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Rule 5 draft candidates: The pitchers

The Royals struck gold last year, can they do it again?

Houston Astros Photo Day Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Baseball’s Winter Meetings will be held December 9-13 in Las Vegas, and on the last day they will hold the Rule 5 draft. The great majority of the time, the players selected in the Rule 5 draft are quickly forgotten with many failing to even make a Major League roster the following spring. But every once in awhile teams find a gem, as the Royals did last winter when they acquired pitcher Brad Keller.

The Royals currently have a full 40-man roster, but they can drop someone leading up to the draft. We’ll take a look at position players later, but here are some pitchers that could be of interest to the Royals.

Potential starting pitchers

Akeem Bostick, Astros

The Astros have done a great job developing pitchers so it makes sense to try to poach some of their talent. Bostick was originally a second-round pick by the Rangers, traded to Houston for catcher Carlos Corporon. He struggled with results until this year, when he posted a 3.48 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 93 innings in his second tour in AA Corpus Christi. Bostick stands 6’6’’, but only throws around 90 mph with a slider.

Video: Akeem Bostick

Cody Ponce, Brewers

Ponce has a four-pitch repertoire with a fastball, curveball, change-up, and cutter, along with a 6’6’’ frame that could allow him to eat innings. The former second-round pick is ranked as the #17 Brewers prospect by MLB Pipeline, striking out 88 in 95 innings in AA this year with a 4.36 ERA. He had some forearm issues in 2016, and his violent delivery causes some to think his future may be in the bullpen.

Video: Cody Ponce

Others: Tom Eshelman, Phillies; Brandon Waddell, Pirates

Potential relievers

Riley Ferrell, Astros

Ferrell is a bit of a surprise to be unprotected, with MLB Pipeline ranking him #17 in the Houston system. He was a standout closer at TCU who figured to be in the Majors quickly, but was sidelined by an aneurysm in his throwing shoulder that required surgery. The right-hander returned in 2017 and put up a solid season. This year he posted a 1.90 ERA in 23 23 innings in AA, but struggled with his command, which caught up to him after his promotion to AAA. Ferrell still throws in the mid-90s with movement with a good slider. He has averaged 10.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings in his minor league career, so he could be a solid bullpen piece if his walks were an aberration last year.

Video: Riley Ferrell

Sam McWilliams, Rays

McWilliams is already on his third organization having been dealt in deals for Jeremy Hellickson and Stephen Souza, Jr. The former eighth-round pick has a mid-90s fastball and an average slider. He struggled this year after his promotion to AA with a 5.02 ERA and a high walk rate in 100 innings, but he struck out 8.4 per nine-innings. The 6’7’’ right-hander might provide some difficult angles for hitters if he can throw strikes.

Video: Sam McWilliams

Erasmo Pinales, Astros

Pinales had one of the highest swinging strike rates in AA with a deep repertoire and a mid-90s fastball. He sruggled with a 5.17 ERA due in part to walking 5.0 hitters per-nine innings. He continued to struggle with control in the Arizona Fall League this year, walking 12 hitters in 11 innings. The right-hander just turned 24 this week and will need to develop consistency in his delivery, but he could be an intriguing bullpen option.

Video: Erasmo Pinales

Shea Spitzbarth, Dodgers

Spitzbarth was an undrafted free agent out of a Division II college in New York, but has performed each season with career 3.17 ERA and 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings as a reliever. In 2017, he struck out 19 in just 11 innings of Arizona Fall League action. This year, he struck out 84 in 63 2/3 innings in AA as a 23-year old, getting a taste of AAA action. He features a mid-90s fastball and a tight curveball.

Video: Shea Spitzbarth

Others: Emmanuel Ramirez, Padres, Zach Thompson, White Sox

Groundball artists

Joe Gatto, Angels

The 23-year old right-hander is a former second-round pick who struggled mightily his first three seasons of professional baseball. He figured things out a bit in 2017, and did well in High A this year, but regressed after a promotion to AA with a 5.75 ERA and an ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has struggled with his walk numbers, but his groundball rate has been consistently over 50%. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #28 Angels prospect, suggesting his repertoire of a two-seamer, sinker, and curve could work well in the pen.

Seth McGarry, Pirates

McGarry brings a mid-90s fastball that can reach 97 and a “power breaker” curveball that has helped him induce a 50% groundball rate throughout his career. Originally drafted by the Phillies, he was traded for reliever Joaquin Benoit. He had a 3.99 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in AA this year but struggled with his walk rate. The walks continued in the Arizona Fall League for the 24-year old, but he had otherwise fine results.

