Each team's most intriguing Rule 5 prospect
Back in November, teams had to decide which of their prospects would be added to the 40-man roster and protected from being taken by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.
When it was all said and done, 86 players who rank among their team’s Top 30 prospects were protected, including seven players from MLB Pipeline’s Top 100.
Unprotected prospects are subject to the Rule 5 Draft if they signed by age 18 and have completed five pro seasons, or if they signed at age 19 or older and have completed four pro seasons.
There are some nuances, but most high school and international players signed as recently as 2016 and most junior college or college players signed as recently as 2017 are eligible. Teams may select unprotected players in the big league phase of the Rule 5 Draft at the cost of $100,000, with the stipulation that they can't be sent to the Minors next year without clearing waivers and then being offered back to their original club for $50,000.
Below, we identify a notable player left unprotected by each of the 30 clubs. To be clear, this is not a list of the best candidates to be selected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, but rather a compilation of some of the most interesting eligible prospects.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Kevin Smith, SS/3B (No. 19)
Smith had a big up arrow next to his name heading into 2019 after he’d batted .302/.358/.528 with 28 homers, 31 doubles and 21 steals between Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin in his first full season. The 2017 fourth-rounder hasn’t come close to matching that production, struggling mightily in both Double-A and the Arizona Fall League, but he’s a solid defensive infielder with plus raw power when he makes contact.
Orioles: Brett Cumberland, C (unranked on O's Top 30)
The O’s got Cumberland from the Braves as part of the July 2018 Kevin Gausman trade and he was hurt for a good part of his first full season (2019) with his new organization. The 25-year-old is an offensive-minded switch-hitting backstop, and there’s power there for sure, with reports coming from instructs that he had been working hard on improving his defensive game as well.
Rays: Paul Campbell, RHP (No. 24)
The former 21st-round pick (2017) had a breakout in 2019, posting a 3.67 ERA between Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, while finishing among the Rays’ Minor League leaders in wins (13, tied-first), innings (144 2/3, second) and strikeouts (112, fourth). Adding a cutter to his now-four-pitch mix has helped the 25-year-old righty miss more bats, though there are concerns about his ability to retire left-handed hitters.
Red Sox: Alex Scherff, RHP (unranked on Red Sox Top 30)
Gatorade's 2017 Texas high school player of the year, Scherff showed first-round arm strength while going 15-0 with a 0.73 ERA and four no-hitters but dropped to the fifth round amid signability concerns. He has struggled since signing for $700,000, continuing to show mid-90s velocity but lacking fastball life, a reliable breaking ball, command and control.
Yankees: Garrett Whitlock, RHP (unranked on Yankees Top 30)
An over-slot ($247,500) signing as a 17th-rounder from Alabama-Birmingham in 2017, Whitlock spun a 31-inning scoreless streak in his first full pro season and advanced to Double-A before having Tommy John surgery in July 2019. His low-three-quarters delivery creates tremendous sink on his 91-94 mph two-seam fastball and he backs it up with a low-80s slider with two-plane depth.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Will Benson, OF (unranked on Indians Top 30)
Benson offered the best combination of size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and athleticism in the 2016 Draft and signed for $2.5 million as the 14th overall pick. The Georgia prep product led the Class A Midwest League with 22 homers in 2018 and homered four times in one game last year, but he has timing issues at the plate and his selectivity can become passivity, so he has batted just .212 with a 31 percent strikeout rate in the Minors.
Royals: Seuly Matias, OF (No. 14)
Matias’ profile is unchanged from a year ago, when he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. The 31 home runs Matias hit in 2018, his only healthy full-season campaign, accurately reflect the 22-year-old outfielder’s massive raw power and potential game power, and he reportedly made gains in his plate discipline and contact this past summer after posting alarmingly high strikeout rates early in his career.
Tigers: Wenceel Perez, SS (No. 16)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $550,000 in July 2016, Perez, 21, has shown a knack for making contact from both sides of the plate early in his career but will need to get stronger in order to do damage consistently. And while he’s raw as a shortstop defensively, he also has the blend of athleticism, speed and arm strength needed to remain at the position.
