A look at the Rule 5 draft with Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper

The latest edition of the Rule 5 draft is set for Thursday at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. The last Rule 5 draft where the Orioles did not make a selection was in 2005.

Yep, it’s been that long, and the Orioles are certainly expected to make a selection again this year when they pick second behind Detroit. The order of the draft is the same as for the First-Year Player Draft set for June.

Picking first last December in the Rule 5, the Orioles took infielder Richie Martin from Oakland. He made it through the entire season on the big league roster and now has three option years remaining.

No one covers this draft better than J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, who had Martin ranked as the top player available last December.

The Rule 5 draft seems to be made for a rebuilding team like the Orioles.

orioles-opening-day-lineup.jpg“I do think if you look at the Orioles in this draft, they can look at it a couple of ways,” said Cooper. “They can try to find someone to legitimately contribute right away, which I think is the more successful way to use the Rule 5. But as a rebuilding club, they could also take a guy that is not ready or close to ready, but could immediately become one of the more talented guys in the organization to build up the farm for the future.”

So which would be the better way for the O’s to go next week?

“From every indication we have so far, the Orioles may not be interested in a Rule 5 pick trying to help them win a few more games in 2020,” said Cooper. “They need someone to help win in 2021, 2022, 2023. The Orioles could do multiple things in the draft - you are only talking about a $100,000 gamble. There are some players in this draft worth taking a chance on in either direction.”

He then provided a few names that fit the ready now grouping of players and also one that is more for the future.

“Jose Rojas is a second baseman/third baseman with the Angels who has been a pretty consistent hitter at multiple levels. He is coming off a very strong year last year, 31 homers at Triple-A,” Cooper said. “He’s not a great defender, but can play multiple positions.

“Joe Barlow is a right-handed reliever that was really good at two levels for the Rangers last year, but tailed off and was not nearly as good once he went to Triple-A. That is probably the reason he is available. But he is a guy that could absolutely fit for some teams.

“Now if they wanted to go a different direction, than you could talk about Moises Gomez, an outfielder the Rays left unprotected who is not ready. He did not have a very good year last year, but has legit power. Is a corner outfielder that has drawn Marcell Ozuna comps over the years. That would be a player they could take, kind of bury him on the bench and hope it pays off two or three years down the road.”

Rojas, 26, hit .293/.362/.577 last season in 126 games for Salt Lake in the Pacific Coast League. He produced 39 doubles, seven triples, 31 homers and 109 RBIs.

Barlow, 24, was very good last year at Single-A, going 4-0 with an ERA of 0.38, and at Double-A, going 1-1 with a 1.13 ERA. But at Triple-A Nashville, he was 1-1 with an ERA of 8.83 in 19 games. His strikeout rate was 14.68 per nine innings last season. For his career, his K rate is 12.87, but his walk rate is 6.04.

Gomez, 21, from Venezuela, hit .220/.297/.402 last season with 16 homers and 66 RBIs in the Single-A Florida State League. In 2018 in the Single-A Midwest League, he batted .280 with 19 homers, 82 RBIs and an OPS of .831 and led that league in extra-base hits. He was signed for just $40,000 in 2015 and is rated as the Rays’ No. 12 prospect by MLBPipeline.com.

Cooper named pitcher Cody Sedlock and catcher Brett Cumberland as possible players the Orioles could lose in the draft, but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“I would say those are the top two. But I would not put either in my top 20 of players that might get picked,” he said.

“Is there a chance they get picked? Yeah, there’s a chance. But say Sedlock got picked. For him to be a big leaguer, he has to be at the top of his velocity range and do everything right. Let’s say he does that for some team in March. He sticks on an opening day roster. Then he has to keep that up for another five months. That is the hard part. Rule 5 picks, especially pitchers, seem to pick up aches and pains throughout the year. You have to keep them on the active roster for 90 days. Making a roster doesn’t mean you are going to stick.”

What about right-hander Gray Fenter, who had such a strong year for Single-A Delmarva?

“Fenter, let’s put it this way: If there was a team out there that is likely to take Fenter - and there may be a few others - it would be the Orioles,” Cooper said. “There aren’t that many teams in that situation. You are really talking about the Royals, who have usually taken a guy closer to the majors in past history. The Tigers maybe. You start running out of teams that are not expected to be competitive in any way in 2020.”

Click here for Baseball America’s latest Rule 5 preview.

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