The Rule V Draft!
That’s right! The Rule V Draft! It’s coming, everybody! We should all, as the kids say, get hype! (At least I’m fairly certain that’s what they say; both Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Idioms tell me to omit the ‘d’ at the end of ‘hyped’, if one wishes to fit in with the youth of the day. Nothing like a middle-aged white guy looking up hip lingo on the internet, then referring to it as hip lingo, eh?)
Anyhow, so maybe the Rule V draft isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, even in an offseason which has begun with so little excitement as this current one. It’s fairly rare that a guy taken in the Rule V ends up making a big impact; most are returned to their former teams due to the difficulty of rostering a player all year when said player is probably not quite ready for the big time. Every once in awhile, though, you do get a player who makes a real impact, or sticks around just long enough to show he might make an impact down the road a bit.
The only player I really think the Cardinals are in much danger of losing this year to the Rule V is Roel Ramirez, the hard-throwing right-handed reliever who came over as part of the Tommy Pham trade. Ramirez made his big league debut this past summer, and while it did not go well to say the least, he still has plus velocity and a really good splitter, allowing him to deal with lefties and righties alike and run up strong strikeout numbers. I’m sure there are plenty of Cardinal fans that never want to see Ramirez again, but I’ll tell you this: if he were in another organisation, he would very much appear in this column as a potential person of interest for the Redbirds to look at.
It’s also possible some team could look at Julio Rodriguez, a minor league catcher who reached Springfield in 2019. Rodriguez has the reputation of being a solid glove man and is a low-walk, low-power, lowish-strikeout hitter. I’m not much of a believer in his upside, but there’s a pretty good chance he ends up a backup catcher somewhere in the big leagues in the next few years, I think. In other words, if he’s lost it’s not a huge deal, but he could also be a useful player if he sticks around.
Really, though, talking about players the club might lose isn’t all that interesting. Rather, let’s go yard-saling, and dig through other people’s detritus in the hopes of finding some hidden gem they’ve just overlooked or no longer have space in the closet for. To that end, I have for your consideration five hitters of interest and five hurlers of intrigue. We’ve got a Rule V draft to talk about, so here are five of each type of player we might want to follow.
We’ll start with pitchers, and these will, I promise, be very brief scouting reports. No, really. I mean it.
Sterling Sharp, RHP, Washington Nationals
Sharp has already been a Rule V selection once, having been picked up by the Marlins last offseason. He threw only a handful of innings for Miami, didn’t exactly wow anyone, and was returned to the Nats. That false start should definitely not be the end for Sharp, though, who has some strong qualities that might appeal to a club looking for pitching depth.
Sharp has two really good arrows in his quiver: a heavy sinker that hitters don’t have much luck lifting, and an above-average changeup that plays very well off the sinker. What he doesn’t have is much of a breaking ball, or indeed much indication he’s any good at spinning the baseball at all. Still, that sinker/change combo is good enough Sharp can roll up extraordinary ground ball rates, and would be particularly well suited for a team with a plus defensive infield to turns all those grounders into outs. (hint, hint) His velocity is nothing to write home about at 88-92, but the movement on his pitches is still enough to avoid damage most of the time.
Cody Sedlock, RHP, Baltimore Oriolies
Once upon a time, Cody Sedlock was one of my favourite pitching prospects in the 2016 amateur draft, a University of Illinois product with a power sinker that reached 96 and a strong overhand curve. Since that time, things have not gone all that well for Sedlock, as he has dealt with both a strained elbow and thoracic outlet syndrome in 2018, despite a delivery that features no real red flags in terms of health risks.
These days, Sedlock operates closer to 91 than 95, and he leans more heavily on a slider than his formerly great curveball. Those changes point to a general loss of arm speed, probably the result of injuries, but he also features a solid changeup and generally misses bats at a solid clip. The stuff is no longer what it once was, but Sedlock still has four usable pitches and doesn’t have huge platoon splits. A club could do worse than to bet on a former top prospect to figure it out at 25.
