All 30 teams have made decisions about which prospects to protect on 40-man rosters and many are now making some deals to either firm up those rosters or perhaps create space so they can be active in the Major League phase of December’s Rule 5 Draft.
The baseball world will gather for the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on Dec. 7, the first time the event will be held in person since 2019. Every team had difficult decisions to make about who to protect, and each have at least one intriguing option the other 29 teams might want to consider when the Draft arises.
Here’s one potential Rule 5 pick for each team.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Orioles: Nolan Hoffman, RHP (not ranked among Orioles' Top 30)
The O’s added everyone on their Top 30 to the 40-man roster who needed to be protected, but a system this deep still has some interesting Rule 5-elgible talent. Hoffman is a sidearm reliever Baltimore took as the first pick in the Minor League phase of the 2021 Rule 5 Draft (from the Mariners). The right-hander pitched his way to Double-A in '22 and is coming off an effective stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 12.4 per nine over his 10 outings.
Blue Jays: Adrian Hernandez, RHP (No. 24)
The 22-year-old right-hander has only one truly above-average pitch, but it’s his changeup that is borderline plus-plus because of how well it plays off his low-90s fastball. He used the cambio to strike out 32.1 percent of Triple-A batters he faced in 2022, and it also helped him limit lefties to a .596 OPS compared to the .750 by their right-handed counterparts. One elite pitch and reverse splits, along with his Major League proximity, could give Hernandez at least a shot at being selected on Dec. 7.
Red Sox: Thad Ward, RHP (No. 15)
It’s reasonable to assume that Ward could stick on a big league roster because he pitched well in Double-A (2.43 ERA, 41 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings) and the Arizona Fall League after returning from 2021 Tommy John surgery. A fifth-round pick out of Central Florida in '18, he pitches mainly with a plus 81-85 mph slider and a 92-96 mph sinker.
Yankees: Antonio Gomez, C (No. 16)
Gomez is the best defensive catcher in New York's system but his bat isn't ready for the Majors, as evidenced by his .252/.332/.369 line with eight homers in 89 Single-A games. Signed for $600,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, he gets top-of-the-scale arm grades from some scouts and is a solid receiver.
Rays: Heriberto Hernandez, OF (No. 16)
There are plenty of clubs that would love to add Hernandez’s elite exit velocities to their farm system. Putting him in the Majors and keeping him there to make it happen? That’s likely a different story. The 22-year-old outfielder enjoyed a solid High-A season, slashing .255/.368/.499 with 24 homers in 119 games, but those numbers also came with a 31.4 percent K rate. That would only get worse three levels higher, but maybe there’s a club willing to make a big swing on Hernandez’s big swing now that he’s available.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Twins: Steven Cruz, RHP (No. 27)
Signed for just $30,000 in March 2017 because of his size (6-foot-7) and arm strength, Cruz does fit the mold of the kind of power-armed reliever who often gets taken in the Rule 5. While he struggled with command in Double-A this past season (5.6 BB/9), he also missed a ton of bats (11.6 K/9; 12.1 for his career), using a lively fastball that touches triple-digits routinely and an 89-mph hard slider that can serve as an out pitch as well.
Royals: T.J. Sikkema, LHP (No. 16)
It came as a bit of a shock that Kansas City didn’t protect Sikkema after acquiring him from the Yankees in the Andrew Benintendi trade, but the left-hander’s 7.44 ERA, 1.75 WHIP and .313 opponents' average against in eight Double-A starts following the move didn’t help matters. The 38th overall pick in the 2019 Draft has two different fastballs and a slider that project as above-average, and there could be a club willing to take a risk at seeing how those play in an MLB bullpen right away.
Tigers: Elvis Alvarado, RHP (No. 26)
Alvarado has already been through the Rule 5 process once before, having been selected in the Minor League stage by Detroit last year. He broke out in 2022, climbing three levels from Single-A to Double-A on the strength of a fastball capable of touching 99 mph with good sink. The 23-year-old right-hander finished with a strong 63/18 K/BB ratio in 59 2/3 innings as a reliever, but his lack of an above-average second pitch may have kept him from being protected. His velocity and decent control could still get him another Rule 5 look, this time in the Major League section.
White Sox: Luis Mieses, OF (No. 21)
Signed for $428,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Mieses profiles well in right field with his plus raw power and arm strength. He still needs time to refine his plate discipline after slashing .284/.325/.447 with 15 homers in 129 games between High-A and Double-A this past season.
