I love the Rule 5 draft. It’s one of my favorite events of the offseason. I think it’s one of the more underrated events too and even though coverage of it has been on the rise, I still feel like it’s not covered enough. There are players selected who can make a legitimate difference with their new teams. That’s mostly at the major league level of the draft, but that’s not to say that the minor league portion doesn’t matter.
You may recall that the St. Louis Cardinals took Ben DeLuzio in the minor league portion of the draft last season and he went on to make his MLB debut towards the end of the year.
The other Cardinal selections were Jonah Davis, Nelfri Contreras, and Carlos Guarate, who was traded to the A’s for Austin Allen. Neither Davis not Contreras really worked out well but they were dart throws. That’s expected. DeLuzio and Guarate were solid choices, though, and each added (or brought, in the case of Guarate) value to the organization.
There was no major league portion last year but that returned this year. The Cardinals made a selection, Wilking Rodriguez, who I detailed on Sunday. You can read about him here. Since I’ve already talked about Rodriguez, I want to take some time to look at the minor leaguers who have joined the organization.
C/1B/OF Jose Alvarez - 22 years old
Guys, I’ll be honest here. I have no idea how to evaluate Jose Alvarez statistically. I mean, he played at 4 different levels in 2022 but never had more than 107 plate appearances in one place. That’s tough to evaluate.
This is what his fangraphs page looks like:
Now, you might assume that Alvarez began the year in Single-A and ended it in Triple-A but if you assumed that, you would be wrong. He actually began the season in Double-A, was then demoted to High-A, and was then promoted to Triple-A before falling back to Single-A and then finishing the season in High-A.
What do we do with that?
It’s hard to tell whether Alvarez is a prospect they liked enough to push knowing that he was in his final season before minor league free agency or if he’s a prospect they saw more as organizational filler and moved him around accordingly. My guess is the latter as the Cardinals actually did this with Aaron Antonini in 2021, starting him in Triple-A and then dropping him to Double-A before finishing him at High-A.
I could be wrong because Alvarez is at least interesting. He fared pretty well in the DSL, rookie ball, and A ball, and he plays, catcher, corner outfield, and first base. What he doesn’t do is his for power. That means he will basically need to be a catcher going forward if he’s going to add value because his bat isn’t strong enough to carry him as a corner outfielder/first baseman.
That is where I would expect the Cardinals to play him. In my primer on minor league free agency, I determined that the Cardinals have a catching gap at Double-A after the loss of Julio Rodriguez (who recently signed a minor league deal with the Tigers). Alvarez seems to be the player to fill that gap.
Perhaps his best asset behind the plate is his strong arm as he has thrown out 42% of potential thieves in his minor league career, though that dipped to 28% in 2022.
Alvarez is still 22 years old so maybe he many still come into some power, but that’s unlikely unless he changes his approach because he’s a heavy ground ball hitter who sprays the ball around the field. That’s not exactly a power hitter’s profile.
Even if he doesn’t find some extra pop, he’s still a unique player due to his ability to his extreme versatility. Perhaps some extended time at one level next year could give him a boost too.
I don’t expect Alvarez to suddenly become a plus hitter, and maybe not even an average one, but he will be one of the more fun players in the system due to his ability to squat down behind the plate one game and then head into right field for the next game and maybe even grab a start at first base too. Heck, he even played two innings at third base last year.
He’s likely organizational filler but he’s a fun player that should quickly endear himself to followers of the minor league system.
RHP Brandon Komar - 23 years old
Like Alvarez, Komar also has a weird profile. He was a 13th round pick in 2019, began his career in rookie ball and made 4 Single-A appearances to end the year. Then he lost the 2020 season. He came back in 2021 and posted a strong 3.60 ERA and 3.47 FIP in High-A which earned him a promotion after just 30 innings.
At that point, he had some shine. He had reached Double-A despite throwing fewer than 55 innings while showing some strikeout chops (24.8% strikeout rate in High-A).
But that’s where Komar’s momentum stopped. He posted a 5.01 ERA and 4.71 FIP in Double-A to close out the year and then curiously began 2022 back in High-A. 43.2 innings of 3.71 ERA ball later and he was right back in Double-A.
Then the Padres made another curious decision. After starting just 9 of his first 58 games, Komar moved into the rotation full time. The move did not go well as he was knocked around to the tune of a 6.05 ERA and 5.30 FIP.
A 6.05 ERA does look ugly but let’s keep in mind that the average Texas League ERA was 5.11 last season. It’s a super hitter friendly league. Regardless, it seems pretty likely that Komar will move back into the bullpen and that may help his strikeouts tick upwards.
He also found better control this past year and one of the keys for him will be maintaining those gains.
