This is a difficult and humbling exercise, even the most thorough Rule 5 Draft analysis can easily fail. I ranked Brad Keller 18th on last year’s list and didn’t have Max Muncy ranked. Even JJ Cooper of Baseball America missed on Muncy. So even though this year I attempted to be thorough, I’m sure someone will fall through the cracks. The problem is that the profiles of players left unprotected are so similar that one is left sorting through hundreds of flawed prospects. There aren’t really tiers, maybe a couple at the top who stand out, but then a sea of similarities.
Before I begin, a few notes on my thought process. First, I want to see upside. I want players who can realistically be Future Value 45 or better eventually. The reasoning is FV 40s are often found on the waiver wire without the roster restriction that goes along with a Rule 5 draft pick. Second, I significantly downgrade players who aren’t anywhere near MLB ready, even if they are better prospects. The reason for this is the lack of success developing raw prospects on the bench or the last guy in the bullpen after a huge jump from the low minors. Third, I’m skeptical of polished relievers without premium stuff, it’s difficult to determine which of those types will make it and they are common waiver wire fodder. I ranked Luke Bard (the polished reliever type) 5th last year and he was picked but gave up way too much hard contact and was returned. Fourth, for position players, positional flexibility matters. It’s rare that a Rule 5 pick is an immediate starter, so it’s important they can fill a utility infielder, 4th outfielder, or backup catcher role. 1B/DH types are significantly downgraded, the bat needs to really stand out for those guys. Finally, teams generally know their players. They do a pretty good job of protecting the players with the most potential. So I focus on finding players who might benefit from a new role (Starting pitcher to the pen, new positional flexibility), have seen a recent profile change (velocity ticking up, added power), or are long shot types (late round, low bonus). Those are the players who teams underestimate or think they can sneak through unprotected.
When reading this, please remember that the margins between different players on the list are very small, so don’t get hung up on one guy being a few spots higher or lower than another. I have another 60-70 names I considered and some are virtual coin flips with the last 15 or so names on this list. Also, this isn’t a best prospect ranking, some of the best available prospects didn’t make this list because they are so raw that they’d be hard to carry on the 25 man and even if you did, it’d likely significantly harm their development.
Rule 5 Draft Preference List
1 Josh VanMeter – Reds – 2B/LF/Super Utility
This is the only list you’ll see VanMeter at the top of and maybe the only list with him in the top 10. He’s the clear favorite for me though. VanMeter has always been on scouts radar as a potential plus hit guy. The rest of the tools weren’t impressive, he’s a below average runner home to first (he is much a better runner underway). He can handle multiple defensive positions, but he’s not an asset with the glove. The power was below average. So he was a guy with a pretty swing, excellent bat to ball skills, and a patient approach, but nothing else. That’s a utility ceiling type, nothing more.
In 2018 he changed his mechanics at the plate. He internally rotated his rear foot and loaded his rear hip more effectively. This allowed him to use his lower half to generate power and boy did he start hitting the ball with authority. The contact quality remained high and now the ball was jumping off his bat. He hit 55% better than league average in AAA over the second half of the season while playing games at 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF. The power surge is real and he should be a useful part-time player right away due to positional flexibility and his RHP mashing bat. I think there is real everyday 2B upside if he can manage fringe average defense there.
2 Akeem Bostick – Astros – RHP
Five pitch mix with a fastball touching 95 with tail, curveball, slider, cutter, and changeup. Avg command, strike thrower. Some extension on the FB. The cutter (87-88), change, and changeup are solid offspeed pitches. I think he recently added the cutter, which has hurt the feel for the slider, but it’s ok because the cutter is probably his best secondary pitch. He was eligible last year, but the stuff has ticked up and performance with it. Knows how to pitch, can spot the ball at times, but inconsistent. XL frame, athletic, controlled but slightly stiff delivery with a short arm circle. Nothing individually wows, but the depth of the repertoire is impressive, four MLB quality pitches. Could probably handle a back of the rotation role on a rebuilding club and the fastball would really play out of the bullpen. Good chance to stick with upside.
3 Junior Fernandez – Cardinals – RHP
Very young for rule 5, he was 21 in 2018. Control/Command not there yet, but he’s athletic enough that it should improve. Lost developmental time due to injury. Fierce competitor, fastball upper 90s, bugs bunny plus changeup, fringe average slider. I don’t think he works as a starter, but it’s easy to see high leverage relief potential.
4 Jordan Guerrero – White Sox – LHP
Practically every year there is a pitchability lefty starter who gets selected in the Rule 5 Draft. This year the best available version is Guerrero. Fastball 89-90 t92, slider (below avg at 85), curveball (avg at 79-81), changeup (plus at 80-81), above average command, might work in the back of a rotation or at least swingman role. Guerrero was available last year as well, but has really tightened up his command and sequencing as well as improving his changeup.
