Major League Baseball teams must submit their 40-man rosters by November 20 in order to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. The Detroit Tigers currently have 37 players on their 40-man roster following the expiration of the contracts of players who are now free agents, the Cameron Maybin trade, and losing Joe Mantiply and Dustin Molleken on waivers.
The Rule 5 draft is conducted among all 30 MLB teams on the last day of MLB's annual Winter Meetings. This year’s draft will take place on December 8. The players eligible to be selected are minor leaguers who have been with their organizations for four or five years, but are not on the team’s 40-man roster.
Players eligible this year will be those who signed their first pro contract in 2013, or those who first signed in 2012 but were under the age of 19 at the time. In 2015, the Tigers added pitchers Michael Fulmer, Jairo Labourt, Luis Cessa and Montreal Robertson to their 40-man roster. The club has already added pitchers Chad Bell and Myles Jaye to the roster earlier this month. Players who were eligible in previous years are also eligible again.
Players chosen in the Rule 5 draft will have an opportunity to stay with their new club for the season. The player’s former club will receive a $50,000 fee. Players selected must be kept on their new team's 25-man MLB roster for the entire season. They cannot be sent to the minors without clearing waivers and being offered back to their former club. A player is more likely to get through the Rule 5 draft than clearing waivers later on, so teams will not add players to the roster intending to take them off at a later date.
In order to make a selection, a club has to have an open space on their 40-man roster as of the start of the draft. A player could still be non-tendered or put on waivers to create the roster space so that the club can select a player in the Rule 5 draft, so the vacancy doesn’t need to be there by November 20. There is a major league phase, a Triple-A phase, and a Double-A phase of the Rule 5 draft.
Jonathan Crawford, the Tigers’ first round selection in 2013, and supplemental pick Corey Knebel would have been eligible this year if the Tigers hadn’t traded them. Joe Mantiply, who made his major league debut during the 2016 season, would also have been eligible, but he was claimed off waivers by the Yankees earlier this month.
Players who are signed as international free agents as teenagers are normally slower to develop, and it’s often a race against the clock for them to secure a roster spot before being Rule 5 eligible. Dixon Machado and Steven Moya took this route to the major leagues and are now out of minor league options, so they must make it in the major leagues this spring or go through waivers before being sent back to the minor leagues.
Here are some Tigers prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster by November 20.
Note: The numbers in parentheses are that player’s place on MLB.com’s Tigers prospect rankings.
OF Jose Azocar (10)
One of the few quality bats in the Tigers’ pipeline, Azocar is a dynamic player who is able to impact the game in every way. Graded as plus for his defense and speed, Azocar also has an above average arm. That is not to say he is a one-dimensional player, though. His hit tool has also received a good grade from scouts, though he does not walk much. The only thing his game is lacking is power. While he is a solid prospect, it is very unlikely that Azocar is taken, as he still a few years from the big leagues. He might be taken with the same reasoning as when the Brewers took Wei-Chung Wang in 2013: let him sit on the bench for a season and then send him to the minors for development. This circumstance is rare, however.
LHP Kevin Ziomek (11)
The player on this list with the highest floor, Ziomek has been held back by injuries since being drafted in 2013. The most recent was a case of thoracic outlet syndrome that was surgically resolved in June, but prevented him from pitching in all but one game at High-A Lakeland this year. In that game, Ziomek only pitched 4 1⁄3 innings and was bombed for five runs on nine hits. His stuff is not overly impressive, but it is paired with good command and an advanced feel for pitching. If he can stay healthy, he should move quickly through the system.
RHP Austin Kubitza (17)
While I have never been high on Kubitza, he does deserve mention on this list. Kubitza relies on a heavy sinker to get outs, and generates a ton of ground balls. His off-speed stuff consists of a slider and a changeup, and is below average and lacks separation. This all might be acceptable if he had plus command or control, but he lacks that as well. He paid dearly for this lack of control in 2016, walking more batters than he struck out in Double-A and only striking out marginally more than he walked in High-A. The Tigers hope that a transition to the bullpen can help him, and likely are not putting him back in the rotation in the near future.
RHP Gerson Moreno (21)
As many a Tigers prospect before him, Moreno has a high-heat fastball and almost nothing else. While he can run his heater up to 97-98 miles per hour with regularity, his off-speed stuff consists of only one pitch: an average slider. That slider continues to improve (and Moreno is still only 21), it does not make up for his control issues that prevented him from succeeding in High-A in the second half of 2016. Still, his high octane stuff helped him strike out 54 batters in 49 2⁄3 total innings last season.
Sandy Baez (16): An unimpressive pitcher who played for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2016, Baez could end up being a No. 5 starter at the major league level, but is likely too far away from the majors and has too low a ceiling to be considered in this year’s Rule 5 draft.
Zach Shepherd (18): Shepherd is a big third baseman from Australia who spent the summer at High-A Lakeland. MLB.com says, “Shepherd has the chance to develop into an all-around everyday big league third baseman. He should hit for some average, especially as he makes adjustments at the plate, which in turn will allow him to tap into his considerable raw power.”
C Arvincent Perez (22): A defense-first catcher signed back in 2011, Perez has never been much with the bat, but has always been heralded for his catch-and-throw skills. He did have an offensive breakout this year, but is simply too raw to be taken.
RHP Jeff Thompson (NR): From Minor League Ball: “Thompson realistically looks like an organizational filler guy right now. If the command/control take a massive leap forward and he is able to regain some fastball velocity, he might be able to find a middle-relief job somewhere, but there’s a very low chance of that happening. I thought of him pretty highly after my 2013 viewings of him, but now he's pretty much a non-prospect.”