The Rule 5 draft is like Antiques Roadshow for baseball junkies. Teams sift through players deemed not good enough to be among the 40 players protected on the roster in order to find the rare overlooked future All-Star. For a rebuilding team like the Royals, it is another opportunity to find freely available talent, and while you’ll usually end up with Rich Thompson or Nate Adcock (remember them?) once in awhile you’ll find a Brad Keller.
With the fourth selection in the 2019 Rule 5 draft, the Royals selected right-handed pitcher Stephen Woods from the Tampa Bay Rays. It is third consecutive year they have acquired a pitcher from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft, joining Burch Smith in 2017 and Sam McWilliams in 2018.
The 24-year old Woods was originally an eighth round draft pick by the Giants out of the University of Albany. In his first full season, he had a 2.95 ERA with 113 strikeouts in 110 innings in low A ball in 2017, but missed the entire 2018 season with an injury. He rebounded this year in High-ball with a 1.88 ERA in 86 1⁄3 innings with 8.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings and 3.4 walks-per-nine innings.
Woods has been a starter, but his struggles with walks may cause him to end up as a reliever. According to a report from DRaysBay in 2018:
The conversation around Woods falls in the argument of whether or not he can ever harness his stuff enough to become a starter as he moves up. Armed with a good fastball (95-96 MPH), a hard curve and hard cutter, and what some call an “unusually firm change up” which he puts up in mid-80s, he’ll need to work on command in order to remain a starter.
Here is what Baseball America wrote about him in 2018:
Both his fastball and curve have plus potential. He also throws a below-average slider that has little enough depth that at times it looks more like a cutter. Woods has to tone down some of the effort in his delivery if he’s going to remain a starter and he’ll have to repeat his motion much more consistently.
The Royals will get a good look at his fastball in camp next spring, and if they feel he can harness his command, they could have another option for the bullpen. Making the jump from High-A ball is a big leap, but it is not totally unprecedented. Joakim Soria, for example, went straight from A ball to the big leagues.
The Royals did not lose any players in the Rule 5 draft, despite leaving unprotected slugger Seuly Matias. MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan reports there was some interest in infielder Matt Reynolds, who was recently signed to a minor league deal, but he ultimately went undrafted. Only 11 players were selected in the MLB portion of the draft, a bit puzzling considering rosters are expanding to 26 this year.
2019 Rule 5 draft
Tigers select RHP Rony Garcia from the Yankees
Orioles select RHP Brandon Bailey from the Astros
Marlins select RHP Sterling Sharp from the Nationals
Royals select RHP Stephen Woods from the Rays
Mariners select RHP Yohan Ramirez from the Astros
Reds select OF Mark Payton from the Athletics
Giants select RHP Dany Jimenez from the Blue Jays
Phillies select SS Vimael Machin from the Cubs
Cubs select RHP Trevor Megill from the Padres
Red Sox select SS Jonathan Arauz from the Astros
Orioles select RHP Michael Rucker from the Cubs