Video: Seth McGarry

Cy Sneed, Astros

Sneed just turned 26 and enjoyed a 3.83 ERA in 127 innings with 114 strikeouts for Houston’s top affiliate. His fastball and secondary pitches are underwhelming but he locates well and has had very low home run rates in the minors. He had a 45% groundball rate last year.

Video: Cy Sneed

Others: Jordan Guerrero, White Sox; Luke Leftwich, Phillies


Travis Ott, Rays

The Pennsylvania lefty was originally drafted by the Nationals, but acquired by the Rays in the three-way Wil Myers deal. He has consistently posted high strikeout numbers as a starter, but moved to the pen this year. He struck out 91 in 70 innings with a 3.21 ERA in AAA but struggled with his walk numbers a bit. The 23-year old only throws in the high-80s but with a sweeping slider and a deceptive delivery, and lefties hit just .189/.337/.243 against him last year.

Video: Travis Ott

McKenzie Mills, Marlins

The lefty pitched primarily in High-A ball, where he struck out 85 in 89 2/3 innings with a 3.51 ERA before throwing a few innings in AA. Mills just turned 23 and has already been traded twice, but his deceptive delivery, low 90s fastball, and average-to-above-average slider and change-up could make him an interesting lefty reliever.

Video; McKenzie Mills

Tyler Gilbert, Phillies

The 24-year old USC grad is a strike-thrower who held lefty opponents to a line of .169/.245/.236 across AA and AAA. He struck out a hitter-per-inning this year, although his rate fell upon his promotion to AAA. Gilbert throws in the low-90s with a curveball, change-up, and cutter.


Yoel Espinal, Rays

Espinal can hit 98 on the gun with a plus curve and and average change, but has poor mechanics that has led to very high walk rates. He has improved his walk numbers however, and struck out 71 in 54 2/3 innings with a 1.98 ERA in AA this year and had one of the best swing and miss rates in AA. Espinal just turned 26 and is in his third organization, but no team has been able to figure out how to harness his fastball.

Video: Yoel Espinal

Junior Fernandez, Cardinals

The 21-year old right-hander features a high 90s fastball that can reach 99, earning him a #14 ranking in the Cardinals farm system by MLB Pipeline. He also features an average change up, but is working on consistency in his slider. He had some health concerns in 2017, missing the last month with a bicep injury. His numbers have not really matched the stuff so far, with average strikeout rates and high walk rates. He has only pitched 21 innings above High-A ball, so a jump to the big leagues may be asking too much.

Video: Junior Fernandez

Jackson McClelland, Blue Jays

McClelland suffered shoulder pain as a college pitcher, but re-worked his delivery and now throws in the upper-90s, even hitting triple digits at times. He didn’t enjoy big strikeout numbers until this year, when he struck out 57 in 43 23 innings, mostly in High-A ball, with a few innings in AA. He continued to strike hitters out in the Arizona Fall League this year, but he has had trouble with walks. He adds a slider and a change-up and has some deception to his delivery that makes him an interesting bullpen option.

Video: Jackson McClelland

Dalbert Siri, Indians

“Siri, can you show me a mid-90s fastball that reaches 98?” The 23-year old right-hander also flashes a power slider, but struggles with command. He is also a long way from the big leagues, with a 2.45 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 47 23 innings in High A. The Indians sent him to the Arizona Fall League where he gave up runs, but continued to strike hitters out.

Video: Dalbert Siri

Others: Josh Graham, Braves

Pitchers with a pedigree

Spencer Adams, White Sox

Adams was a second-round pick and was named the #100 prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 2015 season after an impressive rookie league showing. The right-hander has lost some zip on his fastball, now throwing in the low-90s, but with good sink. He has an average slider and change-up, and is a good athlete with an easy delivery. He is just 22 years old and has already reached AAA with a solid 3.19 ERA in 15 starts, although with just 42 strikeouts in 90 13 innings. MLB Pipeline ranked him as the #26 prospect in the White Sox system, noting he gets hammered by lefties, which may make him more of a rightie specialist.

Video: Spencer Adams

Phil Bickford, Brewers

The Royals were linked to Bickford before the 2013 draft, but went with Hunter Dozier instead. He turned down the Jays and went to a junior college, being drafted again in the first round in 2015 by the Giants. A pre-draft test for marijuana foreshadowed problems to come as Bickford has been suspended in 2017 for a “drug of abuse.” He was traded to the Brewers in the Will Smith deal. He has pitched pretty well when he has been on the mound, but his suspension and a broken hand have hurt his development time, limiting him to just 50 innings over the last two seasons, and he has yet to pitch above High-A ball.

Video: Phil Bickford

Trevor Clifton, Cubs

Clifton was an over-slot signing and 2016 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the #87 prospect in baseball, but he regressed in 2017. He bounced back this year, earning a promotion to AAA, where he posted a 3.89 ERA with 56 striekouts in 69 1/3 innings. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #17 Cubs prospect, noting he has a plus curveball and a change-up.

