A streak stayed alive recently. The Orioles have made a selection in every Rule 5 draft that was held since 2006. This time they selected right-handed reliever Andrew Politi from the Boston Red Sox.
Now Politi, coming off a good 2022 season when he spent time at both Double-A and Triple-A, will try to first make the O’s Opening Day roster and then stick with the club all season next year, per the Rule 5 rules. A 15th-round draft pick out of Seton Hall in 2018, Politi pitched in 50 games last year, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA.
Over 69 1/3 innings he allowed 45 hits and just six homers, recording 22 walks to 83 strikeouts. He posted a 2.9 walk rate and 10.8 strikeout rate with a .186 batting average against and 0.97 WHIP. Some strong stats that included a 28.3 strikeout percentage in his time at Triple-A.
I recently talked with Baseball America’s editor-in-chief, JJ Cooper about this O's addition. Few know the Rule 5 draft or cover it better than Cooper. He sees this pick as a different type of Rule 5 selection for the O's. Not a pitcher that a losing team might select for future help but a major league-ready pickup that a team chasing the playoffs might take a look at.
“The Orioles were looking for a player that could fit into their 2023 bullpen, and if I were looking for a player in this year’s Rule 5 draft, Politi is one of the ones that most stands out for that," said Cooper. "He had success last year. He had upper-level success, he spent most of the year at Triple-A. It’s not a high-upside play. He’s got solid stuff. A mid-90’s fastball that plays well with a hard slider.
“It’s a player you can come to spring training and say, ‘This player is legitimately competing on their merits for a spot in the bullpen.’ You are not looking at what he could be in a year or two. But can he win a spot in their bullpen? If he can, they break camp with him."
And as always, trying to keep the player on the roster all year is the challenging part.
“The only downside with that, and it’s true with all Rule 5 picks, if you are not talking about your high-leverage relievers you want those guys to have options," Cooper said. "There will be a point in the year where maybe they have some injuries or it’s been a taxing week for the ‘pen and you want to be able to send guys down sometimes just to get a fresh arm in there. With the Rule 5, you can’t do that with Politi.”
Baseball America’s writeup mentioned some max effort in Politi’s delivery. Are there any red flags there?
“Not really, especially as a reliever," Cooper said. "I think, in some cases, effort for relievers - and he’s been a reasonably consistent strike-thrower - but some effort for a reliever adds to their deception. It’s not a glaring concern. The key thing you are looking at here he’s had a history of durability and is a reliever that has thrown in the 70-75-inning range every year. He’s been durable and reliable, and the effort is not a giant concern to me."
The scouting reports indicate that Politi throws 93 to 95 mph, touching 97 with a slider in the high 80s, a cutter from 89 to 93 and curveball in the low 80s. He was ranked as Boston’s No. 23 prospect in 2020 and No. 30 in 2021.
Politi is an undersized right-hander at 6-foot-0, and in some respects that makes his fastball flatten out. But Cooper said that is actually not a bad thing at all.
"One thing that is interesting in me in how this game has changed over the years - and I've been with Baseball America for 20 years - now we in a world where a flat fastball is good," Cooper said. "His fastball is not an elite bat-misser. But it has enough velocity and movement, and the plane to where as he elevates it can be an effective pitch."
Cooper explains that a flatter pitch for Politi is one quite different than, say, a 6-foot-6 pitcher would throw with more downhill plane. When pitchers elevate their fastballs, flatter can be good. The pitch stays up, or appears to, and doesn't drop into the hitting zone or fat part of the bat. It can stay elevated enough to make the pitch effective.