After skipping the Rule 5 draft last year due to the lockout, baseball will conclude its Winter Meetings with a draft on Wednesday at 4 p.m. CT. The draft is a chance for teams to poach talent from other organizations and for minor leaguers to get opportunities in a new organization. Players are eligible to be drafted if they are not on the 40-man roster and (a) they were signed at age 18 or younger and five seasons have passed or; (b) they were signed at age 19 or older and four seasons have passed. Any player selected must be on the active MLB roster all season or be offered back to their original team.
The Royals have a full 40-man roster, so they will have to drop someone in order to make a selection tomorrow. In the past they have used the Rule 5 draft to find pitchers like Joakim Soria and Brad Keller, and if they do make a selection this week, it seems likely to be a pitcher again. Here are some potential arms to watch for.
Peyton Battenfield, Guardians
The Royals are seeking to emulate the Guardians, so why not poach some of their talent? Battenfield was originally drafted by the Astros out of Oklahoma State and traded to the Rays, before they shipped him to the Guardians in 2021. The fact three of the best teams at developing pitching were interested in him should say something about him? Battenfield was outstanding in 2021 with a 2.53 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts-per-nine innings, but his strikeout numbers dropped significantly this year in Triple-A. Still, he had some success with a 3.63 ERA in 153 2⁄3 innings, and the 25-year-old right-hander might be able to compete for a rotation spot.
Jayden Murray, Astros
Murray went from the Rays to Astros in a three-team trade, another pitcher who hopefully has picked up a few things from two of the smartest organizations in baseball. The right-hander had a 3.21 ERA in 103 2⁄3 innings at Double-A this year with 91 strikeouts. Murray has a fastball in the low 90s with a slider and change up. He had a fantastic walk rate in 2021 but saw that spike this year. He’ll be 26 in April and could be ready for a jump to the big leagues.
Thad Ward, Red Sox
Ward was a fifth-round pick out of Central Florida whose career was interrupted by Tommy John surgery, which has limited him to less than 60 innings pitched over the last two seasons. He performed well in seven starts at Double-A this year with a 2.43 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 33 1⁄3 innings, and followed that up with a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League. The 25-year-old right-hander has a deep arsenal, and now that he is another year removed from Tommy John surgery, he could get his career back on track.
Trevor Brigden, Rays
If the Royals are looking for strike-throwers, they could turn to the 27-year-old Canadian in the Rays system. He walked just nine hitters in 59 innings across Double-A and Triple-A while putting up a solid 3.05 ERA. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, throwing in the low-90s, but he still struck out 12.2 hitters-per-nine-innings.
Luis Devers, Cubs
Devers put up fantastic numbers this year, but has never pitched higher than High-A, so a jump to the big leagues might be a bit daunting. The 22-year-old right-hander posted a 1.91 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings across Low- and High-A this season. He doesn’t overpower with velocity with a fastball in the low-90s, but he throws a solid change up and pounds the strike zone.
Nic Enright, Guardians
Enright had success in Triple-A with a 2.68 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 37 innings after a promotion from Double-A, so he should be able to transition to the big leagues better than most Rule 5 selections. He is a strike-thrower - he walked just 14 hitters in 65 2⁄3 innings overall. The right-hander throws in the low-90s with a plus curveball, and turns 26 in January.
Andrew Politi, Red Sox
The former Seton Hall pitcher excelled this year after moving to the pen, posting a 2.34 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings across Double-A and Triple-A. He has a three-pitch mix of average pitches - a fastball that sits at 93-95 with a slider and curve. His fastball has reached upper 90s on occasion, so he could be a candidate to get more velo, but at age 26, he may not have the upside of some other selections.
Victor Vodnik, Braves
The Braves gave Vodnik $200,000 to pass up on college due to a fastball in the mid-90s, but he has never really learned to throw the pitch for strikes. He did strike out 47 hitters in 34 2/3 innings with a 2.34 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A combined this year, but with 19 walks. This was his first year moving to the pen, and he was limited a bit with injuries, so he could blossom the more he has time as a reliever. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #9 prospect in the Atlanta farm system.
Antoine Kelly, Rangers
Kelly was originally a second-round pick by the Brewers, acquired by the Rangers last summer for reliever Matt Bush and ranked #13 in the Texas farm system by MLB Pipeline. He is a two-pitch pitcher, with a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, but he struggles with command and has had injury issues. He had a 4.43 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 109 2⁄3 innings last year as a starter across High-A and Double-A, but with 5.8 walks-per-nine innings.
Erik Miller, Phillies
A St. Louis native, Miller was originally a fourth-round pick out of Stanford. The lefty had rotator cuff issues in 2021, and was limited to just 48 1⁄3 innings this year as the team tried to ease him back. The 24-year-old pitched primarily in Double-A, although he made ten relief appearances in Triple-A. He throws in the mid-90s with a solid slider and change. MLB Pipeline ranks him #7 in the Phillies organization and he participated in the Futures Game.