5 Luis Pena – Angels – RHP
Major league stuff, fastball with ride and extension up to 95-96, sits 92-93 as a starter. Nasty slider, CB flashes. Being developed as starter but future in the pen, lacks a quality changeup and a starter’s command. Also a high effort delivery that’d hold up better in the pen. Not polished but the FB/SL combo should play if he can throw strikes. The results haven’t been great, but I think he’s just in the wrong role and will thrive in the bullpen.
6 Nick Green – Yankees – RHP
One of the best groundball artists in the minors, features a sinker in the low 90s that gets beaten into the ground. The pitch is quite unique, it has cutting action instead of the normal tailing action sinkers usually feature. The arm action is also deceptive, reaching straight back towards 2B. The curveball is very good at times and with added consistency it should miss bats of both LHB/RHB. Change isn’t MLB quality and he struggles with his release point at times, sapping control. The numbers aren’t impressive, but his is a skill set is a rare one that should play better with MLB quality defense.
7 Xavier Fernandez – Royals – C
Fernandez is a well rounded catcher. He can block, frame, and throw out runners (37% CS). He has a quick bat despite noisy hands pre-swing. He gets the barrel in the zone early and sprays the ball around the field. He can work a count and foul off tough pitches. He lacks big over the fence power, but he can find the gaps and should hit plenty of doubles while minimizing strikeouts.
8 Bryan Brickhouse – Royals – RHP
Missed two years with injuries, remade his body, lost weight, gained mobility. Now he’s back in relief and touching 100mph with some frequency, the slider should be consistently plus with more reps. Legit late inning stuff, command and consistency not back yet, but he’s a good athlete and the delivery works, so I think it’ll be here soon.
9 Elvis Escobar – Pirates – LHP
Converted outfielder, already 95mph with the fastball in addition to two solid offspeed pitches. The out pitch is a curveball with deep 11-5 action that he already throws for strikes. It might need to be tightened up a little bit, but plus potential if he can develop it. Still learning to pitch, looks uncomfortable on the mound at times. He’s only been pitching regularly since late June, so this is an aggressive ranking. There are probably going to be growing pains, but I’m blown away by how well he can pitch with this little experience. The stuff is MLB quality and he’s an athletic guy, I’d expect a quick learning curve.
10 Richie Martin – Athletics – Utility IF
MLB quality defense at SS, plus speed, extreme groundball hitter, lacks the swing or strength to lift the ball. He’s not going to get many extra base hits at the MLB level, and will see his walk rate diminish. The quality of his defense should get him picked. He should be a useful glove first utility infielder but I wouldn’t count on everyday upside.
11 Trevor Clifton – Cubs – RHP
Velocity better in late season, fasstball 91-93 t95, with some life but still gets barreled. High comfort level with an above average changeup. Plus curveball that plays down due to lack of command. Also, a fringe average slider. Stuff is better than the results at this stage, the command is fringy. The best combination of breaking ball and changeup available. Stuff is good enough that someone should stick him in a bullpen.
12 Art Warren – Mariners – RHP
Fastball touches 98, legit plus slider, results haven’t always lived up to the stuff and he battled injuries in 2018, but this is the kind of arm a team will take a chance on, should be able to stick and has a chance to develop into a late inning option.
13 Jon Harris – Blue Jays – RHP
Former 1st rounder, he has struggled, but regained velocity late in the season, thanks to changed mechanics. Fastball was sitting 93-94 t96, misses bats, good fastball command. Avg changeup and above average curveball that plays down because he doesn’t command it well. It’s backend starter stuff if the pitchability improves. He should be able to handle a multi-inning relief role this year in order to stick on a roster.
14 Riley Ferrell – Astros – RHP
Fastball 94-96, t98 at times. Mostly flat with some ride up in the zone. Slider plus at times but little command of the pitch. I’m not particularly high on him, but at best there are the makings of a late inning arm.
15 Jamie Westbrook – Diamondbacks – LF/2B
This guy can hit a little bit, average hit, average power, MLB quality bat. He was recently moved off 2B and has been primarily a LF. I think there is a chance he could be a 2nd division regular there or at 2B if a team can stomach the lackluster glove. The lack of arm strength and therefore positional flexibility hurts his ranking.
16 Drew Jackson – Dodgers – Utility IF
Jackson has some impressive tools for a Rule 5 eligible player. He has a cannon for an arm and plus speed. He can handle 3B/SS/2B and has even spent some time in CF. Jackson has dealt with a significant swing overhaul and a handful of nagging injuries which have slowed his progress. I’m not sure he’ll be able to make enough contact against MLB pitching, but there is some upside here if he does.
17 Deivi Grullon – Phillies – C
Short, stocky, strong. Easy opposite field power. Bat speed below average, likely only a low .200 batting average type, but plus power with a good defensive reputation behind the plate. So he could work as a backup catcher with pop. The bat speed limits the ceiling, but he’s young enough (22) that he could max out his approach and take more walks to make up for the lack of contact.