Twins: Akil Baddoo, OF (No. 13)
Between Tommy John surgery in May 2019 and then the shutdown, Baddoo has missed nearly two years of competitive action, though he tried to get as many reps as possible at instructs. Baddoo has some serious tools, with the ability to make consistent hard contact and play a very good center field, with the Twins likely hoping he’s just too far away for a team to take a chance in the Rule 5 Draft.
White Sox: Will Kincanon, RHP (No. 29)
An 11th-round pick out of Indiana State in 2017, Kincanon moved from starter to reliever after turning pro and posted a 1.86 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 58 Class A Advanced innings a year ago. He mainly operates with a heavy 92-95 mph sinker to get grounders and a mid-80s slider that misses bats.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Kevin Maitan, 3B/2B (No. 24)
It feels like an eternity since Maitan was a super-hyped prospect in the 2016-17 international class and signed with the Braves for $4.25 million. He since was declared a free agent in the wake of the Braves’ international signing infractions and joined the Angels. He made his full-season debut in 2019 and struggled with his overall approach, so it’s hard to envision a team rolling the dice, but it is important to keep in mind he’s still only 20.
Astros: Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP (No. 14)
Signed for just $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Rivera saw his four-seam fastball jump from 89-93 mph during his U.S. debut in 2018 to 94-98 mph with a peak of 100 while striking out 95 in 75 2/3 Class A innings in 2019. He projects as a multi-inning reliever and his second-best offering is a mid-80s changeup with splitter action.
A’s: Buddy Reed, OF (No. 24)
Reed wasn’t protected by the Padres in last year’s Rule 5 Draft and was later sent to the A’s as the player to be named in the Jurickson Profar deal. The former second-round pick has tools aplenty, though he struggled adjusting to Double-A in both 2018 and '19 with San Diego. He is capable of playing all three outfield spots and his plus speed is a huge asset on the basepaths as well.
Mariners: Joe Rizzo, 3B (No. 21)
The Mariners went above slot to sign Rizzo for $1.75 million as a second-rounder out of the Virginia high school ranks in 2016. He took a step forward with the bat in a repeat of the California League in 2019, though he scuffled a bit in the Arizona Fall League. He’s gotten better defensively at third and has seen a little time at first and second base as well.
Rangers: Alex Speas (unranked on Rangers Top 30)
Speas had one of the best pure arms in the 2016 high school class and it earned him a $1,024,900 bonus as a second-round pick. He had trouble harnessing his power fastball/curveball combo, but started to find success after moving to the bullpen in 2018, only to blow out his elbow and require Tommy John surgery that June. He has pitched just one Minor League inning since but repeatedly topped triple digits with his heater this summer.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Thomas Burrows, LHP (No. 24)
The Braves got Burrows from the Mariners prior to the 2017 season in return for Mallex Smith and Burrows pitched his way to Double-A in 2018. He struggled more in 2019 and wasn’t protected, nor was he selected, a year ago. While he has struggled with his command, he is a lefty who can miss bats (11.6 K/9 in his career).
Marlins: Thomas Jones, OF (unranked on Marlins Top 30)
One of the best prep athletes in the 2016 Draft, Jones turned down football overtures to play safety for programs such as Clemson and Notre Dame to sign for $1 million as a third-rounder. He still has plus-plus speed, but hasn't been able to solve pro pitching, hitting just .220/.312/.342 in four seasons, none above Class A.
Mets: Shervyen Newton, INF (No. 14)
Newton looks the part of a future big leaguer, with his athletic 6-foot-4 frame and loud tools, but so far in his career, the 21-year-old has struggled to convert all that ability into production. He went unselected a year ago but remains an intriguing candidate given his sheer athletic ability, switch-hitting and defensive versatility -- especially for a team that believes in Newton’s untapped potential.
Nationals: Sterling Sharp, RHP (No. 24)
Taken by Miami with the No. 3 pick in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, Sharp made four appearances out of the Marlins’ bullpen and remained with the big league club until August, when he was returned to the Nationals after being DFA’d and clearing outright waivers. The 25-year-old right-hander is an electric athlete who, when he’s at his best, generates ground balls at an elite rate with his sinker.
