Can Orioles find Rule 5 success again later in first round?

SAN DIEGO – The Rule 5 draft begins in less than two hours, and the Orioles aren’t committed to making a selection. Having the 17th pick creates a rare air of uncertainty.

They chose pitcher Tyler Wells from the Twins organization at No. 17 in 2020, the last year that the Rule 5 draft was held, but after they selected pitcher Mac Sceroler from the Reds at No. 5 – and returned him on June 26.

Wells impressed as a late-inning reliever during his rookie season and made a smooth transition to the rotation this year.

Pitcher Michael Rucker was chosen from the Cubs in 2019, but after the Orioles grabbed pitcher Brandon Bailey from the Astros with the second pick. They didn’t make it through spring training.

The Orioles made three selections in 2017, flexing their Rule 5 muscle to the point where they should have cramped up. They plucked left-hander Nestor Cortés Jr. from the Yankees at No. 9, right-hander Pedro Araújo from the Cubs at No. 16 and right-hander José Mesa Jr. from the Yankees at No. 18.

Still under the impression that they could contend, the Orioles tried to carry Cortés and Araújo in their bullpen. That’s a lot of stashing. Mesa didn’t break camp with them, Cortés went back to the Yankees in April, and Araújo was sent back to the Cubs and re-acquired in a trade.

Having the 18th selection turned out much better for the Orioles in 2016, a huge win with the selection of switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander from the Indians.

Outfielder Aneury Tavárez went six spots ahead of him, with the Orioles raiding the rival Red Sox, but he was cut in camp. Santander, meanwhile, beat some long odds, coming from Single-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League and undergoing surgery that year to remove a bone spur in his surgery.

The Orioles knew that he needed the procedure, and there were some people in the organization who were critical of the selection. Even before it was made. As in, “Are we really going to take a guy from A ball with a bad shoulder?”

One person told me that the outfielder under consideration – no name given, but it was Santander – would be a designated hitter for the rest of his career.

Santander batted .290/.368/.494 with 42 doubles, 20 home runs and 95 RBIs with Lynchburg. The tools were obvious. But plenty of guys dominate at the low levels of the minors and never make it, let alone become a team’s most outstanding player, as Santander did with the Orioles in 2020, when he also was named a Gold Glove finalist in right field.

Able to stay healthy this year, Santander produced career highs across the board, including 152 games played, 33 home runs, 89 RBIs, 55 walks and a .318 on-base percentage.

Talk of Santander being a big trade chip is accurate, but the Orioles would have to be blown away with an offer. They want to upgrade the lineup. Removing Santander, with his power from both sides of the plate and ability now to be more patient at it, would seem to be a detriment.

Who knew it would turn out like this at the 2016 Winter Meetings?

“He had a great season,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday during his media session at the Winter Meetings. “Bottom line with him was we were just trying to keep him healthy all year, knowing that he had the ability to put the offensive numbers up that he did. That's why I DHed him so much, honestly, in the middle part of the season was I wanted him in the lineup, I wanted him to have four at-bats a night.

“Really proud of how far he's come as a pro, how he takes care of himself, the work that he puts in, how he's emerging into a little bit of a leadership role. Going to continue to do that. Really proud of the year he had.”

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