18 Sam McWilliams – Rays – RHP
Young guy, will be 23 all of 2019, 6’7”, still some projection left in the body. Fastball, two seam fastball, slider and changeup guy. Fastball sits 94-96, 2S just under that. Slider and change above average at times but very inconsistent. Command below average. Late blooming traits, should be a MLB player eventually, might need another year of seasoning. A rebuilding team could live through the growing pains with him airing it out in the pen.
19 Jordan Romano – Blue Jays – RHP
Sinker/slider starting pitcher without a quality 3rd pitch. Control above command, strike thrower. The sinker was up to 98 in an all-star game appearance, could be helpful now, but limited upside.
20 Kean Wong – Rays – Super Utility
Wong has added some additional positional flexibility, getting some innings in the outfield in addition to 2B/3B. While he hit better in his second year in AAA, a lot of it was BABIP influenced as his strikeouts actually increased. Wong could be a respectable bench bat for someone, but I don’t see much upside.
21 Forrest Wall – Blue Jays – CF/LF
Wall is a 2B who was recently converted to CF, he’s a plus runner but hasn’t really gotten comfortable in the OF yet, but he’s only really played one full season’s worth of games there. The 2B experience helps his value as a Rule 5 pick as it adds to positional flexibility. At the plate, he has got hands that allow him to spray the ball around the field. He has a patient approach and is a good base runner. He’s not a finished product, but he can handle CF/2B respectably and provide speed on the bases.
22 Josh Graham – Braves – RHP
Converted catcher, muscular athletic build. Legit arm speed, touches 97 with the fastball and adds a plus changeup. Slider is fringy. FB command is the only thing in the way of getting MLB hitters out, but I don’t know if that’s ever coming. Commands offspeed stuff better than FB.
23 John Nogowski – Cardinals – 1B
Right-handed hitting left-handed throwing first baseman, elite zone recognition, good bat to ball, some strength. Not the type of power you generally expect from a 1B only type, but enough to use the on-base skills. Interesting player, the swing has an almost non-existent load, could possibly be tweaked for more power. As likely to hit as anyone on this list, but limited by defensive position.
24 Jake Gatewood – Brewers – 1B/3B
Former SS, then 3B, now 1B, Gatewood’s calling card is plus-plus raw power that he’s getting to more and more in game. There is plenty of swing and miss as he airs it out every swing. He’ll also expand the zone and get himself out. He’s never going to be a high avg or OBP guy but he does a ton of damage on contact and he is an above average glove at 1B. He’s recovering from an ACL repair surgery, so he’ll probably be able to get stashed on the DL for part of the season. I think it’s fairly likely he gets picked, but I don’t think he’s quite ready to make the jump though.
25 Henry Martinez – Indians – RHP
Martinez has slowly moved through the Indians system, not getting to full season ball until last year. He’s dominated since in relief with a fastball up to 98 with nice armside run. He’s a control above command guy, strike thrower. He also has a slider and changeup, neither are particular good, but they help keep hitters honest.
26 Sam Haggerty – Indians – Utility IF
Switch-hitter, plus speed, has performed at every level, can handle every infield position competently. Kind of punchless at the plate though, don’t know if his hit/power tools are good enough for the show. He’s the type of player I could see carving out a few years as a useful role player.
27 Tyler Gilbert – Phillies – LHP
Fastball touches 93, sits 90-91. Starter’s repertoire working in relief. Cutter, Changeup (maybe 2 different ones), curveball. Keeps the ball in the park, even in the Reading launch pad. MLB ready middle relief, low upside.
28 Breiling Eusebio – Rockies – LHP
Currently recovering from TJS, Eusebio is the top pure stash guy on this list. High ¾ arm slot, plus LH fastball t96, 12-6 curveball and promising changeup. Potential rotation piece if the stuff returns but massive jump from Low A.
29 Travis Ott – Rays – LHP
Deceptive lefty, dominates LHB, 89-91 FB, SL in upper 70s above average, also a changeup. Low armslot, high leg kick, hides ball, crossbody, but throws strikes. Maybe gets RH batters out in a year, but only LOOGY if taken now.
30 Michael Beltre – Reds – OF
Athletic late bloomer, recently added strength and has showed better for it. Switch-Hitter. Quick, dynamic left handed swing, RH swing more robotic, doesn’t work for me. Raw power, but doesn’t lift the ball enough for HRs. Not really a CF (but can play it passably), strong RF defense but not enough game power yet for a corner. A real prospect, but a stretch for the Rule 5 draft.
