The Rule 5 draft well embodies a quirk common among much of baseball fandom: fascination with the inconsequential. The yearly event serves more to force teams to prioritize their top prospects than to infuse the major leagues with talent, a fact which is well borne out by the eventual fates of the players selected. Yet, that doesn’t stop most fans, myself included, from engaging in the annual ritual of examining every possibility in the search for a shiny new toy for their favorite team.
The Tigers are poised to draft third in the 2020 Rule 5 draft, which will be general manager Al Avila’s sixth as the leading man in Detroit. As they prepare to make their selection, it serves as an informative exercise to take a retrospective look at Avila’s previous four picks (he opted to pass in 2015) as a gauge for where to set expectations for the newest draftee.
LHP Daniel Stumpf, 2016 draft
The Tigers were the second team to take a chance on Stumpf in the Rule 5 — the Phillies drafted him in advance of the 2016 season — and thus he was able to elect free agency after being waived by Detroit. The Tigers still wanted him in the organization though, and signed him to a minor league deal. In the end, he pitched for the team over the course of three seasons, being designated for assignment after suffering an elbow injury in 2019.
Stumpf never found much success in his time with the Tigers and his reputation among fans wasn’t helped by the team’s insistence that he could be rightly used in mid-leverage matchup situations. Pitching to a 4.37 ERA and 4.54 FIP over his career in Detroit, he was usable in middle relief, but never good. Things haven’t gone any better since the Tigers cut ties. Stumpf was unable to find a major league home for the 2020 season and it will be tough for the 29-year-old to get back to an MLB roster.
OF Victor Reyes, 2017 draft
From a bird’s eye view, Reyes has been a particularly successful pick. Left unprotected by the D-Backs before he’d reached the Triple-A level, the Tigers molded him into a reasonably useful outfielder. He is perhaps not worthy to be a starter on a good team, but Reyes is unquestionably in the upper echelon of Rule 5 draftees. Having watched his career from a fan’s perspective, though, Tigers loyalists understand what a wild ride it has been for the trim 6-foot-5-inch outfielder.
Although he was dead weight on the roster in his first big league season, Detroit’s patience with him was rewarded with a .304/.336/.431 hitter in 69 games during the 2019 season. His offensive output took a dip in the COVID-shortened 2020 schedule, but his batting average on balls in play came back to a stable level. Project his stats over a full season, and you’ve got a 2.2 fWAR player. Unexciting but completely functional in the role he serves, Reyes may wind up being one of the best acquisitions of Avila’s tenure from a value-to-expenditure perspective.
RHP Reed Garrett, 2018 draft
The Tigers found a way to wring extra value from baseball’s convoluted system of player development, and law of averages demanded tribute. That came in the form of Garrett, who was seen as a decent gamble who could become a middle reliever on the strength of his fastball/slider combination. His poor control rendered him unplayable, and he was returned to the Texas Rangers. His career with the Tigers spanned 13 appearances, in which he walked more batters than he struck out and was racked with an 8.22 ERA.
RHP Rony Garcia, 2019 draft
The most recent addition to the Tigers’ organization through the Rule 5 draft was Garcia, a former Yankees farmhand. He packs a four-pitch repertoire, with his curveball and cutter as his best pitches. He spent his whole career as a minor leaguer in the starting rotation, but the Tigers utilized him in the bullpen during the 2020 season. He didn’t have the best results, no surprise there, but the team was willing to hang onto the 22-year-old throughout the season and now retain his contract rights.
The most likely destination for Garcia in the upcoming season is Triple-A Toledo. Whether the team decides to use him as a starter or reliever is still unclear. In the short term, one likely outcome is that he is stretched out to keep him ready for swingman duties in a pinch. The odds of him making the team out of camp are slim, but he could follow Reyes’ developmental path and split next season between the minors and the big leagues. The book isn’t written yet on whether Garcia can defy the odds and become a useful major league pitcher, but compared to most Rule 5 selections, he has youth on his side to some degree. We’ll have to wait and see if the Tigers revamped player development staff has any insights to help him take the next step.