It’s draft day at the MLB Winter Meetings.
Thursday, Dec. 13 at noon ET teams will have an opportunity to select one of the minor leaguers left unprotected when every Major League team set 40-man rosters back on Nov. 20. The Rule 5 Draft is one of the more interesting drafts in any sport, and while it’s lost a little luster the past few seasons, it has also sprung the careers of names like Dan Uggla, Odubel Herrera, and Marwin Gonzalez, giving these prospects a new look at an MLB career.
So what’s in store for the Braves on Thursday?
What is it?
I’ve done quite a bit of work with the Rule 5 Draft coming over from Minor League Ball. Before the draft, it’s always good for a quick refresher, since the Rule 5 Draft is like no other in sports. This is the quick, Rule 5 for Dummies tutorial I always used:
Who’s eligible? Any prospect who signed when they were 18 or younger and has played five years, or any prospect who signed when they were 19 or older and has played four.
How’s it work: Once a team selects an unprotected player, they owe the team he was drafted from $100,000 and must add him to their 25-man roster for the entire season, and he must be active for at least 90 days. If not, said player is returned to the original team for half the price. There’s a bit more to it, like DL stints for example, but that’s the easy gist of it.
The Braves have made four selections in a row the past four seasons. Last year they took relief pitcher Anyelo Gómez from the Yankees and returned him. The year before they selected reliever Armando Rivera and released him as well. Evan Rutckyjl was in 2015, yet another reliever returned to the Yankees, and in 2014 it was a Rockies, you guessed it, reliever. This guy managed to stick around as Dan Winkler made 69 appearances for your 2018 National League East champs.
Rio Ruiz signed with the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week and that opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. That means there is a good possibility of another Braves Rule 5 selection in 2018.
Who’s at risk?
There are three Braves to be worried about losing. Let’s rank them in order of risk factor, from highest to lowest.
RHP Josh Graham: Most felt it was Jacob Webb or Graham that would garner 40-man protection and Webb got the nod. That leaves the 25-year-old, 2015 fourth-rounder out of Oregon at risk. Graham hasn’t reached Triple-A so teams may be hesitant, but Graham has shown good strikeout numbers fueled by a ground ball rate north of 50 percent, despite getting roughed up in his Double-A debut allowing more than one hit and nearly a run per inning.
UTIL Ray-Patrick Didder: A pedestrian showing in the Arizona Fall League was the best thing for the Braves. The 24-year-old infielder-turned-outfielder-turned-infielder-again showed a lot of improvement once in Double-A, looking much more like the breakout 2016 prospect he was. Didder combines a big arm, arguably the best speed in the system, and great instincts into what should easily amount to a big league role player, but 131 career at bats above A-ball should make it hard for teams to add him to their 25.
UTIL Travis Demeritte: There is a lot that is confusing about Demeritte (like which letter in his last name is doubled, is it the ‘m’, the ‘r’, or the ‘t’). When the now 24-year-old came to the Braves via trade in 2016, he was one of the Rangers top prospects and widely considered one of the brighter second base prospects in baseball. While his renowned power has stuck, nearly every other aspect of his game has declined, and where he fits in for the Braves is a question mark. Still, six years without a Triple-A at bat should not see too many suitors, but name recognition may have someone calling.
We know one thing. Braves like relievers in the Rule 5 Draft. The 25-year-old DII baseball product Art Warren (Seattle Mariners) may be enticing. While he has an awesome fastball-slider combo, the RHP has a rare four-pitch mix for a reliever. After a breakout 2017 in the Arizona Fall League, Warren spent most of 2018 on the shelf, which means teams will be hesitant.
Riley Ferrell (Houston Astros) is another intriguing RHP. Armed with a nasty fastball-slider combo himself, Ferrell posted solid numbers before getting beat up in his Triple-A debut in 2018. He could be worth a flier.
Tyler Jay (Minnesota Twins) has been maddening throughout his career. The 24-year-old lefty was a first-rounder in 2014 for the Twins but has battled injury leading to inconsistency ever since. He has the stuff in a, wait for it, fastball-slider combo to be a big-league short man, but his health history may keep people away.
Junior Fernandez (St. Louis Cardinals) throws straight gas. He’s shown command issues on his climb up the ladder but moved to the bullpen full time in 2018. He has a changeup that offsets his upper-90s fastball well, and if he gets selected it’s on heat and projection alone.
Moving away from pitchers, the Colorado Rockies Dom Nunez is an intriguing candidate. The Braves have question marks behind the plate, and Nunez was once one of the more-inspiring catching prospects in the game. While he has progressed from high school shortstop to a quality catcher, his bat has not, and you can argue it has taken a step backward at the higher levels.
There are quite a few intriguing infielders — like the Oakland Athletics Richie Martin, St. Louis Cardinals Max Schrock, and Washington Nationals Jose Marmolejos for example — but that doesn’t seem like a 25-man need for the Braves, especially leaving Didder unprotected. One intriguing bat to monitor is the Brewers Jake Gatewood. The 23-year-old right-handed-hitting first baseman can flat out rake. Problem is he misses a lot and may not amount to much more than a big-league pinch hitter. Coming off an injury-shortened 2018, someone will probably take a chance on him bringing him to spring training, but how much contact he makes will determine if he can stick.