31 Michael Gettys – Padres – RF/CF
Toolsy outfielder, plus speed, huge arm, plus raw power. Not being a polished defender and poor hit tool holds back the profile. The swing mechanics work but he has poor hands and bat to ball, lottery ticket type pick. If you think he hits at all, he’d be at the top of this list, but I don’t think he does.
32 Emmanuel Ramirez – Padres – RHP
Four pitch guy with nothing plus. FB 91-92, SL, CB, CH. Loses velocity as outings go on, but very effective when t93 early. Mixes well, throws all for strikes, avg command, 4 quadrants but not precise. Knows where to locate to get whiffs. Like him more than I probably should and was tempted to rank him higher.
33 Joan Baez – Nationals – RHP
Late season the stuff was impressive FB (94-95) t97 as a starter, flashed plus CB 79-81, fringe slider and change. Has never thrown enough strikes, command below average, but I’d be interested to see him air it out in relief.
34 Jose Pujols – Phillies – RF
Lanky outfielder with a cannon arm and huge raw power. Pujols has dynamic hips and plus bat speed, he did nothing but destroy the ball on contact between A+/AA. The best power bat available, and he still has room to get stronger. This comes with shaky defensive range, a hole in the swing, and pitch recognition issues, but two double-plus tools may be too much to pass up.
35 Travis Bergen – Blue Jays – LHP
Deceptive low ¾ lefty with a cross body delivery. FB/SL, FB to 94 mph (91-92), slider just average but plays up, avg command, above average feel and mound presence, relief only.
36 Zach Thompson – Dodgers – RHP
Sinking FB to 96 in the AFL, hard cutter, shows an above average CB at times. Below average command. Big guy, 6’7”, might get picked if a team thinks more command is coming.
37 Connor Lillis-White – Angels – LHP
Slider that gets ugly swings, command it well. FB 88-90, little room for error. Fringe CH. Performance above stuff. The slider is a weapon but the margin for error is very thin with his velocity.
38 Jeremy Rhoades – Angels – RHP
FB 93-95 with tail, command it well. Slider 87-89, cutterish and he doesn’t command it well. CH 85-87, locates armside flashed above average. Polished reliever, not a lot of upside.
39 Jordan Mills – Nationals – LHP
Sidearm slot, violent, whippy arm action. Quick arm, FB t92, slider and change fringe but everything plays up with delivery.
40 Daniel Brito – Phillies – 2B/Utility IF
Potential defensive asset at 2B, sweet left-handed swing. Great bat to ball skills. Just 20 years old and still filling out. Lack of present strength is hurting him but he does have the frame for added muscle going forward. Definitely a chance to be an everyday 2B eventually. Not close to MLB ready though, pure stash.
41 Jared Walsh – Angels – RF/1B/P
All fields power, gets to it in game. Plenty of swing and miss, not a defensive asset. On the mound I’ve read the left hander has been up to 94mph, but the video I’ve seen it was just 89 with a sloppy slider (30). Was sent to instructs to work on pitching.
42 Brian Schales – Marlins – 1B/3B
Interesting bat but below average defender at 3B, bat doesn’t look as good if he ends up at 1B.
43 Danny Mendick – White Sox – Utility IF
Passable defensive SS with contact and patience, some speed. Don’t know if there is enough bat speed to handle pro pitching, but the approach gives him a chance.
44 Cole Sulser – Indians – RHP
92-94, average command, two solid offspeed pitches, change 80-83 and slider with depth about the same velo. Works up and down well. Fastball would get mashed if left on the plate. Misses a lot of bats in AAA but I don’t know if there is enough stuff to repeat the trick in MLB.
45 Luis Gonzalez – Orioles – LHP
Fastball up to 96, best velocity of the upper minors LHP available. Also offers a cut fastball and changeup that have their moments but aren’t MLB quality out pitches. Commands the ball, your pick if you want polished LH velocity, but will have trouble keeping MLB hitters off his relatively straight fastball.
46 Bo Way – Angels – CF/P
FB t92, can spin a breaking ball, manipulate the shape a bit, at least a future avg pitch, limited pitching experience. Above average CF defense, contact bat, no power, slap hitter. Potential two-way, 5th OF/last guy in the bullpen. Like him better on the mound despite the limited exp.
47 Josh Lester – Tigers – 3B/1B
Nice power bat, turned it on in the 2nd half, interesting at 3B, but not sure if the glove plays there.
48 Ray-Patrick Didder – Braves – Super Utility
Defense and speed oriented super utility, can handle CF and SS well. The swing lacks fluidity or punch
49 Sam Wolff – Giants -RHP
Polished reliever, 93-96 pretty flat but paints the bottom of the zone. Slider and CB, both miss some bats, slider better of the two. No real upside, but could be cheap middle relief.
50 Tyler Rogers – Giants – RHP
Tops out at 81-83, submariner who practically throws underhand. No one barrels him. I think there is a fear of picking someone with no velocity but it’s a unique look and hitters don’t pick it up.