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Using projections to help find Rule 5 standouts

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The Rule 5 Draft is mostly an unpredictable crapshoot, but let’s make an attempt to evaluate it!

Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

In terms of player acquisition, it’s hard to replicate the uniqueness that the Rule 5 Draft brings. I mean, you literally get to take any available player from any organization for essentially free, the only catch being that you have to keep said player on your 25-man roster or disabled list all year.

If a team does select a player in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s extremely unlikely to make an impact. But sure, every year or two you’ll see a team hit on a pick. In more recent memory, we’ve seen successful picks such as Odubel Herrera, Hector Rondon, Mark Canha, and Brad Keller. Again, the odds are against it, but I guess that’s the enticing part. Take the Royals this year for example. They two selections they made this year (Keller, Burch Smith) perfectly showed off the mixed bag that it is. Keller went on to post a 3.08 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 140 13 innings while Smith put up a 6.92 ERA and 5.38 FIP in 78 innings.

Those few hits make analyzing the Rule 5 Draft fun enough for those more hardcore baseball fans. Problem is though, picking and analyzing standouts from the very large pool of players (I counted 507, most of which are the opposite of notable) is very tough. Names scoured throughout the minors, most of which have stayed under-the-radar, make up the large majority of this pool. Only a fraction of these players may hit the back end of some organizational prospect rankings. As for the numbers, were looking at non-trustworthy minor league performances at all levels and possibly extrapolating them to a full-season in the the majors. Again, very hard.

The truth is, any method that is used to help analyze the Rule 5 Draft will be imperfect to some extent. But that won’t stop me from foolishly trying!

In the past, we’ve seen projections used in Rule 5 analysis. Over at FanGraphs, Chris Mitchell implemented his KATOH projection system to help point out some standouts (Brad Keller was one). And regarding this matter, it turns out he had a lot of the same stuff to say as I did.

Most of the players listed below aren’t good prospects. If they were, their teams would have protected them — or traded them to a team interested in stashing them. The baseball industry has effectively deemed each of these players to be a fringe prospect at best. Who cares about these mostly bad baseball players? Probably a very tiny sliver of the world’s population, if I’m being honest. But if you you’re still reading, I’m willing to bet you’re part of that small minority. And besides, several Rule 5 picks from recent memory have enjoyed immediate big-league success, including Joe Biagini, Matt Bowman, and Odubel Herrera.

And as sad as it is, with Chris no longer at FanGraphs, we don’t have KATOH at our aid. That’s part of the reason I wanted to make an attempt to find some of these Rule 5 standouts. Now I must admit, my system doesn't even get close to reaching the prominence, detail, and intricacy of KATOH. It’s far more simpler than that.

I started out by exporting 2019 Steamer Projections into Excel and singling out players eligible for picking in the Rule 5 Draft. All of these projections were prorated by choice to put all players on a level playing field.

  • All hitters have 600 plate appearances, except catchers, who have 450.
  • All starting pitchers have 200 innings
  • All relief pitchers have 65 innings

After that, I came up with a simple (basically you couldn’t make it any simpler) fWAR progression method, that runs off a basis off...

  • Year 1: +0.25
  • Year 2: +0.15
  • Year 3: +0.1
  • Year 4: no change
  • Year 5: -0.1

I then adjusted that basis for age and ran the numbers for a six-year basis and here is what I found, starting with the hitters.

Top 20 Six Year WAR Projections for Rule 5 Hitters

Name Position Team Projected 6Y WAR
Name Position Team Projected 6Y WAR
Xavier Fernandez C Royals 12.08
Jamie Westbrook 3B Diamondbacks 10.28
Deivi Grullon C Phillies 9.08
Peter Maris SS Rays 7.82
Ian Rice C Cubs 7.22
John Silviano C Marlins 7.09
Yermin Mercedes C White Sox 6.93
Patrick Mazeika C Mets 6.62
Josh Lester 3B Tigers 6.49
Josh Morgan C Rangers 6.08
Jonah Heim C Athletics 5.48
Jake Gatewood SS Brewers 5.48
Danny Mendick SS White Sox 5.42
Richie Martin SS Athletics 5.29
Brett Sullivan C Rays 4.82
Joe DeCarlo C Mariners 4.82
Wynston Sawyer C Twins 4.47
Forrest Wall OF Blue Jays 4.28
Brandon Wagner 1B Yankees 4.28
Josh Ockimey 1B Red Sox 4.28
  • Xavier Fernandez had the highest projection out of all eligible players by a decent margin. A catcher in the Royals system, he split his time between high-A and double-A this year, flashing great contact skills and a good presence behind the plate.
  • Unsurprisingly, most of these guys are catchers.
  • Forrest Wall, a former top 100 prospect by multiple publications, was left off the Blue Jays 40-man roster and is eligible for selection. A former first round pick of the Rockies, he slashed .263/.343/.402 between high-A and double-A this season, spending the majority of his time in centerfield.

And now for the pitchers...

Top 20 Six Year Projections for Rule 5 Pitchers

Name Position Team Cumulative WAR
Name Position Team Cumulative WAR
Tejay Antone SP Reds 6.62
Will Stewart SP Phillies 5.08
Jhonathan Diaz SP Red Sox 4.33
Anthony Misiewicz SP Mariners 3.49
Jordan Kipper SP Orioles 3.33
Domingo Robles SP Pirates 3.28
Tyler Mapes SP Nationals 3.27
Alejandro Requena SP Phillies 3.13
Emerson Martinez SP Rangers 2.89
Nick Green SP Yankees 2.89
Joe Gatto SP Angels 2.48
Jon Kennedy RP Braves 2.48
Reiver Sanmartin RP Yankees 2.48
Edgar Arredondo RP Rangers 1.93
Cody Reed SP Diamondbacks 1.88
Wes Benjamin SP Rangers 1.82
Edgardo Sandoval RP Astros 1.33
Steven Fuentes RP Nationals 1.33
Luis Pena SP Angels 1.28
Travis Ott RP Rays 1.28
  • Tejay Antone, a right-handed starter in the Reds system, sits atop the list here. After missing all of the 2017 season, Antone started 17 games at the high-A level this season, posting a 4.03 ERA while striking out 82 and walking 29 in 96 innings. His fastball tops out in the low-90s.
  • Fourteen of the top 20 pitching projections profiled as starters. The projected relief arm was Jon Kennedy, an Australian native in the Braves organization. He too spent most of his time in high-A this season, pitching to the tune of a 2.43 ERA and 2.67 FIP in 55 23 innings. Good combination of strikeouts and ground balls.

This was probably an ill-advised attempt with its fair-share of caveats to point out the best players available for selection. But by putting numbers and projections to the use, I tried to evaluate the less looked at side of this. This system likely won’t find the next Odubel Herrera, but it at least helps point out some of the more notable players available, analytically speaking.


Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.