Guardians: Ethan Hankins, RHP (not ranked among Guardians' Top 30)
A first-round pick as a Georgia high schooler in 2018, Hankins has had his development limited to 64 innings as a pro because of the pandemic and Tommy John surgery in May 2021. A club conceivably could take him in the Rule 5 Draft, stash him on its injured list for part of next season and hope he regains the electric mid-90s fastball and sinking changeup he showed in the past.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Jeremiah Jackson, SS (No. 13)
The Angels took a pair of toolsy high school players in the top two rounds of the 2018 Draft and now both outfielder Jordyn Adams and Jackson, the second-rounder taken after Adams, are available for the Rule 5. Jackson has had trouble being consistent in terms of his offensive production, selling out for power too much at times. But there’s serious pop there, he runs well and he can play three infield positions.
A’s: Logan Davidson, 3B/SS (No. 19)
The A’s took Davidson at the end of the first round of the 2019 Draft and sent him straight to Double-A for his first full season in '21, where he played in every game, but didn’t hit (.620 OPS and a strikeout rate above 30 percent). After a solid AFL showing that fall, he returned to the level in '22 and fared a bit better with a .743 OPS and a 27.7 percent K rate. He is a switch-hitter with some pop, one who has shown good defensive actions at short and third, while also having seen a little time at second and first base in the past as well.
Astros: Jayden Murray, RHP (No. 12)
Murray might be able to make the jump to the big leagues after posting a 3.50 ERA, .236 opponent average and 99 strikeouts in 108 innings, mostly in Double-A. Acquired from the Rays in the three-team deal that also brought Trey Mancini to the Astros from the Orioles, Murray has fine command of a mid-90s mph fastball with good carry and a sweeping low-80s slider.
Rangers: Antoine Kelly, LHP (No. 13)
Kelly pitched in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in July as a Brewer before going to the Rangers later in the month as part of the Matt Bush trade. He can reach 98 mph with a riding fastball and overmatches hitters with a sweeping mid-80s slider, resulting in a .189 opponents' average against and 143 strikeouts in 109 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A. But inconsistency with repeating his delivery and locating his pitches also led to a 4.43 ERA and 71 walks.
Mariners: Travis Kuhn, RHP (No. 28)
A walk-on at the University of San Diego, Kuhn was a low-risk 19th-round Draft pick of the Mariners in 2019 and opened eyes with a solid AFL campaign in '21 after spending most of the regular season across both levels of A ball. The reliever missed a lot of bats (10.8 K/9) in Double-A in '22, but continued to struggle with command (5.3 BB/9), perhaps the reason why Seattle left him and his fastball (up to 99 mph) and slider (upper-80s) combination unprotected.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Mets: Jake Mangum, OF (not ranked among Mets' Top 30)
Rule 5 outfielders are likely headed straight for fourth or fifth outfielder roles and need to bring at least something to the table to earn playing time/their roster spot. In Mangum’s case, that “something” would be defense and speed. The former Mississippi State star can hit a bit too, as he showed with a .333 average in 33 Triple-A games last year. The drawbacks: he’ll be 27 next Opening Day, and he’s coming off a season in which he was limited due to a spinal stress reaction.
Marlins: Troy Johnston, 1B/OF (No. 20)
Johnston has gone from 17th-rounder out of Gonzaga in 2019 to one of the better hitters in the Marlins' system, who slashed .261/.344/.423 with 14 homers in 114 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season. However, his hit-over-power approach make him a tough profile at first base or left field, and his .623 OPS in a month at Triple-A at age 25 may help Miami sneak him through the Rule 5 Draft.
Nationals: Drew Millas, C (No. 30)
Washington’s catching situation was already too crowded with young backstops to include Millas, leaving him vulnerable to the Rule 5. A club looking to fill its backup spot at that position could do worse than select the 24-year-old switch-hitter, who draws strong reviews for his receiving and throwing behind the plate -- skills that could translate quickly to the bigs. He’s also coming off an Arizona Fall League in which he hit .305 with an .825 OPS in 63 plate appearances, helping ease some concerns about his bat.
Phillies: Erik Miller, LHP (No. 7)
The highest-ranked prospect on any Top 30 left unprotected, Miller dominated with a move to the bullpen in Double-A in 2022, though he struggled with a late callup to Triple-A. The Phillies’ fourth-rounder out of Stanford in '19 has always had nasty stuff and it ticked upwards in shorter stints, with his fastball touching 97 mph and a tighter low-80s slider that missed bats. He’s always had an above-average changeup, giving him the chance to be more than a lefty specialist in a big league bullpen, with finding the strike zone consistently the key to his success (5.3 BB/9 in his career).
