The Rule 5 draft is like another Christmas for the Orioles front office, only instead of opening their own presents, they get to open up other teams’ presents and keep it all for themselves. You can understand why this draft is so exciting for the O’s when they’ve gotten players like Ryan Flaherty and Joey Rickard in the draft. That was sarcasm just there.
The 2016 edition of the draft saw the Orioles take two players in the MLB phase. They grabbed a pair of outfielders. With the regular pick that everyone expected them to make, they grabbed 24-year-old Aneury Tavarez from the Red Sox organization. Then, just because they could and because they’re the Orioles, they picked a second player after everyone else was done: 22-year-old Anthony Santander from the Indians.
If you have never heard of either one of these players, that’s OK, because you could have scoured either team’s top 30 prospects before the draft and you wouldn’t have found either one. A beat writer on Twitter optimistically described this as “the O’s do their research.” Yes, that’s one way of looking at it. Probably not the right way, but it’s a way.
And anyway, that’s not even correct, because Santander ranked #30 on the Indians prospect list. The Orioles drafted a top prospect, you guys! Let’s go celebrate.
So who are these guys? With the O’s picking two different corner outfielders, one more experienced and one raw, it’s a lot like the Rule 5 draft that brought the Orioles both Logan Verrett and Jason Garcia. Verrett was the lower-upside, closer-to-the-bigs pitcher, while Garcia was the raw prospect.
Tavarez has at least played some games at Triple-A, although the bulk of the most recent season was spent at Double-A Portland, where he batted .335/.379/.506. That included 13 triples, more than double the number of triples of the 2016 Orioles.
The lefty has played almost exclusively right field over his minor league career, though he’s played a bit of left field and center field. He stole 20 bases this past season, which is something that sounds impressive until you get to the part where he was caught stealing 11 times.
That’s the kind of stolen base rate where a player should not be stealing bases, ever. Hey, he’ll fit right in on the Orioles!
The thing about Tavarez is that he’s never had anything like that kind of success at the plate at any of his other stops in the minors. So the Orioles are probably taking a chance that maybe Tavarez’s breakout is for real and lasting. I’m quite confident that they’ll spend more money for a worse reason before the offseason is done. I’m not so confident that a Double-A breakout at age 24 will carry over to MLB success the next season.
If the Orioles strike out or cheap out on any attempt to sign or trade for a real right fielder over the course of this offseason, Tavarez could be the Opening Day right fielder. No offense meant to the guy, but I sure hope that’s not what happens.
Is the picking of two outfielders a sign that the O’s aren’t planning to get a real outfielder with MLB experience? Not necessarily. Even for a Rule 5-loving team like the Orioles, they’re not that crazy. They had open 40-man spots and they took two guys. If they don’t keep them - though we know the O’s love to try to keep them - it costs them little.
Santander is the head-scratcher, because he’s never played above the High-A level before. Which makes him the Garcia in our “repeat two years ago, only with outfielders” scenario. Whether it means the Orioles are more likely to keep him is another story.
The switch-hitting Santander is another guy who just enjoyed what he Orioles are presumably betting is a lasting 2016 breakout. He batted .290/.368/.494 over 128 games in the High-A Carolina League. That included 20 home runs, a power surge for the first time in his career. I think we can all guess that’s what got the attention of the Orioles.
Santander has also been exclusively a corner outfielder in his career, playing more left field than right and no center at all. That seems to be a sign that the O’s couldn’t - or at least, shouldn’t - stash him on the roster and call him the fourth outfielder, because he isn’t someone who can give Adam Jones a little rest in center field.
Sounding off on his new players to Orioles reporters, GM Dan Duquette divulged that Santander had right shoulder surgery but the Orioles “weren’t discouraged.” There’s also this:
Duquette said Santander reminds him a bit of Victor Martinez in terms of hitting approach. #orioles— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) December 8, 2016
I actually laughed out loud.
As we’re plenty familiar with by now, the Rule 5 draft picks must stay on the team’s 25-man roster for the whole season or be offered back to his original team. You can also hide them on the disabled list with a real injury for roughly half of the season.
What does it mean for last year’s Rule 5 pick, outfielder Joey Rickard? Well, the thing about keeping a Rule 5 guy on the roster all year is that at the end of the year, you have full control of his rights. So the Orioles can now use up three option years for Rickard, if they so desire. Going out of their way to pick two outfielders in this year’s Rule 5 gives one the idea that they will so desire.
The Orioles did not lose any players themselves in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 draft. That’s not surprising, since they’d have to first have non-40-man players who other teams could convince themselves were near-MLB-ready.
There were 16 other players taken. O’s division rivals were raided more heavily. The Red Sox lost two players, including Tavarez, while the Yankees had four players taken. Division foe Toronto got the best-named player drafted: Glenn Sparkman.
By the way, Duquette has been outdone by the Padres, who made one selection of their own and then traded for two other teams selections. Let’s not give Duquette any more ideas, OK, Padres?
The Orioles also took a couple of players in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and I’m not going to spend even 1% effort to pretend either one might ever matter. One of them is B.J. Surhoff’s nephew: lefty pitcher Brian Moran, who is not the same Brian Moran I knew in elementary school.