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Rule 5 draft preview: The hitters

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Could the Royals add some depth to their roster?

MLB: FEB 25 Spring Training - Rockies at Rangers Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Rule 5 draft will be held Thursday morning, and with four open roster spots, the Royals are primed to take a flyer on a player. It seems more likely that the Royals will take a pitcher, but they may have a need for a utility infielder, and who knows, maybe they take a flyer on an outfielder. Here are some hitters available in this year’s Rule 5 draft.

The outfielders

Akil Baddoo, Twins

If you’re looking for a raw, high-upside player, Baddoo could be a target. The former second round pick played just 29 games in 2019 in High-A ball, but he has a promising power/speed combo that could be enticing. He showed an ability to draw walks in 2018 at Low-A, walking 14 percent of the time with a 24 percent strikeout rate. Baddoo hits from the left side, can play all three outfield spots, and won’t turn 23 until next August.

Will Benson, Indians

Benson was the 14th pick in the 2016 draft, and while he shows great walk rates and decent power, he hits for a low average and strikes out a ton. Standing at an imposing 6’5’’, the lefty slugger hit 22 home runs in A ball in 2019 with 68 walks, with a line of .230/.331/.454. He was one of the few minor leaguers who saw action this year, playing in the independent Constellation Energy League, although he struggled, hitting just .143 in 24 games.

Ben DeLuzio, Diamondbacks

DeLuzio combines speed with an ability to get on base, with a .368 career minor league on-base percentage. He hits for average, although with very little power, and can draw some free passes with an 8.8 percent walk rate. The 26-year old Florida State grad is pretty advanced and hit .357 in 39 games in Triple-A in 2019, so he could transition to big league action as a reserve player.

T.J. Friedl, Reds

Friedl has some speed, and can get on base with a 10 percent minor league walk rate. The 25-year old hit .235/.347/.385 with five home runs in 65 games for Double-A in 2019, and could likely fill in as a fifth outfielder for a team. Friedl is capable of playing all three outfield positions and hits from the left side.

Gabriel Maciel, Twins

Maciel was one of the few players signed out of Brazil, originally starting in the Diamondbacks organization before he was traded to the Twins for infielder Eduardo Escobar. Like former Brazilian Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando, Maciel has terrific speed, swiping 22 bases in 100 games in A ball in 2019. The switch-hitter has very little power, however, batting .283/.366/.366 that season.

Buddy Reed, Athletics

The Royals covet speed, so Buddy Reed could be an option for them to add to their outfield mix. The 25-year old switch-hitter from the Bronx was fifth among all minor leaguers with 51 stolen bases in 2018, but stole just 23 in 2019 while hitting .228/.310/.388 in Double-A. He has some pop too, hitting 14 home runs in the Texas League, but generally should not be considered much of an offensive threat.

Cody Thomas, Dodgers

Thomas played quarterback at Oklahoma before becoming a 13th round pick by he Dodgers in 2016. He has shown good power in the minors, smacking 23 home runs in 130 games for Double-A Tulsa in 2019 while hitting .236/.308/.443. The left-handed hitter strikes out a ton, with a career minor league strikeout rate of 29 percent. Thomas attended Colleyville Heritage High School, the same high school later attended by Royals prospect Bobby Witt.

Others: Oscar Gonzalez, Indians; Luis Liberato, Mariners, Carlos Rincon, Dodgers

The utility infielders

Omar Estévez, Dodgers

Estévez has higher offensive upside than most names on this list, although his arm limits his defensive abilities. He has played a lot of shortstop, but is probably most suited at second base. The 22-year old Cuban is described as having good gap power, hitting .291/.352/.431 with six home runs in 83 games in Double-A in 2019, and getting some exposure in the Arizona Fall League.

Andy Ibáñez, Rangers

Ibáñez was a big signing out of Cuba, but he stalled in the upper minors. He put up good numbers in Triple-A, although in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast Line. He smacked 20 home runs and hit .300/.375/.497 and shows a decent career walk rate of 8.8 percent in the minors. The right-handed hitter will turn 28 in April and is mostly a second baseman, although he has some experience at other positions.

Kevin Kramer, Pirates

Kramer is a veteran with 43 games played in 2018-19 with the Pirates. He hit well in the minors, showing some decent power and speed, and has experience at all infield positions. The left-handed hitter is 27 years old, and missed all of 2020 following hip surgery. He has very little upside but could serviceably fill in as a Major League reserve.

Kevin Maitan, Angels

Maitan was the prize international signing for the Braves in 2016, inking a $4.25 million bonus. But the Braves had to let him go as punishment for subverting international signing rules and he landed with the Angels. He is still very young, turning 21 in February, and quite raw, having never played above Low-A. He hit .214/.278/.323 with 12 home runs but 164 strikeouts in 532 plate appearances in 2019, so he’d be a big gamble at this point.

Shervyen Newton, Mets

The 21-year old switch-hitter has a tall build for a middle infielder at 6’4’’ and can generate good raw power, but he hasn’t seen that translate into results yet. Ranked the #14 prospect in the Mets farm system by MLB Pipeline, Newton hit nine home runs in 423 plate appearances while hitting .209/.283/.330 in Low-A ball, but his tools might be intriguing for a team to take a gamble to stash away on their roster.

Wenceel Perez, Tigers

Like Newton, Perez is a raw, toolsy infielder, but whose tool is speed rather than power. Also a switch-hitter, Perez hit .233/.299/.314 with three home runs and 21 steals in 516 plate appearances in Low-A ball. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #16 prospect in the Tigers organization, writing he is a “glove-first shortstop” although he lacks consistency with his arm.

Esteury Ruiz, Padres

The Royals originally signed Ruiz out of the Dominican Republic, but traded him to the Padres in the Trevor Cahill deal. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #19 prospect in their system, writing has excellent speed and “physical strength to produce hard line drives and some raw power.” But he hit .239/.300/.357 in High-A ball last year and is a fringe defender. Ruiz has played mostly second base and outfield, and would be pretty pressed to play shortstop.

Kevin Smith, Blue Jays

The former Maryland Terrapin hit 25 home runs in A-ball in 2018, earning him a ranking as the #91 prospect in the game by Baseball America. But he slumped to .209/.263/.402 in Double-A in 2019 with 151 strikeouts. The 24-year old is a good defender at shortstop, but is capable of playing all over the infield and can bring both power and speed (29 steals in 2019).

Others: Diosbel Arias, Rangers; Mason McCoy, Orioles; Eguy Rosario, Padres