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Five Rule 5 prospects for the Orioles to consider

Let’s hope a day comes when the O’s don’t need to rely on the Rule 5 draft. But that day isn’t today and Baltimore has the first pick. They should utilize this option again.

Oakland Athletics Photo Day
SS Richie Martin, Oakland’s #12 prospect
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Dan Duquette era in Baltimore has sparked a fun little tradition for this time of the year: looking at a list of players eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft. (Complete rules found here in case you don’t have the Rule 5 book memorized like Duquette.) Which player who isn’t ready for the major leagues will the Orioles attempt to stash on their active roster for a whole year? Fun!

To be fair, Duquette’s constant attempts at finding major league talent through any means possible is one of the reasons why the Orioles led the American League in wins from 2012-2017. It makes sense for a mid-market team like Baltimore, who can’t (or won’t) compete for top free agents to explore Rule 5 options. And there were some success stories. Ryan Flaherty played a meaningful role on winning teams. T.J. McFarland was an above-replacement level player for the 2014 AL East Champions. Anthony Santander is still a prospect.

But there have been plenty of busts, which forced Buck Showalter to carry players who can’t contribute at the highest level and essentially play with less than a 25-man roster. Duquette was roundly, and appropriately, criticized for attempting to carry three Rule 5 players on the 2018 to start a season in which he expected to contend. Let’s hope that the arrival of Mike Elias signals the end of that silliness.

But O’s fans shouldn’t overlook the Rule 5 draft just yet. First of all, they are fully in rebuilding mode; wins and losses won’t mean much in 2019. That gives them a little more flexibility in giving an opportunity to a player who isn’t quite ready for the majors. Secondly, they will have the first selection in this year’s Rule 5 draft. They will have their pick of all unprotected players. Given the situation, it would be crazy for Elias and the O’s to not select a player.

With players of a certain service time needing protected on 40 man rosters last Tuesday, we now know which players are available to be selected by Baltimore. Below is an early look at five players the Orioles should consider.

Richie Martin- SS, Athletics, Age 23

Martin may be the best Rule 5 fit for the Orioles. The former Florida Gator was the A’s first round selection (20th overall) in the 2015 draft. He just completed his third full professional season and spent the entire campaign at AA Midland. There he slashed .300/.368/.439. He fits the profile of a light-hitting middle infielder, swatting only six home runs, but he stole twenty-five bases. Martin did struggle with the bat prior to this season; his OPS in his previous two seasons were .649 and .643. He is currently the number 12 prospect in the A’s system.

The appeal of Martin is that his defense has always been his calling card. If that aspect of his game is ready for the majors, which some scouts say it is, he could easily be carried all season as a late-inning defensive substitution. His speed could also be utilized in pinch-running situations. Somebody needs to be the backup shortstop and defensive specialist with Tim Beckham being a non-tender candidate. As the roster stands now, that role would be filled by Breyvic Valera. It would make sense to instead give that job to a former first rounder whose offense finally caught up with his glove last season.

Tyler Jay- LHP, Twins, Age 24

Jay was also selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, going sixth overall out of the University of Illinois. He served as a closer for the Illini, but the Twins made him a starter at the outset of his pro career. Injuries have derailed his career to this point and he was moved back to the bullpen in 2017. After spending time on the disabled list in April, he finished the season healthy. The numbers were average in 2018 at AA: 4.22 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 7.4 K/9. He is currently the Twins’ number 22 prospect.

Selecting Jay would be a gamble that one of the trendiest pitching prospects in the 2015 draft returns to form. While his strikeout numbers last season were concerning, they were better in previous seasons. Jay has not pitched above the AA level, but he has an impressive fastball/slider combination that could be effective in the majors right now. He is also a lefty. The Orioles could make him the bullpen’s mop-up man if they think he wouldn’t be embarrassed.

Kean Wong- 2B, Rays, Age 23

Yes, it’s Kolten’s brother. Wong was selected in the fourth round of the 2013, but was never looked upon favorably by prospect rankings. But he has hit throughout his minor league career and some scouts say that his bat is MLB ready. His .283/.335/.368 career slash line and 22 career homers illustrate the hitter he is: not much pop but he gets on base a decent rate and has a tendency to hit the ball hard. His pop increased during 2018 in a full season at AAA Durham; he hit nine home runs and slugged a career high .406.

Wong doesn’t appear to be a future star, but he could provide solid infield depth for an Orioles system that lacks it. He can’t play shortstop, but he played third base and outfield in 2018. Having spent a full season at AAA, he is ready for the majors. He would be a safe Rule 5 selection.

Art Warren- RHP, Mariners, Age 25

Warren was all the rage at this time last year after throwing 11.1 scoreless Arizona Fall League innings. He was assigned to AA to start 2018, but injuries held him to just 15.2 innings pitched. Warren was selected in the 23rd round in the 2015 draft out of college and is currently the M’s number 17 prospect.

Warren has rare stuff for a minor league reliever: a fastball that touches 98 MPH, a slider with intense bite, and the ability to throw a curveball and a changeup. Some scouts say that this four-pitch pitcher could help many MLB bullpens right now and could potentially fit in as a back-end arm. But is Warren ready for the workload of a full MLB season after dealing with injuries? The potential payoff is worth finding out.

Tyler Alexander- LHP, Tigers, Age 24

Alexander went from being selected in the 23rd round of the 2013 draft (out of high school) to being the Tigers’ number 24 prospect currently. His minor league ERA is 3.75, but it was 4.79 in 92 AAA innings last season. He has never struck many batters out (7 K/9 in his career) but he has fantastic control (1.4 BB/9).

On the surface, Alexander reminds me of another O’s Rule 5 selection: T.J. McFarland. That isn’t necessarily a compliment, but Alexander has some talent, throws strikes, and has spent time in AAA. This would be a low upside pick when the rebuilding O’s can afford to take a chance on a more talented, but less experienced, player. But Alexander is young, controllable, and could help in 2019. The organization isn’t oozing with players like that currently.

Several outlets have posted lists of top players available in December’s Rule 5 draft. You can check them out here, here, and here. Who do you think would be the best fit for the Orioles?

My idea of a perfect world in 2023 consists of the Orioles being annually competitive, having a loaded talent pipeline, and not having to worry about the Rule 5 draft. But right now it makes sense for the O’s to dive into this draft and any of the above players could help them.