Rule 5 protection date approaches for the Orioles

So a decision day is coming for the Orioles on Friday, unless they make some announcements before that. They have to decide which players to add to their 40-man roster to protect them from the December Rule 5 draft.

They have five openings on their 40-man roster. That certainly does not guarantee they protect five players. They can protect as few as they want or as many as five, unless they clear any more roster spots before Friday, which seems unlikely.

In looking back at previous transactions, here are players the Orioles protected in recent years.

* November 2016: pitchers Joe Gunkel and Jesus Liranzo.
* November 2017: pitchers Hunter Harvey and David Hess and catcher Austin Wynns.
* November 2018: pitchers Branden Kline and Dillon Tate.
* November 2019: pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer and position players Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan McKenna.

Trey Mancini would have needed to be added in 2016, but he made the 40-man the previous September. The same was true of Chance Sisco and Tanner Scott, who were added in September 2017, and John Means and DJ Stewart, added in September 2018.

Keep in mind that it is hard for a team to lose a player in the Rule 5 draft. How hard? There were just 14 players taken in the 2018 draft and just 11 last year, and two of those were by the Orioles. So the other 29 teams selected just nine players. But it looks like five of those nine made it to the end of the 2020 season and remain with the clubs that selected them or traded them as they maintained Rule 5 status.

But every year, it seems readers here are convinced that certain players will be lost by the Orioles, probably never to return. And every year they don’t lose players. Maybe this will be the year. But if they don’t, it won’t be because teams don’t like those players, including the Orioles. It will be because it is hard to get a Rule 5 player through a season staying on the major league roster.

Another unique factor for the upcoming Rule 5 draft is that there was not a minor league season in 2020. Maybe some of these players got in great work in their home areas or made it to a team’s alternate camp. But there were no games to scout or stats to look at from this past season.

Thumbnail image for Lowther 2568 1.jpgBut when the Orioles make additions later this week, I’m guessing they add outfielder Yusniel Diaz, pitchers Michael Baumann and Zac Lowther, and infielder Rylan Bannon. If they add a fifth player, I will guess that it’s pitcher Alexander Wells.

Several readers have asked why Wells, a native of Australia, didn’t make it to either the O’s 60-man player pool or their instructional league camp after the regular season. I have heard that travel concerns did contribute at least partially to that. Wells worked out on his own in Australia.

I’ve wondered in this space before that if the Orioles added Lowther, why not Wells?

They posted very similar stats for Double-A Bowie in 2019, with Lowther going 13-7 with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP and Wells going 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. They have similarities in other stats like homer rate (Wells 0.7 per nine and Lowther 0.5) and groundball rates (Wells 41.6 and Lowther 40.1). Lowther allowed a lower batting average, .197 to .236. Lowther walked and struck out more batters with a 3.8 walk rate and 9.4 strikeout rate. Wells was at 1.6 and 6.9. Lowther, on the stat sheet, has a slight edge for me. Both throw fastballs, mostly 88 to 91 mph, and are going to have to prove themselves at every level, but for both now, there is just one level standing between them and the majors.

Diaz has been a non-roster spring invite the last two seasons to Sarasota. Barring a shocker, he’ll head to camp next spring as a 40-man roster player. He ended the 2018 season - a year where he got traded to the Orioles from the Dodgers - as the club’s No. 1 prospect and was No. 37 in the national top 100 by Baseball America and No. 64 by MLBPipeline.com.

Bannon and Mason McCoy could get consideration if the club looks to add an infielder this week. Both were non-roster invitees last spring. In 2019 at Double-A and Triple-A, Bannon hit a combined .266/.345/.421 and played in the Arizona Fall League after that season. A scout who got a good look at him then told me he impressed on defense at both second and third base and showed a polished and professional at-bat. He’s been a mid-year All-Star in both the California League in 2018 and Eastern League in 2019.

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