Video: Trevor Clifton

Tyler Jay, Twins

Jay the closer at Illinois and was the sixth-overall pick in the 2015 draft. He was ranked as the #80 prospect by Baseball America in 2016 and turned in a solid season as a starter in High-A. But his 2017 season was ravaged by injuries to his bicep, shoulder soreness, and thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms. He returned this year as a reliever in AA with mediocre results. The 24-year old left-hander throws in the mid-90s and can reach the upper-90s at times, with a terrific slider, stuff that could very well entice a team to select him.

Video; Tyler Jay

Others: Jon Harris, Blue Jays; Tyler Kolek, Marlins; Michael Matuella, Rangers

Injury concerns

Erick Leal, Cubs

The 23-year old Venezuelan right-hander missed the entire 2017 season with Tommy John surgery, but bounced back this year with a 1.41 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings in High-A ball. Leal throws strikes and had one of the lowest line drive rates in the minors. He throws in the low-90s with a 12-6 curveball and a change-up and has impressed in the Arizona Fall League this year.

Video: Erick Leal

Cody Reed, Diamondbacks

The 22-year old lefty struck out 139 in 136 13 innings in A ball in 2017, and the KATOH projection system at Fangraphs was high on him. However he missed the entire 2018 season with an elbow injury. MLB Pipeline still ranks him as the #23 prospect in the Arizona system, nothing his slider is above-average at times with a “decent” change-up.

Art Warren, Mariners

Warren features a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, but pitched just 15 23 innings in AA ball this year due to shoulder issues. When healthy he can miss bats, striking out over a hitter per inning in High-A ball in 2017. He followed that up by throwing 11 shutout innings in the Arizona Fall League with 12 strikeouts. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #17 Mariners prospect, adding he has a “hard, late-breaking slider” and profiles as a late-inning reliever.

Video: Art Warren

Younger international guys

Edgar Arredondo, Rangers

Arrendondo was pitching in the Mexican League at age 15, and reached AA this year at age 21. He suffered an early setback in his career with Tommy John surgery in 2014. He throws a low-90s fastball with a four-pitch repertoire and good command. He has walked just 1.5 hitters per-nine innings in his minor league career and MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #30 prospect in the Texas farm system.

Video: Edgar Arrendondo

Dedgar Jimenez, Red Sox

The Venezuelan lefty posted a 4.39 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings, following up a solid season in 2017. The 22-year old throws in the low-90s with an average slider. He has a bad body - he’s chubby - but he was pretty tough on lefties this year, so he could have a future as a LOOGY or back-end starter.

Video: Dedgar Jimenez

Luis Pena, Angels

Pena reached AAA by age 22 this year, although he struggled with a 5.59 ERA and a very high walk rate. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #18 Angels prospect, writing his low-90s fastball has good sink, and that he features a “nasty” slider that can serve as an out-pitch. Pena was suspended for banned substances early in his career, but has generally put up big strikeout numbers throughout his career.

Video: Luis Pena

Others: Jhonathan Diaz, Red Sox

Older pitchers with results

Raynel Espinal, Yankees

Espinal earned a Major League invite to camp with the Yankees, but stuck in AAA all season with a 3.09 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 67 innings. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s with good movement and a slider and had one of the best swinging strike rates in AAA. He has suffered a bit from a lack of deception, and perhaps a mechanical tweak could unleash more potential from the 26-year old Dominican right-hander.

Video: Raynel Espinal

Conor Lillis-White, Angels

The Canadian-born lefty has gotten big strikeout numbers at each level, with a career 11.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate in the minors. The 26-year old does not throw very hard, and has gotten whiffs with his curveball, striking out more righties than lefties this year. He posted a 3.12 ERA in AA before being promoted to AAA where he had a 3.86 ERA, although with much better road numbers. His walk numbers are a bit high, but he struck out 98 overall in 72 innings in the upper minors.

Video: Conor Lillis-White

Others: Travis Radke, Padres

Conclusion: I am always intrigued by fireballers with command issues, but the Royals already have two such pitchers on the 40-man roster in Conner Greene and Josh Staumont. Lefty specialists typically don’t stick, and the Royals seem well-stocked already with lefty relievers. Riley Ferrell is the only pitcher that separates from the pack, and he should be one of the first players selected. Fortunately, the Royals have the second overall pick. If Baltimore selects him, the Royals might look to someone that can actually contribute this year like Trevor Clifton, Sam McWilliams, or Tyler Jay. If they are looking more for high-upside, they could go for Junior Fernandez or try to stash Cody Reed on the disabled list.