Brett de Geus, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the higher-octane arms available in the Rule V this year, de Geus was a junior college draftee a few years ago whose career start was delayed by the discovery of a heart condition during his physical. He wasn’t great in 2018, but took off in 2019 pitching at two full-season levels. If not for this summer’s weirdness, de Geus might very well have been on the verge of a big-league callup. As it is, he’s in the Rule V pool having not yet officially pitched at Double A.
The stuff for de Geus is outstanding, with a fastball that ranges from 94-98 and tails hard to the arm side. He has a pair of breaking balls, and which one prefers is really a matter of taste. I prefer the curveball, personally, as it has better depth, but the slider has its moments as well. He posted a 22.8% K-BB% at High A last year, so definitely shows an elite ability to both miss bats and limit walks.
Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP, Houston Astros
Brett de Geus has one of the bigger arms in the Rule V this year, but Rivera is number one in terms of velocity. Rivera is one of those player development triumphs, a kid with bad mechanics and a 90 mph fastball four years ago who improved under Houston’s development wing into a fireballer capable of touching triple digits with an efficient — if not especially pretty — arm action.
Rivera is all about power these days, working at 95-99 with his fastball from a high arm slot that gives his heater excellent carry. His best offspeed pitch is an upper-80s splitter that he can bury for swings and misses but struggles to locate in the zone. He’s got a fringe-average curveball, as well, enough to work in a John Gant sort of role down the line somewhere. His command was still a work in progress in 2019, and I really have no idea what sort of improvements he did or did not make this year. There’s a bit of John Axford in his power stuff and over the top delivery, and I could see him turning into one of the real keepers from this Rule V draft.
Thomas Burrows, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Speaking of high-strikeout potential keepers, Burrows has some of the same qualities as Rivera, only from the left side. He’s not a smoke artist of the high-velocity variety, but rather combines a solid low-90s fastball with a wicked slider in pursuit of big-time strikeout rates. In the old days, Burrows would have fit very well into the LOOGY role, but given MLB’s three-batter minimum he isn’t quite such a slam dunk to turn out well. He lacks a third pitch and has never had great control, but I think he’d be an excellent bet to put up a stronger 2021 season than, say, Tyler Webb. Hypothetically, you know.
Joe Rizzo, 3B, Seattle Mariners
Much like Cody Sedlock on the pitching side, Rizzo is a former favourite of mine from the 2016 draft. Whereas Sedlock was a highly-touted eventual first-rounder, though, Rizzo was more a persons of interest type, a short, stocky third base type with what I saw as a really intriguing bat. Basically, I thought Joe Rizzo would turn out to be something like the big league version of Kyle Schwarber, with a good chance to stay at third base long term.
What is strange about Rizzo, given his build and swing, is that he has never really hit for much power in the minor leagues. He has made progress year over year in improving his contact ability, posting just a 16.5% strikeout rate in 2019 over 570 High A ball plate appearances, but the power just hasn’t been there. Still, he’s plenty strong, has shown an ability to play a couple infield positions, and has my personal vote as a good breakout candidate in this draft. If there’s a Max Muncy to be had here, my bet is on Rizzo being that guy.
Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins
I’m a big fan of Akil Baddoo’s upside, and personally think it’s a big risk for the Twins to leave him unprotected. On the other hand, he’s one of the younger players of real interest in the Rule V (he just turned 22 in August), and only barely reached High A in 2019 after spending a couple years finding his feet in rookie ball to begin his career.
Baddoo was a very raw athlete coming into the draft in 2016, and Minnesota popped him as a long-term upside bet. Think of the Cardinals drafting Tre Fletcher in 2019, and you’re on the right track. Since that time, Baddoo has filled out and grown into his body without losing any of that premium athleticism, and he is a potential 20/20 center fielder if he hits his ceiling in terms of tools. He has struggled making contact, however, and he missed much of the 2019 season after injuring his elbow and having Tommy John surgery. The recovery from TJ for position players isn’t as difficult as for pitchers, but considering how 2020 went it will have been almost two years since we’ve really seen Baddoo on the field by the time spring training ‘21 opens up. I’m sure clubs have a better idea of what improvements he’s made since May of 2019, but he’s still probably too far away from the big leagues for a team with any idea of competing to roster him for a full year.
