The Orioles added four of their minor league prospects to the 40-man roster on Wednesday afternoon, making sure that those Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects cannot be picked away by another team when the draft commences at the winter meetings next month.
The four prospects whose contracts the team selected are Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Ryan McKenna, and Ryan Mountcastle. One notable name who was left off of the 40-man roster was Cody Sedlock, the O’s top pick in the 2016 draft, whose prospect stock revived somewhat in the first year of the Mike Elias player development era.
Players eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter, with limited exceptions, are those who were 18 or younger who were drafted or signed in 2015 or earlier, or those who were 19 or older when drafted or signed in 2016 or earlier.
Generally, that means 2015 high school draftees like Mountcastle were eligible for the first time, and 2016 college draftees like Akin were as well. Outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz, acquired in the Manny Machado trade along with Kremer and three others, was one of the exceptions, as he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible even though he signed with Los Angeles almost exactly four years ago today.
The quartet of players the O’s added to the roster are all in the top 13 of MLB Pipeline’s most recent top 30 Orioles prospect ranking. Mountcastle is the #4 prospect, with pitchers Kremer and Akin at #8 and #11, respectively, and McKenna at #13.
There were more than a few Orioles fans who would have liked to see Mountcastle added to the roster for September call-ups this season. He’s had an interesting bat ever since the Orioles drafted him in 2015 with the compensation pick they got when Nelson Cruz signed with the Mariners.
The 22-year-old Mountcastle batted .312/.344/.527 for Triple-A Norfolk this season, with 25 home runs in 127 games. Those are solid offensive numbers, especially considering he was young for the level, but it’s still not clear what position he’ll play, and whether he can overcome his low walk rate to find MLB success is uncertain as well.
Kremer, 23, was a 14th round pick out of UNLV by the Dodgers in the 2016 draft. The righty had an injury-shortened 2019 season, missing time early on due to an oblique issue that cropped up in spring training. He spent most of his year at Double-A Bowie, starting 15 games in which he posted a 2.98 ERA and racked up 87 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. He figures to be headed for Triple-A Norfolk next year.
Akin, 24, was already at Norfolk this season. The Orioles drafted him from Western Michigan University in the second round of the 2016 draft. In his full 2019 season at Norfolk, he struck out an impressive 131 batters in 112.1 innings, though there is the downside that he also walked 61.
Noteworthy to me is that Akin only gave up 10 home runs even with the MLB juiced balls appearing at Triple-A this season. In mainstream O’s media articles about his season, there has generally been praise for how he worked on off-speed pitches through the season, with reporters expressing that the team hopes he can earn a rotation spot in 2020.
McKenna, 22, was a bit of a surprise inclusion to me. The 2015 fourth round pick from the New Hampshire high school ranks had a bit of a breakout in 2018, where he wrecked High-A Frederick before scuffling somewhat at Bowie and catching back on fire in the Arizona Fall League. That AFL success did not carry over into 2019 for the outfielder, as he hit just .232/.321/.365 this year.
Not eye-popping, though any time you get a guy whose OBP is 89 points higher than his batting average, that’s at least interesting... if he can raise the batting average, and hit for a little more power. By adding him to the 40-man now, the O’s seem to like his chances to do so some time over the next three years, and they don’t want to give another team a shot at being the one to put the last bit of polish on him.
The O’s had five open 40-man spots, so they could have added a fifth player if they so desired without losing anyone else. In order to make a Rule 5 selection themselves, they do have to leave an open 40-man spot, but the early December tender deadline figures to offer at least one opportunity to shed a player. Maybe they’re more interested in having Richard Bleier around for 2020 than I am after his 2019 performance.
If it was up to me, I would have put Sedlock on there. The O’s chose Sedlock from the University of Illinois with their top pick in the 2016 draft. That was 27th overall, compensation for losing Wei-Yin Chen in free agency, with the O’s making the poor decision to forfeit their own first round pick by signing Yovani Gallardo.
It was a tough road for Sedlock since getting drafted, with 2017 struggles at Frederick being a precursor to a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome. Though he avoided surgery, he only threw 37 innings in 2018. The 24-year-old righty got into 22 games between Frederick and Bowie this season, combining to strike out 100 batters in 95 innings.
Sedlock also walking 46 batters in those 95 innings, along with not having thrown more than 100 innings since 2016, could be why the O’s feel like he’s not going to get chosen by another team. We’ll find out on December 12.
Another player who received some speculation about what the O’s would do with him was Gray Fenter, a 23-year-old righty who the O’s selected from the Arkansas high school ranks and gave an overslot bonus as a seventh round pick. Fenter also ended up needing Tommy John surgery and has developed slowly, still pitching for Low-A Delmarva in 2019.
Fenter had success there, as did many Delmarva pitchers, racking up a 1.81 ERA in 94.1 innings of work. Like other players looked at here, the strikeouts look good as he picked up 123 of them, and the walk rate does not, as he issued 43. It’s not hard to see why the team didn’t choose to protect a player like this, although O’s fans can certainly hope his 2019 rebound is something he can carry forward to higher levels.
The 2020 season will see the regular season active roster expand to 26 players, which could mean that teams will have more of a cushion to keep around a Rule 5 pick.