Mississippi State. But Tommy John surgery cost Fenter all of the next two seasons, and he wasn’t fully healthy again until '19, when he carved up with Class A Delmarva, posting a 1.81 ERA and a 33 percent strikeout rate. Now 24, Fenter can reach the mid-90s again with his fastball and he relies on a power curve that some believed was the best in the O’s system. Both Fenter and Pop profile as relievers at the highest level.
“We spent a lot of time talking about Pop and Fenter and others, so we knew it was a possibility,” O’s director of Minor League operations Kent Qualls said. “But the stronger your farm system is, you typically see more players taken from those clubs.”
Baltimore also added right-handers Rickey Ramirez from the Twins, Ignacio Feliz from the Padres and catcher Chris Hudgins from the Royals in the Triple-A phase of the Draft, without losing any players. Ramirez, 24, owns a 4.44 ERA with just four home runs allowed across 99 1/3 professional innings, but none above Class A Advanced. Feliz, 21, struck out 55 in 57 1/3 innings at Class A Short-Season Tri-City in ’19. Hudgins, 24, hit .247 with a .760 OPS at Class A Lexington in 2019.
This was the 15th consecutive season the Orioles made at least one Rule 5 Draft selection, dating back to 2006. Their 40-man roster is now full.