Shervyen Newton, INF, New York Mets
Newton is a physical specimen at 6’4” and 190 pounds, he’s a switch-hitter, and can play shortstop, second base, and third. He’s also even younger than Akil Baddoo, at just 21 years and 7 months old, going into the Rule V draft. Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s because it is. See, Shervyen Newton, um, well, he can’t hit. His only experience playing at a full-season level, in 2019, saw him strike out 33% of the time, with no real power to speak of. He showed a high degree of patience in the Dominican Summer League and rookie-level ball here in the states, but more experienced pitchers took advantage of him in A ball, and he never really got on track. The thing is, the ceiling for Newton would seem to be substantial if he could improve his hitting, as he has plenty of raw power in batting practice, runs well, and can play multiple positions. It’s hard to see a team being dedicated enough to the Shervyen Newton project to take him, though.
Jordan Diaz, 3B, Oakland Athletics
Another entry in the, ‘just too far away to see a team really rostering this guy’ sweepstakes, Diaz is an incredibly intriguing hitter, particularly if a club was in rebuild mode and wanted to try and nab a future asset on the cheap.
One of the better contact hitters in the minor leagues, Diaz consistently barrels up the baseball and rarely swings and misses. He’s not the most patient hitter, but he controls the zone well due to his ease of making contact. There is plenty of power potential in his bat as well, I believe, simply due to his ability to put the good part of the bat on the ball. He’s not a big player, but has great wrist and hand strength and just naturally creates loud contact. The 2020 season, or lack thereof, derailed a lot of things, and seeing how a guy like Jordan Diaz developed was exactly the type of storyline we missed out on. It’s really hard to see a club being able to take him and keep him all year in 2021, but I would be sorely tempted to try if I were one of the teams making a selection.
Will Benson, OF, Cleveland Indians
Another guy from the 2016 draft who I really liked at the time, some of you may remember Benson as a player who defeated my usual practice of trying to make player comps across racial lines. The reason? It was just too easy to comp him to Jason Heyward, partly because they literally resembled one another, but mostly because their physical tools and games were just so similar.
Much like Heyward, Will Benson has not a good time of things hitting since 2016. Unlike Heyward, however, Benson’s issues have been almost entirely contact-oriented, as he has struck out less than 30% of the time at only one stop in his minor league career. The good news is that stop happened to be High A, his last stop in 2019, where he promoted after laying waste to Low A ball earlier that season. The bad news is that despite his efforts to make more contact, he wasn’t actually a good hitter in High A, sacrificing power and generally struggling to impact the ball. Benson is well thought of as a corner outfielder and runs well enough to swipe 15-20 bags a year, so he has some strong secondary skills he can rely on to add value. However, his hitting has been enough of a bugbear that he has largely fallen out of top prospect discussions. He’s a very patient hitter and has massive power potential, but his swing trigger isn’t consistent and he struggles with anything offspeed. Would he be worth taking a flyer on for spring training, just to see how he looks? Maybe. Probably, if a club weren’t looking to compete.
Of the players I covered here, I think it’s fairly obvious that the pitching side is where I would expect the Cardinals to look, if they do in fact try to make a move in the Rule V this year. Burrows in particular seems like an easy fit for the Cards’ roster, as they could use another dependable lefty out of the ‘pen, given Andrew Miller’s age and Genesis Cabrera’s inconsistency. On the other hand, if the Cards are more or less punting on 2021, I wonder if they might consider it worth taking a hitter like Rizzo or Diaz in the hopes of finding a useful future piece as they try to figure out the transition to their future group bubbling up in the minors right now.