Phillies: Jhailyn Ortiz, OF (No. 19)
Ortiz, who signed for $4 million in July 2015, was available in last year’s Rule 5 Draft but wasn't taken. He definitely has some legitimate raw power, hitting 19 homers in the Florida State League in 2019, but the 149/36 K/BB ratio would likely concern teams considering him. He is only 22, so there’s time for him to figure it out.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Payton Henry, C (No. 15)
Henry and Mario Feliciano operated as a catcher-designated hitter tandem at Class A Advanced Carolina in 2019, combining for 33 homers and 156 RBIs in the Carolina League. Milwaukee opted to protect only Feliciano, its No. 4 prospect, but some evaluators believe Henry is the better defender, with right-handed power that plays to the big parts of the ballpark.
Cardinals: Julio E. Rodriguez, C (No. 15)
Good defensive catchers with upper-level experience are always a hot commodity in the Rule 5 Draft. Rodriguez fits that description to a T as an above-average defensive backstop with a plus arm and an ability to call games and communicate with pitchers that’s made him a favorite within the organization.
Cubs: Dakota Mekkes, RHP (unranked on Cubs Top 30)
Mekkes led NCAA Division I in hit rate (4.1 per nine innings) and strikeout rate (15.2) as a redshirt sophomore at Michigan State in 2016, then signed for $275,000 as a 10th-rounder that June. He has unusual size (6-foot-7, 250 pounds) and an unorthodox delivery that provides great deception, allowing his low-90s fastball to play well above its average velocity. He has posted a 2.20 ERA with 251 strikeouts in 196 1/3 pro innings, but he got lit up in Triple-A in 2019.
Reds: Joel Kuhnel, RHP (No. 22)
Kuhnel pitched his way to the big leagues in both 2019 and 2020, but the Reds outrighted the 25-year-old right-hander in October and he cleared waivers. That might point to a lack of interest from other teams, but he does have a fastball that touches triple-digits that could get him another big league chance.
Pirates: Kevin Kramer, 2B (No. 21)
Kramer looked poised to establish himself in the big leagues after hitting .311/.365/.492 in Triple-A in 2018 and touching Pittsburgh for the first time. But in limited Major League time (79 total at-bats), he’s managed just a .387 OPS and was outrighted at the end of October. He’s 27, but he’s shown the ability to play three infield positions and even added corner outfield to his resume in 2019.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Jose Herrera, C (unranked on D-backs Top 30)
Herrera was a high-profile international prospect who commanded the largest bonus ($1,060,000) given out by Arizona during the 2013-14 signing period, but he has barely sniffed the Class A Advanced level (39 games) in five pro seasons and served a 50-game suspension in 2018. Still, the 23-year-old is one of the better defensive catchers in Arizona’s system and a potential late-bloomer as a switch-hitter with a solid approach.
Dodgers: Brett de Geus, RHP (No. 27)
After de Geus signed for $75,000 as a 33rd-rounder from Cabrillo (Calif.) JC in 2017, his pro debut was delayed a year when a post-Draft physical revealed a heart condition. He broke out as a reliever in 2019, finishing with 23 straight scoreless innings between Class A Advanced and the Arizona Fall League while displaying a lively 93-98 mph fastball, low-80s curveball and upper-80s slider/cutter.
Giants: Ricardo Genoves, C (No. 30)
Genoves' defensive prowess earned him a $500,000 bonus out of Venezuela in 2015, and he has the makings of a solid receiver with plus arm strength. After producing four homers and a .664 OPS in 148 games during his first three pro seasons, he went deep nine times with an .804 OPS in 51 contests in 2019, reaching Class A in August.
Padres: Esteury Ruiz, 2B/OF (No. 19)
Signed by the Royals for $100,000 during the 2015-16 international period, Ruiz landed with San Diego at the 2017 Trade Deadline and proceeded to garner Arizona League MVP honors after leading the circuit in hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He hasn’t been able to replicate that type of production in full-season ball, but is a dynamic athlete with an explosive right-handed swing, above-average speed and the ability to play either second base or the outfield.
Rockies: Riley Pint, RHP (No. 26)
The No. 4 overall pick of the 2016 Draft, Pint has struggled with both injuries and command over the last couple of years. He’s yet to pitch beyond Class A and has a 7.2 BB/9 rate, but on a given day, he still shows premium power stuff -- a fastball that still touches triple digits, a filthy curve and even a changeup that flashes plus -- that could get big league hitters out if he can harness it