Andrew Misiaszek, Guardians
Misiaszek doesn’t show up on any prospect lists, so I’m guessing he doesn’t throw that hard, but he has gotten results. This year he allowed just two earned runs in 32 innings at Double-A before they finally moved him up to Triple-A where he posted a 3.64 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. Walks were a bit of a problem in Triple-A, but lefties struggled to hit him, and he seems ready to jump up to the big leagues.
Elvis Alvarado, Tigers
A former outfielder, Alvarado converted to pitching after one season, and is now in his third organization. But the 23-year-old right-hander seemed to figure something out this year, posting a 2.72 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 59 2⁄3 innings mostly in Double-A. Alvarado throws in the upper-90s and can occasionally hit triple digits and unlike a lot of other high velo guys, he can throw strikes.
Danis Correa, Cubs
Correa throws in the high-90s and can touch 100 on the radar gun. The 23-year-old was signed out of Colombia and rose quickly, reaching Triple-A this year. He had a 3.65 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings overall across Double-A and Triple-A this year, but with 5.1 walks-per-nine innings. He has a solid change and a curveball with terrific spin rate that could make him an attractive choice for some clubs.
Steven Cruz, Twins
Fans in Wichita saw Cruz light up the radar gun with a fastball that can hit 101 mph. But he had a high walk rate that led to a 5.14 ERA in 56 innings of relief. The 23-year-old right-hander stands at an imposing 6’7’’ and throws a hard slider. He could be a pitching development project in the right hands, but he will need to throw strikes to stick in the big leagues.
Ryan Fernandez, Red Sox
Originally a 23rd-round pick out of community college in Tampa, Fernandez has put up pretty good numbers at each stop in the minors. This year, he had a velocity bump to the high-90s, even touching 99 mph on occasion, but he also posted his worst ERA at 4.31 in 39 2⁄3 innings across High-A and Double-A. Still, the 24-year-old right-hander had 12.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings with a solid walk rate, and can throw a solid slider and cutter in addition to his heater.
Travis Kuhn, Mariners
Kuhn has always been able to miss bats, it is walks that have been his weakness as a reliever. With a fastball that sits at 95-96 mph and can occasionally touch 99 and a hard slider, he struck out 71 hitters in 59 1⁄3 innings at Double-A this year. MLB Pipeline, which ranks him #27 in the Seattle system, praises his makeup as a reliever and sees a high ceiling with potential as a setup man.
Andrew Schultz, Phillies
Schultz walked 34 and struck out 62 in 44 2⁄3 innings of relief across High-A and Double-A at the age of 24 featuring a fastball in the high-90s. His slider is actually considered his best pitch, and he can throw it for a strike. Schultz missed all of 2021 after Tommy John surgery and has much shorter arm action in his delivery now.
Grant Anderson, Rangers
Anderson is notable for a plus slider he can throw for strikes and throws 56 percent of the time, and a heavy sinker. The 25-year-old right-hander had a 2.80 ERA with 12.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings in 54 2/3 innings for Double-A Frisco before being promoted to Triple-A and having less success. Anderson originally started with the Mariners before being traded to the Rangers in 2019 for pitcher Connor Sadzeck.
Adrian Hernandez, Blue Jays
Hernandez features one of the best change ups in the Rule 5 draft, inducing a lot of swing and miss. He struck out 44 in 32 2⁄3 innings at Triple-A this year, but with a 4.96 ERA and a high walk rate. The 22-year-old Mexican-born right-hander induced a 44 percent groundball rate and throws a low-90s fastball and a slider occasionally.
Kevin Kelly, Guardians
Another Guardians pitcher! According to Baseball America, Kelly is the only Rule 5-eligible pitcher who had “50 or more innings pitched, a strikeout rate of 29% or higher, a walk rate of 9% or lower, a groundball rate above 50% and a FIP below 3.00 in 2022.” He is primarily a sinker/slider pitcher, relying on inducing poor contact. The 25-year-old had a 2.73 ERA in 33 innings after his promotion to Triple-A, and could be ready for the big leagues.
Mason Denaburg, Nationals
Denaburg was a first-round pick in 2018, but has played in just 20 games at the professional level. He had a shoulder injury in 2019, then needed Tommy John surgery. He is still just 23 years old and his 39 innings in Low-A ball this year were a career high. He can throw in the mid-90s, but struggles with command.
Connor Grammes, Diamondbacks
Another Tommy John surgery victim, Grammes has a mid-90s fastball and two plus breaking balls. He struck out 37 percent of the hitters he faced, but had a 9.15 ERA and 6.4 walks-per-nine innings. The 25-year-old has never pitched above A-ball.
Ethan Hankins, Guardians
Hankins was selected right after Daniel Lynch in the first round of the 2018 draft, but has barely pitched at the professional level due to injuries, tossing just one inning in the last two years. He has a mid-90s fastball and was considered a polished high school arm at the draft, but the pandemic and Tommy John surgery in 2021 derailed his career.