Each year a couple players selected in MLB’s Rule 5 Draft makes some sort of an impact at the big league level. Last year, a trio of picks produced a positive fWAR for their new ball club including: A’s 1B Ryan Noda (2.0 fWAR), Rays RP Kevin Kelly (1.2 fWAR) and Giants C/OF Blake Sabol (0.7 fWAR).
That may not sound like the largest of impacts, it’s important to note that the players who are available to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft are prospects who have been in the minor leagues for either four or five years–depending on age–and were ultimately the odd man out of their team’s 40-man roster.
Teams are generally looking to pluck a potential role player from a team that simply doesn’t know what they have or has no room for the player on their 40-man. That said, there’s always the chance that a team can unearth a gem.
Some of the best Rule 5 selections over the last decade include: Anthony Santander, Mark Canha, Garrett Whitlock, Tyler Wells and Delino DeShields.
As discussed on our Rule 5 Draft preview on our prospect podcast, “The Call Up”, it was expected that this year’s draft would likely feature less picks than the last couple years. After 15 picks last year, only 10 selections were made this time around, some of which were very surprising.
1. A’s – RHP Mitch Spence (NYY)
A 10th round pick by the Yankees in 2019, Spence put together a decent age-25 season season in Triple-A last year, pitching to a 4.47 ERA in 163 innings. He predominantly throws a cutter in the low 90s with some downward break that helped him pick up a ground ball rate of 51%.
The best pitch for Spence is his low 80s sweeper that averages around 15 inches of horizontal movement. He commands the pitch pretty well, landing it for a strike around 65% of the time with a swinging strike rate rate of 20%.
He will mix in a curveball that is inconsistent, but has flashed average or better in the upper 70s and a sinker at 92-94 mph that he could benefit from using more.
Spence finished the year on a nice stretch, pitching to a 3.26 ERA over his last eight Triple-A starts with a 55% ground ball rate. He likely projects as a swingman or fringe-five, though the A’s can always use those types.
2. Royals – RHP Matt Sauer (NYY)
The second of three Yankees selected, Sauer may offer the most upside. The 24-year-old right-hander missed some time with an injury, pitching to a 3.42 ERA in 68 1/3 Double-A innings.
Sauer’s fastball sits 93-95 mph with good carry, averaging 19 inches of induced vertical break and picking up plenty of whiff within the zone. When pitching in relief in the Arizona Fall League this year, Sauer ran his fastball up to 98 mph, averaging more than 96 mph in several appearances.
Working off of his fastball is mid 80s a slider with late bite that he will throw a third of the time. Interestingly, it may be the most comfortable pitch for Sauer, landing it for a strike more than his fastball (64%), while holding opponents to a .130 batting average.
He mixed in a curveball at around 15% usage, serving as his preferred secondary pitch against left-handed hitters, holding them to a low .200s batting average.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with three viable pitches and a splitter that is a work in progress, Sauer should be given the opportunity to start, but his uptick out of the bullpen and quality fastball gives him a great chance to stick with the Royals as a reliever at least.
3. Rockies – RHP Anthony Molina (TB)
One of the younger players selected, the 21-year-old Molina finished the year in Triple-A Durham where he pitched to a 4.37 ERA in 55 2/3 innings and a 4.50 ERA overall in 122 innings of work including Double-A.
Averaging 95 mph with his fastball, Molina pounded the zone with confidence, picking up a near 70% strike rate on the offering with more than 50% usage. Hovering around 18 inches of induced vertical break and 10 inches of horizontal from a short arm delivery, Molina would likely benefit from killing some of the horizontal movement to pick up more whiff in the zone and perceived carry.
Both Molina’s slider and changeup are at least average, giving him a decent three-pitch mix that can be difficult for hitters to differentiate from his short arm slot. The slider averages 86 mph and can be difficult to pick up from his short arm slot.
4. White Sox – LHP Shane Drohan (BOS)
After dominating Double-A competition to the tune of a 1.32 ERA in 34 innings, Drohan really struggled in his subsequent 89 innings at Triple-A, limping to a 6.47 ERA and 1.86 WHIP.
A large part of the struggle for the 6-foot-3 southpaw was his command, walking 15% of hitters over his final 15 appearances of the season.
Sitting 92-93 mph with his fastball, opponents tee’d off on the pitch, producing a 1.013 OPS.
The calling card for Drohan is his plus changeup, featuring late arm side fade in the mid 80s. He allowed just a .150 batting average when going to it with a 23% swinging strike rate, but a strike rate of just 53%.
Drohan’s fringy cutter and slider were useful left on left, giving him a way to get lefties out as his changeup is predominantly a weapon against righties.
The hurdle of Drohan’s below average fastball and iffy command could keep him in a relief role. With his plus change and potentially an uptick in fastball velocity in shorter spurts, Drohan’s best chance to stick with the White Sox may be as a reliever.
5. Nationals – SS Nasim Nuñez (MIA)
One of the best infielder defenders in all of Minor League Baseball, Nuñez has a big arm and elite range at shortstop. Going 52 for 59 on stolen bases in 2023, Nuñez will instantly be a plus for the Nationals with the glove and on the bases, the question will be what kind of production the 23-year-old can offer offensively.
A switch-hitter with minimal power, Nuñez is extremely patient, walking at a 15% clip in 2023 while sneaking out a career-high five homers at Double-A. The contact rates are slightly above average, but his average exit velocity of just 84.8 mph would have tied Andres Gimènez for the lowest among qualified big league hitters.
Speed and defense should help Nunez stick with the Nationals and his ability to draw walks should alleviate some of the pressure on his bat, though he will need to make a big leap offensively to earn consistent reps.
