Qualls reviews three players chosen in Triple-A phase of Rule 5 draft

The Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft, previously known as the minor league phase, tends to be skimmed in the minds of fans and some media because the players don’t land on the 40-man roster. They aren’t spring training storylines.

My personal experience is I’m busy looking up statistics and writing about the major league selection or selections and which players are lost to other teams, and must pause to tweet out the other stuff. Those names get tagged at the bottom.

The Orioles made three selections in the Triple-A phase: right-hander Alfred Vega from the Yankees’ system, left-hander Trey McGough from the Pirates and catcher Randy Florentino from the Rangers.

McGough was interesting because he attended Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md. Who doesn’t love a local angle? We learned later that he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Nothing else really stood out among the group. Vega is 21 and he pitched in the Florida Complex League. His story requires some deep digging.

Kent Qualls, director of minor league operations, is a great resource and he provided the club’s perspective on the selections.

Vega has registered a 3.10 ERA and 1.234 WHIP in 41 games (26 starts), with 46 walks and 137 strikeouts over 139 1/3 innings. He allowed two earned runs and three total, with four walks and 22 strikeouts this year in 15 1/2 innings in the FCL.

Qualls: “We were obviously excited to get him. He’s the first guy we had on our list. He’s young, athletic. A pitcher still with a lot of projection. He’s got a four-pitch mix with a plus fastball, 91-96 (mph). He had good results in kind of a small sample in 2022, but he’s also had good career results, albeit that it’s been at the Complex level.

“Our hope with him is that he can graduate out of the Complex and we can get him out to affiliated ball and see where he can go. But there aren’t that many 21-year-olds available in that phase of the draft. The prior year, he was protected at Triple-A, which means his prior club thought pretty highly of him at that point, and then this year was the first year that he was available in the minor league phase.

“We’re excited to have him. I know our pitching coaches are excited to work with him and think they can help progress him.”

I doubled back to the part about Vega being first on the board. Did that mean overall or with the Orioles assuming other players would be gone before they selected at No. 17?

Qualls: “He was our top guy. When you’re drafting (at number) 17, which is different than what we’ve been the last few years – we’ve been drafting one or five or somewhere in that top range – at 17 we weren’t sure how far our list we were going to have to go before we took our first selection. He was the first guy that we wanted, so we were really happy that he was still available.”

The Pirates selected McGough in the 24th round in 2019 out of Mount St. Mary's. He’s registered a 3.31 ERA and 1.133 WHIP in 50 games (24 starts) over three seasons, with 38 walks and 144 strikeouts in 163 1/3 innings.

McGough allowed six runs with four walks and 13 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis this year, appearing in only eight games, including five starts, before his elbow surgery.

The Orioles targeted McGough for a specific reason, and it wasn’t his Maryland ties.

Qualls: “He was high on our list. Still relatively young at 24. Basically a left-handed starter that had advanced and moved pretty quickly through the Pirates’ org. Was able to get to Triple-A in three seasons. Has a good mix of four pitches, with an average-to-plus fastball at 91-94. Really good slider and changeup.

“We don’t have a ton of left-handed pitching, so we thought it was interesting to acquire a left-handed pitcher in this spot. And we also felt comfortable with the fact that he had TJ and his recovery timeline. We would still have him under control for three seasons, so we still felt like there was enough development time where we would have him under contract even after the rehab was completed.”

Florentino has slashed .240/.357/380 with 15 home runs in four seasons and thrown out 23 percent of runners attempting to steal. He spent this year at Single-A Hickory and batted .242/.332/.353 in 51 games.

Qualls: “He’s a left-handed hitter, primarily a defense-first catcher. He also plays first base. We had some info on him, some people knew him first-hand. Really strong makeup and character. A strong arm. He’s a bilingual catcher. Has a good track record for helping develop pitchers, and somebody we thought was a good addition and a good fit for us.”

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