Braves: Victor Vodnik, RHP (No. 9)
The Braves went over-slot to sign Vodnik for $200,000 as a 14th-rounder out of high school in 2018 and while he did get some time to start in '21, he’s long had a reliever profile because of a lack of command, largely due to not being able to repeat his delivery. He’s had injury issues and pitched just 34 2/3 innings in '22. While he walked 4.9 per nine, he did strike out 12.2, mostly in Triple-A, so a team could roll the dice on what’s become an effective fastball-changeup combination given his success at getting outs at the upper levels.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Reds: Ivan Johnson, 2B (No. 28)
A product of Chipola Junior College taken in the fourth round of the 2019 Draft, Johnson has shown glimpses of being an offensive-minded middle infielder. The switch-hitter has pop, especially from the left side, and hit six homers in the AFL in '21. He can get overly aggressive at the plate and needs to refine his overall approach, but more than anything, he needs to stay healthy, as he’s played in just 129 games in '21 and '22 combined. He’s mostly a second baseman, but could fit a utility role if he’s selected.
Pirates: Malcom Nunez, 1B/3B (No. 12)
It surprised some that the Pirates didn’t protect Nunez, who was acquired from the Cardinals in the José Quintana deal close to the Trade Deadline. There’s a ton of raw power and bat speed from the right side of the plate here, and Nunez homered 23 times in 2022 while reaching Triple-A. One reason to roll the dice is that some see him as a first baseman only, which limits his profile some. An interested team could shuttle him between third, first and DH to get his power into the lineup.
Cubs: Luis Devers, RHP (No. 26)
A steal at $30,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Devers is coming off a breakout season in which he ranked seventh in the Minors in ERA (1.91), third in wins (13) and tied for ninth in WHIP (0.95), while posting a 122/26 K/BB ratio in 117 2/3 innings between Single-A and High-A. His fading low-80s changeup and his command are the keys to his success, and the Cubs are taking a calculated gamble that his low-90s fastball and distance from the Majors will leave him unpicked.
Brewers: Victor Castaneda, RHP (not ranked among Brewers' Top 30)
The 24-year-old right-hander is Rule 5-eligible for a second straight season and might have a better case this time around after posting a 4.10 ERA with 118 strikeouts in 120 2/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A last season. His splitter is his only plus pitch, but it helps against batters from either side. Castaneda could be worth a look as rotation depth/a once-through-the-order type of opener.
Cardinals: Inohan Paniagua, RHP (No. 13)
Rule 5 teams have made weirder bets than selecting a pitcher with two above-average pitches. That’s who Paniagua is with his fastball that can touch 96 mph and a high-70s curveball with heavy vertical break. The trouble is the 22-year-old righty has only reached High-A and didn’t even do that until late July. The jump to the bigs might just be too big, but you can’t fault a team for taking a low-risk roll of the dice to get a closer look at just how the heater and deuce would play.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Dodgers: Jose Ramos, OF (No. 8)
Signed for just $30,000 out of Panama in 2018, Ramos has two of the louder tools in the deep Dodgers system with his well above-average raw power and plus-plus arm strength. He slashed .249/.339/.479 with 25 homers but also a 31 percent strikeout rate between Single-A and High-A, so Los Angeles is betting that his need for more polish at the plate will make it difficult to keep him on a big league roster.
Rockies: Grant Lavigne, 1B (No. 14)
A product of the New Hampshire high school ranks, Lavigne got an above-slot $2 million to sign as the No. 42 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. It’s taken him a little while to figure things out at the plate after a huge summer debut, but there were encouraging signs in '22 as he reached Double-A and he finished by slashing .328/.409/.557 in 17 AFL games. The Rockies are rolling the dice that a first baseman only without any real track record above A ball won’t get taken -- or won’t stick -- but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lavigne take another step forward in '23 and earn a roster spot then.
Padres: Korry Howell, UTIL (No. 9)
The pickoff limits coming to MLB in 2023 could lead to an uptick in stolen bases, similar to the one we’ve seen in the Minors. That’ll make it even more valuable to have a plus-plus speedster available off the bench. Enter Howell. The 24-year-old also has some versatility with experience at all three outfield spots, as well as second base and short in 2022. His bat hasn’t been tested above Double-A, but the overall skills could get him a role as a Rule 5 pick.
Giants: Jairo Pomares, OF (No. 14)
After slashing .334/.378/.629 between Single-A and High-A in 2021, Pomares dropped to .254/.330/.438 in High-A this season. A $975,000 signee in '18 after defecting from Cuba, he's an all-bat left fielder who will have to tone down his extremely aggressive approach.
D-backs: Conor Grammes, RHP (No. 28)
Grammes is in some ways the perfect Rule 5 candidate. He throws hard (mid-90s) with two promising breaking balls, but because of Tommy John surgery in July 2021, he wasn’t seen much this summer. The 25-year-old right-hander struck out 37.1 percent of his batters faced in 12 High-A appearances after the procedure, but he also walked 14.6 percent and finished with an 8.50 ERA (and a much lower 4.94 FIP). A club might believe enough in the stuff to give him a shot and see if the control can improve with another year removed from surgery.