The Rule 5 Draft is usually a place where non-contending teams fill out their MLB roster with cheap talent. Rare is the time a contending team — a World Series contending team, no less — would dive into the Rule 5 Draft to find talent.
The Padres ended up with the top three picks in last year’s Rule 5 Draft — Miguel Diaz, Luis Torrens and Allen Cordoba, all of whom are still with the club. The previous year, they popped Luis Perdomo who is now firmly entrenched in their starting rotation.
But teams like the Dodgers don’t usually spend a 25-man roster spot on Rule 5 guys. The last time they did this was 2008, when Carlos Monasterios remained with the club the entire season. They took a shot on Seth Rosin prior to the 2014 season, but he ended up with the Rangers.
With the Dodgers’ talk of looking for bargains when it comes to the relief market, perhaps the Rule 5 Draft is where they can find some of those guys.
Baseball America has a great in-depth preview of the draft, including five players to watch. Of the five, four of them are pitchers. Three are true relievers, one is a starter who should end up in the bullpen. Most importantly, two of them are coming off injury. Let’s look at the four pitchers.
RHP Burch Smith, Rays
“Smith missed all of 2015 and 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery but came back looking like the player who was once an intriguing prospect. Both at the end of the season at Triple-A Durham and in the Arizona Fall League, Smith sat 94-96 mph with his fastball, flashed a knee-buckling 74-76 mph curveball and showed a swing-and-miss 79-81 mph changeup. Though he’s 27 and has had serious arm health issues, Smith is major league ready and has the stuff to help a team as a back-end starter or move to the bullpen.”
Smith figures to be a sought after pitcher here. Just because the Dodgers have the last pick in the draft doesn’t mean they couldn’t land Smith. They could trade for the team that drafts him (or any player they might want), which is how the Padres got two of the Top 3 picks last year. Nice repertoire profile from Smith, so we’ll see if a team likes him more to be a starter and if said team just keeps him.
RHP Nick Burdi, Twins
“If not for the Tommy John surgery that ended his 2017 season in May, it’s possible that he would have made it to the majors last year. At the time of the injury, Burdi was 2-0, 0.53 with 20 strikeouts and only 4 walks in 17 innings with Double-A Chattanooga. The 2014 first-round pick made some strides with his control last year before the injury and he’s long had a 95-100 mph fastball to go with a usable slider. Burdi’s injury means he can begin the 2018 season on the disabled list, and he can be sent to the minors for up to 30 days when he returns on an injury rehab assignment. That could give a team a chance to pick up an excellent arm while only needing to carry him on the active roster for the tail end of the 2018 season. If he doesn’t get to 90 days on the 25-man active MLB roster in 2018, he would need to start the 2019 season on the 25-man roster to complete the remainder of his required 90 days. There’s a general expectation that someone will take a chance on an arm this good.”
Burdi is interesting and just the kind of guy the Dodgers might take a chance on. He’d have to be carried on the 25-man roster until the disabled list comes back early in Spring Training, but the upside might just be worth it.
RHP Mason McCullough, Diamondbacks
“McCullough is big, hefty reliever at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds with a protruding belly and power stuff, a la Bob Wickman. McCullough’s fastball consistently sits 97 mph with such heavy downward movement it’s been called a ‘bowling ball’ and he backs it up with an above-average if inconsistent slider. McCullough’s main issue is because he is so large, his delivery is so big and wild it hurts his command. Having consistent control and command has long been a challenge, and he has walked 6.5 batters per nine innings in his career, although he has also allowed only 5.9 hits per nine and notched 11.9 strikeouts per nine.”
Wickman. That’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. That heavy 97 MPH fastball is awfully intriguing, but his walk rate isn’t.
RHP Cale Coshow, Yankees
“The Yankees have an enviable stable of hard-throwing righthanders, and Coshow has touched 100 mph with his fastball. He couples the pitch with a slider that will flash 55-grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He’s big, strong guy at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, but his delivery is pretty clean too.”
Of the four, Coshow is the most intriguing to me. He’s of large adult son size, but as you can see, he throws hard and has a decent breaking pitch. Smith is probably viewed more as a starter, Burdi has the whole ligament replacement thing and McCullough’s (probably Andy’s brother) inconsistent slider gives me a little pause.
There’s a reason these guys aren’t being protected. They obviously have flaws. But if the Dodgers don’t want to pay relievers $9 million/season, which seems to be the going rate for quality relievers nowadays, then they could look to the Rule 5 Draft for bargains. Odds are all four of these guys will be gone by the time the Dodgers pick, so they’d have to work out a trade if any of them are indeed on their target list.
If the Dodgers end up with any of these pitchers in the Major League phase of the draft, they’ll have to remain on the 25-man roster the entire season. The selecting team has to pay $100,000 to the original team. If the player doesn’t stick with the active roster, he’d have to be offered back to his previous team for $50,000. Another caveat is the selecting team needs space on the 40-man roster. If the Dodgers select a player, they’ll need to clear a roster spot since they’re full-up. But that kind of thing would be worked out before any player is selected.
It’s not often the Dodgers dive into the Rule 5 Draft, but if they see any of these guys (or some not mentioned here) as potential MLB pieces, you better believe they’re going to find a way to get that player into the organization. I’m not expecting any action, but you never know with this front office.