O’s face some tough calls on 40-man adds before Rule 5

Last November, the Orioles added four players to their 40-man roster to protect those players from being selected in the December Rule 5 draft. They added Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Ryan McKenna.

How many players will the Orioles add next month?

They’ve got a list of quality players eligible for this year’s Rule 5. But even with a lengthy list of players who they clearly like, it is still hard for a player to make the 40-man roster. Every year, it seems there is much angst over players that could - or some feel will - be lost to other teams, and every year those players are not lost.

I have used this math as one way to look at it. Each major league club probably has at least two players they really like but do not protect and are concerned they will lose. That is a list of 60 players. In 2018, there were just 14 players taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, and last year there were just 11 selected - two by the Orioles. So 23 percent of that group of 60 was taken in 2018 and 18 percent last year.

So even a player some feel certain will be lost, odds are he will not be lost in this draft. Even if a player is selected - and the rebuilding Orioles took two pitchers in last year’s draft - they can wind up coming back to their former club. That happened with both Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker. During spring training this year, the O’s sent Bailey back to the Astros and Rucker to the Cubs.

Of the 11 players selected last year, there were eight pitchers - all right-handed, by the way - two shortstops and one outfielder.

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper has studied and reported on this draft as well as anyone. Before this draft last December, he told me that often players selected in recent Rule 5’s can fit into two general categories.

“The Rule 5 draft kind of divides into the college guys that have some sort of clear flaw, which is why they are available,” he said. “Like one guy the Orioles have who could get picked is (pitcher) Cody Sedlock. If teams saw him on the right day, he could get selected. But I don’t think he will get picked.

“There are also Rule 5s available that are international signees who just are not far enough along in their career that you feel comfortable putting on a roster. On the one hand you have 25-, 26-year-old college players. On the other you have 21-year-old international players signed at 16 who become available that may still be in A ball. Two very different ends of the spectrum.”

Here is a partial list of Oriole players eligible to be selected this year:

Yusniel Diaz
Michael Baumann
Zac Lowther
Isaac Mattson
Brian Gonzalez
Zack Pop
Rylan Bannon
Alex Wells
Mason McCoy
Brenan Hanifee
Cody Sedlock
Cameron Bishop
Gray Fenter
Martin Cervenka
Brett Cumberland
Jean Carlos Encarnacion
T.J. Nichting
Zach Jarrett
Ofelky Peralta
Nick Vespi
Ryan Wilson
Jay Flaa
Cristian Alvarado

Several on this list are pending minor league free agents. Free agency for minor league and major league players begins five days after the World Series. In that group are Gonzalez, Peralta, Alvarado and Cervenka.

Carroll-Delivers-Gray-sidebar.jpgThere is also a small group of players that remain in the organization but were removed at some point during the year from the 40-man. They would also be Rule 5-eligible, and that list includes pitchers Cody Carroll, Eric Hanhold, Marcos Diplán, Evan Phillips and Josh Rogers.

On the above list, there are probably two or three locks with Diaz, Baumann and probably Lowther. But if you add Lowther to this list, can Wells be that far behind? Last year, I felt Fenter was a pitcher a team could take a flier on, but he had not yet pitched above low Single-A ball, and that no doubt hurt his cause. He was not selected and is eligible again.

Complicating the Rule 5 this year is that there was no minor league season in 2020. There are no video, scouting reports or stats for teams to go off from last summer. Will that lead to fewer players being selected?

I think Mattson and Pop could be two players that draw interest. Both have solid track records out of the bullpen, and teams can more easily stash pitchers over a full season in the bullpen. Pop had Tommy John surgery in May 2019. Had there been a minor league season last year, no doubt he would have returned to pitch at some point in the summer and maybe would have been nearly all the way back by late in the season. Would a team take a chance on Pop?

We’ll revisit the Rule 5 probably a few times between now and the draft in December. For now. I’ll list Diaz, Baumann, Lowther and Wells on my protect list, reserving the right to make additions or changes as we get closer to the day of the draft.

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