He walked 12% of batters in Single-A, 10.1% of batters in his first trip to High-A, and 11.9% of batters in his first go around in Double-A. He then walked 8.3% of batters in High-A and 9.1% of batters in Double-A in 2022. That’s a big development for someone who showed some decent swing-and-miss stuff when working out of the bullpen.
Komar is a movement guy. His fastball gets plenty of run but sits around 90 mph while I also saw a slider, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup when I watched him.
After watching him pitch, I have no idea how he got as many strikeouts as he did through the 2021 season. His stuff isn’t overpowering and his control wasn’t great. That’s not a great combination, yet he was still effective in a relief role.
He looks like a pitcher who is reliant on changing speeds, mixing pitches, and locating his arsenal. His walk rate improvements are a good sign for a pitcher with that profile and I think he has a pretty good chance at providing quality depth in Springfield this year.
RHP Jose Martinez - 23 years old
The Cardinals have had quite a few Jose Martinezes on the team recently with Jose Martinez the slugger, Jose Martinez the diminutive minor league shortstop, and now Jose Martinez the minor league pitcher.
To be honest, when I looked at his fangraphs page I wasn’t expecting much.
Then I watched him pitch and that changed a little bit because his fastball sits 95-96 mph and even touched 98. A pitcher needs more than one pitch to thrive but that kind of velocity from a third round pick in the minor league Rule 5 draft is certainly a surprise.
He doesn’t have much feel for his changeup and he has a sharp upper 80s slider that I actually like but his command of that pitch isn’t great either. This will be the key offering for him. It’s still not consistent yet, though.
For now, he has heavy fastball usage and throws it in the bottom part of the zone, which also isn’t ideal.
This a guy with plenty of stuff but a lot to work on. Basically, it’s an upside play. His strikeout rate has plenty of potential to grow if he can develop his slider a little more and play it off his fastball better.
I don’t expect his changeup to get much better as his feel for it simply isn’t great but he can live with a strong two-pitch combination.
He’s basically the opposite of Komar, who is more of a mix and movement over pure stuff guy. I like the idea with this pick even though it isn’t likely to work out. He should be an interesting project, though, and I know I’ll be keeping an eye on him in 2023.
RHP Ryan Shreve - 24 years old
There may have been a few Jose Martinezes recently but now there’s another Shreve in the organization, and this one is a reliever too. He also has the best results of the players chosen by the Cardinals in the minor league portion of the draft
What I don’t understand is how he struck out 33.8% of High-A batters and earned a 2.70 FIP in 2021 but somehow didn’t get a promotion to Double-A at any point in 2022. But then the Twins sent him to the Arizona Fall League.
He pitched well as a repeat High-A arm and his AFL results were okay too as he posted a 1.84 ERA despite a 12-to-8 K/BB ratio.
It’s a weird path as he somehow didn’t get a chance to pitch in Double-A but then was given one of a limited number of spots to pitch in the AFL but then wasn’t even protected from the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. I truly don’t understand it so let’s get into his profile now.
Shreve stands at a massive 6’6” inches but comes at hitters with a very low 3⁄4 arm slot. He also throws a fastball, a slider, and a changeup, with his slider getting more usage than his changeup but his changeup featuring plenty against lefties. His changeup has plenty of depth and gives him a weapon to use when he doesn’t have the platoon advantage. It’s an asset for him.
I’m legitimately surprised that Shreve wasn’t protected from the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft considering his good looking changeup, strong minor league results, and AFL stint.
I don’t know how many AFL players were available in the minor league portion of the draft but I can’t imagine their were many besides Shreve. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if Shreve was the only one.
He’s someone with 3 workable pitches paired with solid minor league stats. That’s a rare combination for a minor league Rule 5 draft pick. He’s my favorite selection of the bunch and he too has a chance of beginning the year in the Springfield.
The minor league Rule 5 draft isn’t something that generally produces MLB players. It’s more so used to build system depth but that doesn’t mean it can’t also allow teams a chance to add quality prospects, however rare it is.
The Cardinals made 4 selections, three pitchers and a catcher/outfielder/first baseman, and each player is interesting in a different way.
Alvarez has a ton of defensive versatility and is still young. Komar throws 5 different pitches. Martinez has mid-to-upper 90s velocity, and Shreve has a low arm slot with three workable pitches and strong stats.
I’m excited to see what this group of prospects can do in the system and I will certainly be keeping track of them in 2023.
Before I end, I do want to mention that the Cardinals lost Evan Mendoza, who has a light bat but was perhaps their best defensive infielder, to the Padres. Hopefully he gets more of an opportunity in San Diego.
Thanks for reading, VEB! Enjoy your Tuesday.