The deadline for protecting players from the 2018 Rule 5 draft has come and gone. MLB teams — especially those at the top of the draft — are well into the process of scouring the remaining players for fits with their roster. A long list of players worth a look were exposed this year (my spreadsheet with every player who appears on MLB.com’s top 30 lists was well over 100 columns long). Naturally, a few of these players could do some good on the Detroit Tigers roster in 2019.
How does the Rule 5 draft work?
As we explained last year, 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 were drafted and signed their first pro contract in 2015, or those who first signed in 2014 but were under the age of 19 at the time. Basically, this includes players who were drafted out of college in 2015 and international free agents or high school draftees who were signed before the end of the 2014 season.
There is no reason for Detroit to pass when they are on the clock this year. Taking a player costs virtually nothing. They can be released at any time. Realistically, there’s little harm in experimenting with a high-variance player with even a modicum of potential (yes, even Victor Reyes). For the Tigers, in particular, few (if any) positions have enough decent in-house options to make taking a flier on a prospect a bad idea.
Here are a few players the Tigers may consider when they are on the clock.
Richie Martin, SS, Oakland Athletics
2019 Steamer Projection: .240/.297/.340, 76 wRC+
Drafted the same year that saw Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, Brendan Rodgers, and Kevin Newman turn pro, we understand if you have forgotten who Richie Martin is. Born in Detroit, the 23-year-old played his college ball for the University of Florida and was the Athletics’ first round pick in 2015.
Tabbed as the best defensive shortstop in that class, Martin’s value as a prospect has rested mostly on his glove, as he has slowly fought his way through the minors. He was a surprise performer in 2018, hitting .300/.368/.439 and showing unprecedented power. The glove is still as solid as ever, and he will stay on the dirt going forward.
In other words, Martin will be a hot commodity in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. The Tigers will be lucky to have a shot at him with the fifth pick. Whether he will be able to stick on a major league roster is unclear, however. The jump from Double-A will put an awful lot of pressure on a bat that only this season really showed signs of life.
Dixon Machado is a bit of a lazy comparison for Martin, but it works for our purposes. Machado’s bat failed to come north with him, and he didn’t last very long in a major league setting. Martin will get more slack than Machado did because of an advantage in athleticism, but he will have to perform to stick. If it turns out that his bat is here to stay, Oakland will regret letting him go.
Back-up Plan: 2B/SS Drew Jackson, Los Angeles Dodgers - CTRL-C, CTRL-V. What separates these two is that Martin’s performance in 2018 is more transferrable than Jackson’s.
Riley Ferrell, RHP, Houston Astros
2019 Steamer Projection: 4.36 ERA, 4.48 FIP
Ferrell’s sizzling raw stuff make it unlikely he will stay in the Astros organization. His fastball gets up to the high-90s with late life. His slider flashes the kind of break that makes it onto a Pitching Ninja gif. When Ferrell’s command is working, that’s a package for an unhittable relief arm.
He was left unprotected for a reason, though. His stuff is electric, but Ferrell can struggle to keep it in the strike zone. He made a concerted effort to rein it in during the 2017 season, but MLB.com notes that it caused his stuff to play down. The reliever is also without a track record of success in the high minors; he got slapped around in Triple-A after a mid-season promotion. Despite those facts, the building blocks are there for a decent middle relief arm, a commodity the Tigers have been short on for too long.
Back-up Plan: RHP Josh Graham, Atlanta Braves - Graham shows slightly less raw stuff than Ferrell, albeit with more success in the upper minors. To-may-to, po-tah-to.
Andrew Sopko, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 Steamer Projection: 4.66 ERA, 4.82 FIP
Sopko’s stuff doesn’t lend itself to the sort of projectability and potential that teams generally covet in the Rule 5 Draft, but he’s still in play for a selection. He throws four pitches that hover around the average mark, and his fringy fastball plays up thanks to deceptive action. Sopko plays with fire by aggressively handling hitters and using precision to keep them off balance and get outs. A pick like this could easily go sour, but we saw a similar situation work out pretty well with the Brad Keller and Royals.
Back-up Plan: RHP Rob Whalen, Seattle Mariners - Whalen isn’t particularly good, but I had to put something here.
Forrest Wall, UTIL, Toronto Blue Jays
2019 Steamer Projection: .231/.287/.340, 72 wRC+
It’s a bit unusual that Wall was left unprotected after he was made a major piece of the trade that sent Seung-Hwan Oh to Colorado. To say that his time as a pro has been bumpy, though, would be an understatement. He started his career as a second baseman, but he’s a poor defender there despite outstanding range. Colorado gave up on his chances of being an infielder and moved him to center, where he’s shown a little more defensive acumen. His arm is also subpar thanks to an injury in high school.
That’s not to say he’s without upside. His bat is consistently improving and he slashed a respectable .271/.354./380 after arriving in Toronto’s system. The feel for hitting and potential for double-digit homers that made him an appealing prep bat could still click. He has enough experience around the diamond for legitimate positional flexibility and could slot in as the 25th man on the bench.
Back-up Plan: UTIL Travis Demeritte, Atlanta Braves - I like Demeritte a bit better than Wall, but he went unpicked in last year’s draft and doubled down on his low-average approach in 2018.
Josh Ockimey, 1B, Boston Red Sox
2019 Steamer Projection: .233/.316/.395, 89 wRC+
Offensively speaking, Ockimey is the spitting image of Tigers prospect Christin Stewart. Both are high-powered contributors who fail to contribute much in the way of average but can hit a ball 450 feet and draw plenty of walks. Ockimey has done nothing but hit wherever he’s gone, and that will get him to the big leagues at some point. His role when he arrives will be entirely determined by how well that power plays against MLB caliber pitching.
That point may be moot, however. Ockimey will be useful if the Tigers want to give Miguel Cabrera a large chunk of the reps at DH and there’s quite a bit more upside here than with, say, John Hicks. His glovework leaves a big something to be desired, though, and Detroit doesn’t especially need another future DH in the organization. Despite that, he’s still in play without a legitimate option at first on the farm or a front office willing to do much in the free agent market.
Back-up Plan: 1B Roberto Ramos, Colorado Rockies - A little less power, a little extra glove, a little more TLC needed to reach his ceiling.