6. Cardinals – RHP Ryan Fernandez (BOS)
A hard-throwing reliever, Fernandez was lights-out at Double-A (1.77 ERA in 20 1/3 innings) before running into trouble in Triple-A (6.16 ERA in 30 2/3 innings). The 25-year-old sits 95-97 mph with his fastball that can flirt with the dead zone at times.
The pitch that will help Fernandez stick in a big league pen is his plus slider in the upper 80s. He throws it more than his fastball and held opponents to a .120 batting average while allowing only two extra base hits on the offering all season long. With a chase rate above 40% and swinging strike rate of 28%, the pitch should translate at the highest level.
The challenge for Fernandez will be adjusting his fastball shape. He seemed to more consistently throw fastballs with a dead zone shape as the season progressed and could benefit from adjusting to a two-seam or finding a way to kill some horizontal.
7. Angels – Pass
8. Mets – RHP Justin Slaten (TEX)
*Traded to Red Sox*
Slaten put together one of the more dominant 2023 seasons of any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The 6-foot-4 right-hander pitched to a 2.87 ERA in 59 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, averaging 96.3 mph with his fastball with a nasty cutter and slider.
Not only does Slaten boast plus velocity on his four-seamer, but it also features good shape with 19 inches of induced vertical break and just six inches of horizontal helping him produce a 13.5% swinging strike rate on the pitch.
Opponents posted strong numbers against Slaten’s cutter, though the underlying metrics point towards it being an above average pitch with 40% chase rate, 18% swinging strike rate. If anything, he may have been in the zone too often with the pitch, with 71% of his cutters landing for strikes.
The third pitch for the 26-year-old is a mid 80s sweeper that is a devastating weapon to right-handed hitters. He used it a third of the time right on right while yielding an opponent batting average below .100.
The challenge for Slaten is that his repertoire is designed to only get righties out. Including the Arizona Fall League, lefties OPS’d .885 against Slaten last season, while righties hit .161 with a .500 OPS. He has a great chance of sticking in the Red Sox bullpen and will likely be sheltered from consecutive heavy left-handed matchups.
9. Pirates – Pass
10. Guardians – 3B Deyvison De Los Santos (ARI)
The most surprising pick of the draft, De Los Santos may also offer the most upside. A popular breakout prospect choice heading into the 2023 season, De Los Santos really stumbled out of the gate at Double-A, slashing just .203/.269/.310 over his first 60 games.
After weeks of experimenting with swing adjustments, De Los Santos hit the development list and returned on July 14th looking far more comfortable.
He minimized his hand movement, getting into his slot and creating tension earlier. Eliminating slack in tandem with staying taller as he coils into his back hip helped De Los Santos resist the premature forward move and timing issues that resulted in him previously posting a 60% ground ball rate.
The subsequent 56 games, De Los Santos slashed .322/.340/.596 with 14 home runs while cutting his ground ball rate by 12%. It’s easy to see why the Guardians were excited about the opportunity to snag a bat with as much upside as De Los Santos, but even with the adjustments, he comes with red flags.
Even in the strong 56-game stretch, De Los Santos ran a chase rate over 40% and a zone contact rate of just 77%. His strong numbers against Double-A breaking balls likely inspired the Guardians to make the selection, however he also struggled with velocity.
While strong makeup and a willingness to make adjustments should help De Los Santos’s chances of sticking in Cleveland, it will be an uphill battle and a matter of how much patience the Guardians have. His 30-plus home run upside could be worth the wait.
11. Tigers – Pass
12. Red Sox – Pass
13. Giants – Pass
14. Reds – Pass
15. Padres – Stephen Kolek (SEA)
An 11th round pick in 2018, Kolek made the move to the bullpen in 2023 and saw his stuff jump multiple ticks. Now sitting in the mid 90s with his fastball, Kolek will throw a four-seamer that picks up plenty of whiff at the top of the zone from a low release point and a heavy sinker that racked up a 74% ground ball rate.
His ability to change eye levels with both of his fastballs helps him post consistent splits against both lefties and righties despite the fact that his most reliable out pitch is a sweeper, a pitch that generally does not perform as well against opposite-handed hitters. The 26-year-old did mix in a changeup a bit more frequently as the season progressed that flashed average.
Kolek absolutely dominated through his final 20 appearances of the season, pitching to a 0.75 ERA in 24 innings while holding hitters to a .155 batting average, 30% strike out rate and 61% ground ball rate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander has a great chance of sticking in the Padres bullpen.
16. Yankees – Pass
17. Cubs – Pass
18. Marlins – Pass
19. Diamondbacks – Pass
20. Twins – Pass
21. Mariners – Pass
22. Blue Jays – Pass
23. Rangers: RHP Carson Coleman (NYY)
Another surprising selection, but not due to lack of ability, Coleman is an electric arm who missed all of 2023 while recovering from elbow surgery.
The right-hander signed with the Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and struggled in his first pro season before bursting onto the scene in 2022.
The 25-year-old dominated his way through High-A and Double-A, sporting a 2.13 ERA while striking out nearly 40% of batters and serving as Somerset’s closer. His fastball sits 95 mph, touching 98 mph from slingshot delivery at low release point of just 5.4 feet.
The deception, velocity and unique shape stymied hitters even with a ridiculously high use rate of 70%. Allowing just a .160 batting average with a 17% swinging strike rate and 35% in zone whiff rate on the heater between High-A and Double-A, the Rangers are likely confident that Coleman can overpower big league hitters with his fastball as well.
Coleman is not totally one-dimensional, gaining more confidence in his low 80s slider as the 2022 season progressed. Like so many Yankees prospects, its a sweepy slider that is most effective against same-handed hitters.
The remaining teams passed on their selection: Phillies, Astros, Brewers, Rays, Dodgers, Orioles and Braves.