O's in position to steal talent in Rule 5 Draft
Baltimore has No. 1 pick; several intriguing prospects available
LAS VEGAS -- When most teams are packing their bags and filing into airport cabs, the Orioles expect to be most active this week. While the Rule 5 Draft can fade into the Winter Meetings periphery for some clubs, for Baltimore, the annual auction offers a low-risk opportunity to add talent to a roster that currently has few determined roles. The Orioles have the No. 1 pick in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, and the roster space to potentially make two selections. Before getting to their potential targets, first, a quick Rule 5 Draft refresher:
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 Draft process. Players signed at age 19 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 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.
For this year, that means an international or high school Draft pick signed in 2014 -- assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 of that year -- has to be protected. A college player taken in the '15 Draft is in the same position.
Audio of this year's Draft will be streamed live on MLB.com, starting at noon ET.
Now on to which prospects might soon find themselves competing for a big league job in Baltimore.
RHP Riley Ferrell
Current organization: Astros
New Orioles vice president and general manager Mike Elias' ties to Houston make Ferrell a logical match. Elias was part of the front-office team that drafted Ferrell in the third round out of TCU in 2015, then watched the right-hander struggle at the upper rungs of the Astros' system. Like many stalled pitching prospects, Ferrell's issues lie in his ability to command the baseball -- he walked 5.9 batters per nine innings across two levels in '18. But he also struck out 11.7 batters per nine. That's elite swing-and-miss potential, and could be enough for the Orioles to take a chance on the 25-year-old.
SS Richie Martin
Current organization: Athletics
A former first-round pick, the 23-year-old Martin didn't hit until last season, his fourth in pro ball. But he'd bring plus athleticism and middle-infield defense to a club looking to stock up in those areas. Jonathan Villar remains the Orioles' ostensible shortstop, and there are glove-first veterans on the open market (i.e. Jose Iglesias, Jordy Mercer, Alcides Escobar), but drafting Martin could bring the O's similar value at a fraction of the cost. And his ability to play short would likely translate elsewhere in the infield.
LHP Foster Griffin
Current organization: Royals
With only three established starters -- and not in a position to commit long term to any more in free agency -- the Orioles could eye Griffin as a short-term solution for the back end of their rotation. The Royals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017, Griffin regressed in '18 at Double-A, where his ERA spiked to 5.13. But he's been durable and is seen by scouts as a potential No. 5 starter.
RHP Junior Fernandez
Current organization: Cardinals
Once a big part of the Cardinals' plans, Fernandez was removed from St. Louis' 40-man roster after a 2018 season in which he plummeted down the organizational depth chart. He's still young (22) and his stuff -- triple-digit fastball, plus changeup -- has long tantalized. But Fernandez has consistently struggled in two vital areas: command and adding a breaking ball to his repertoire.
1B Jake Gatewood
Current organization: Brewers
Gatewood's game comes with massive raw power, a significant swing-and-miss stroke and a major complication: the former first-rounder is currently recovering from a torn left ACL. His offensive upside may prove tantalizing enough to overcome that, even for an Orioles team without an immediate need for any more slugging corner-infield types. The O's could draft Gatewood, stash him on the 60-day DL and give him a chance to add more versatility to his game once fully rehabbed. He's already moved around quite a bit, having been drafted as a shortstop then moved to third before shifting across the diamond.