He has only pitched 14 2/3 innings on the Orioles farm, but 24-year-old right-hander Pat Connaughton is eligible to be taken this December in the Rule 5 draft. Yep, that was fast. This will be the fourth Rule 5 draft since the Orioles selected Connaughton in round four out of Notre Dame in the 2014 draft and signed him to a bonus of $428,000.
With short season Single-A Aberdeen in 2014, Connaughton pitched to a 2.51 ERA and showed a fastball that touched 96 mph with secondary pitches showing potential.
But he is about to begin his third year in the NBA with Portland. The team guaranteed his contract at the end of August for the 2017-18 season. Even though he has played sparingly, Connaughton seems locked into the NBA for at least another season. The regular season runs through April 11 for Portland.
The Orioles have his rights through the 2020 season but again, another team could take him as a Rule 5 pick in December. But there seems almost no way that would happen and Connaughton is not expected to get added to the O’s 40-man this winter.
Connaughton’s chance to be a good major league pitcher is still out there if he decides to come back to the sport. But for now he won’t become a Rule 5 pick or a member of the Orioles’ 40-man roster barring something very unforeseen.
Here is a look at some other players though that could be added to the Orioles’ 40-man in November:
Pitcher Hunter Harvey: This is a no-brainer. The Orioles will add Harvey because they would lose him in December otherwise. The rehab from Tommy John surgery is complete and he looked like his pre-surgery self this year as he fanned 30 in 18 2/3 innings. He is a future member of the Orioles rotation and that seems to be a matter of when not if. He could even factor in at some point next year. Clear a spot for him on the 40-man.
After Harvey, there are no other no brainers for me but a few players on the bubble.
Pitcher David Hess: Taken one round after Connaughton in 2014, Hess has teased the Orioles with some stellar pitching the last few seasons. This includes two dominant Eastern League playoff starts in 2015 and a strong finish this year at Double-A Bowie, in a season where he went 11-9 with a 3.85 ERA and .235 average against.
Hess pitched to an ERA of 2.25 his final six starts with seven walks and 33 strikeouts over 40 innings. Is he a future back-end of the rotation starter for the Orioles? Could he be even more than that?
He seems very much on the bubble for a 40-man spot. At a time when the club needs homegrown starters, I think they protect Hess and add him to the 40-man next month.
Catcher Austin Wynns: He is the clear choice as the best defensive catcher among O’s minor leaguers and he certainly has a shot to at least be a major league backup. His defense is major league ready now. Not to mention the fact that his bat has been trending up since the Orioles selected him in round 10 of the 2013 draft out of Fresno State. This year in 105 games at Bowie he hit .281/.377/.419 with a .796 OPS and a 12.0 percent walk-rate.
If the Orioles lose Welington Castillo to free agency, protecting Wynns may become important. Even if they don’t lose Castillo, he could still be protected. They would have a strong defensive catcher with a decent bat with three option years.
Infielder Steve Wilkerson: The Orioles are watching him closely in the Arizona Fall League and he’s another player probably on the bubble to be added to the 40-man. He is coming off his best minor league season. Between Single-A Frederick and Bowie in 2017, the eighth round pick in 2014 out of Clemson hit .305/.375/.423 with an OPS of .798.
Set to turn 26 in January, Wilkerson is a utility player candidate and some wonder if he could be Ryan Flaherty’s successor on the O’s roster, if the club doesn’t keep Flaherty, a pending free agent. A switch-hitter with good speed, he played second and third base for Frederick and Bowie and made a couple of starts in right field. But the organization did not use him at shortstop this season and that could make it tough to make a big league roster as a utility player. He should get credit for his solid 2017 season but seems a longshot to earn a 40-man spot.
Pitcher Luis Gonzalez: He is another longshot to get added to the 40-man and is also currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. A lefty pitcher with a good arm, he now has good stats to go with that, even though he has never pitched above High-A.
In 2015, Gonzalez went 6-11 with a 6.88 ERA as starter at Frederick. But the last two years his numbers were better out of the bullpen. This season he went 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA for the Keys. Over 62 innings he gave up 39 hits with 24 walks and 75 strikeouts.
He throws between 93 and 96 mph with a solid slider and some team could take a flyer on a southpaw with a good arm. But that seems unlikely to me. Maybe he can change that over the next few weeks in the AFL.
Here is a partial list of other players that are eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December: Cristian Alvarado, Armando Araiza, Brandon Barker, Drew Dosch, Paul Fry, Randolph Gassaway, Jay Gonzalez, Matthew Grimes, Josh Hart, Jordan Kipper, Branden Kline, Lucas Long, Adrian Marin, John Means, Yermin Mercedes, Alex Murphy, Ademar Rifaela, Ryan Ripken, Erick Salcedo, Travis Seabrooke, Matt Wotherspoon, Mike Yastrzemski.