Fans of many baseball teams don't have to spend much time thinking about the Rule 5 draft. A lot of teams just don't care. The Orioles, as you know if you've followed them over the last several years, are not one of those teams. They love the Rule 5 draft because if you do it right you basically steal a player from another team for nothing. You don't get a sure-fire future star, but you can get a useful roleplayer.
Baseball's Rule 5 draft, to be held a little later today, is distinct from the June draft in that it involves players being taken from other organizations. The order is set in reverse order according to record. The Orioles are set to pick 15th, though in actuality they'll pick higher - not every team ahead of them will pick.
Every player with the required amount of minor league service time that's not on a team's 40-man roster is eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Generally speaking, that means for players drafted out of high school, they become eligible in the fifth Rule 5 draft after their amateur draft. That means high school draftees from 2011 are eligible this year. College players become eligible in the fourth Rule 5 draft after they are selected. That means college draftees from 2012 are eligible this year, provided they haven't been added to the 40-man roster.
The Rule 5 draft is how the Orioles added Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, and Jason Garcia in recent years. That list of names gives a pretty good indication of what kind of player you can expect a team to get, if the pick works out. Flaherty and McFarland are guys on the fringes, useful at what they do, even if what they do isn't really offer much more than flexibility and a predictable level of non-disaster performance.
You can also find a player like Garcia, an unpolished rock that may yet turn into something beautiful. Of course, there are pains going along with taking a raw player like that, as we saw this past season with the tortured exercises the O's went through to hide him and keep him. But after that struggle, they won. Garcia is now theirs. This year they can option him and let him try to work on things at Norfolk.
To make a Rule 5 pick, a team must make a token payment of $50,000 to the team from whom they draft a player. The player they select must remain on the active major league roster - or disabled list - for all of the subsequent season. If not, they can be offered back to the original team for $25,000. There is very little cost even to making a failed Rule 5 pick as a result. At the worst, you take someone, check them out at spring training, and if you don't want to go through the hassle, you send them back.
One advantage of not really having prospects is that the Orioles don't risk losing many players in the draft. They added pitchers Chris Lee, Parker Bridwell, and Andrew Triggs to their own roster to keep them safe this year.
It would be a surprise if anyone was drafted out of the O's organization - but, you never know. This time last year, Mychal Givens was not on the O's 40-man roster. As a 2009 draftee, he was eligible to be selected. Now, O's fans have been imagining him competing for a late-inning bullpen role based on his 2015 performance. Yet any team could have taken him in the Rule 5 last year. Many are probably wishing they did. Sucks for them.
If you are interested, Baseball America has a long list of potential Rule 5 guys. There are many more than will ever be selected. Some will be, though. In their version of last year's list, both of the players the O's ended up tabbing, Garcia and Logan Verrett, were included. The O's got an extra Rule 5 pick because they actually paid the Astros $25,000 to make a pick and trade that player (Garcia) to the Orioles. Maybe they'll do that again this year. It was weird. Dan Duquette is weird.
I know little about Orioles prospects and even less about other teams' prospects. So I don't want to pretend to be an expert about these players' value. But I do know a little bit about what the Orioles need and about what Duquette likes to do. Considering the O's situation, I could see them being interested in a fourth outfielder type, a corner outfielder type, or a long reliever/spot starter type.
With the roster situation for Dylan Bundy, it'd be a surprise to see them roll the dice on another raw reliever like Garcia. Bundy will basically be like a Rule 5 pick already in that they have to keep him around.
Those needs in mind, a few names who jump out:
Jabari Blash, Mariners (first picked: 8th round 2010)
Blash is in the "toolsy outfielder" category, though unlike most of the others BA highlights, he's a bit older at age 26. He's a right-hander, so maybe he isn't what the O's are looking for, but he just combined to bat .271/.370/.576 between Double-A and Triple-A in the most recent season. (Standard disclaimer: Don't scout box scores. But in this case, it's all we've got.) Any team can always use a player who can hit, whichever side he hits from.
Late bloomers aren't interesting as prospects. A team like the O's can take a shot on them because if they do bloom, they get cheap production in a player's prime years. You don't get extra wins for having young rookies.
Jake Cave, Yankees (first picked: 6th round 2011)
Cave is 23, left-handed, and capable of backing up the center field spot, where Adam Jones needs to do a bit more DHing this year. Plus it'd be fun to swipe one from the Yankees after taking one from the Red Sox last year. But he also just batted .269/.330/.345 at Double-A Trenton last year, so, as with every other one of these players, there's a reason his team didn't protect him. He's probably better than that... probably.
He could easily be kind of terrible, play a couple of games a week and still have some vague value to the team. You can hide a fourth outfielder if your other outfielders are good and healthy. Although the Orioles don't really have outfielders other than Jones right now, let alone good or healthy ones, so, you know.
Zach Borenstein, Diamondbacks (first picked: 23rd round 2011)
If every idiot can look at a player and see he's a big leaguer, he won't still be in Double-A at age 24. That was Borenstein this year. He has since turned 25. A lefty-batting corner outfielder, you can squint at Borenstein's .314/.394/.511 at Double-A Mobile last year and think, heck, maybe with the right hitting coach, this guy is just waiting to break out in a platoon with Mark Trumbo? But probably not.
Chris Devenski, Astros (first picked: 25th round 2011)
BA's J.J. Cooper says Devenski has a pitch he calls the "changeup of death," which I just think sounds cool. Devenski spent all of the past season at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he had a 3.01 ERA while striking out 104 batters over 119.2 innings. He'd face tougher competition at the big league level, which is why Cooper suggests his future is as a spot starter or low leverage reliever... which sounds a lot like a right-handed T.J. McFarland on a good day.
Not great, but if you can get an arm like that in the system who is actually suited for multi-inning garbage time appearances, it doesn't hurt to take that chance. Somebody has to pitch the 4th-6th innings after Ubaldo Jimenez walks the world and gets an early hook. Bonus for Devenski: as a former Cal State Fullerton player, he'd have an instant fan in Baltimore Sun sports columnist Peter Schmuck.
The real benefit of getting a Rule 5 pick to stick for a team like the Orioles is not so much the year you get where they're stuck at the big league level, but the three years afterwards where you can have them riding the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle as needed. Duquette loves those guys with options, and the Rule 5 draft is one place to find those sorts of players.
Probably the Orioles won't take any one of these guys, though whoever they do pick will be a similarly flawed, likely fringe player - unless they swing for the upside fences with a Garcia-type fireballer again. Which would be crazy, but that's never stopped them before. If they do happen to pick one of these guys, please remember what a genius I am.