The Orioles closed out the 2019 winter meetings on Thursday by once again picking two players in the Rule 5 draft. Their two selections were right-handed pitcher Brandon Bailey, from the Astros organization, and right-handed pitcher Michael Rucker, from the Cubs. They had two open 40-man roster spots and made two selections.
Bailey, 25 years old, spent the 2019 season at Double-A, where he posted a 3.30 ERA and 1.219 WHIP across 92.2 innings. That included 103 strikeouts, 41 walks, and 12 home runs allowed. He was originally a sixth round pick by the Athletics in 2016.
Rucker, also 25, was used almost exclusively as a reliever at the Double-A level this season. While his 4.28 ERA won’t make anyone jump for joy, Rucker did strike out 93 batters in 73.2 innings while walking just 25. You can work with a nearly 4/1 strikeout/walk ratio. Rucker was the Cubs 11th round selection in the 2016 draft.
It’s not a huge shock to see the Mike Elias-led Orioles grab a player from the Astros in this draft. Elias has probably got some familiarity with Bailey and may have even been instrumental in his going from Oakland to Houston after the 2017 season.
The Astros, who are deep into a contention window and looking to keep themselves at the top, probably didn’t have 40-man roster space to spend on a pitcher who’s not even yet on the cusp of MLB. Perhaps their loss will be the Orioles gain.
Since being drafted out of Gonzaga, Bailey has struck out 405 batters in 349 professional innings. He has been used as a starter more often than a reliever, including during the most recent season. Pitchers who are striking out a good number of batters already seem to be the type that Elias targets. This was the case in his first O’s draft back in June and in the acquisitions he’s made through trades and now the Rule 5 draft just this month.
Now that the Orioles have Bailey and Rucker, they will need to stay on the active roster - expanding to 26 men for 2020 - for at least 90 days in order for the Orioles to fully acquire the rights to their services. Neither can be sent to the minors until the 2020 season is over without being placed on waivers and then offered back to their original club.
The Orioles managed to keep last year’s Rule 5 pick, Richie Martin, around all season even as he batted just .208/.260/.322 for the year. They had a hole in the infield, no illusions that they were going to compete, and no motivation not to give him a chance.
With the Orioles rotation currently consisting of John Means, Alex Cobb, and Asher Wojciechowski, and no guarantee that Cobb will even be healthy, there’s plenty of room in the starting rotation for the O’s to throw Bailey right into that fire if they wish to do so. Standards weren’t high for the 2019 rotation and things have only gotten more raggedy since Dylan Bundy was traded to the Astros.
If nothing else, Bailey can soak up some innings while the team waits to see whether some of their Triple-A arms like Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, and Dean Kremer are potentially MLB-ready. And maybe if the Orioles are lucky, they’ve found some kind of back-end starter or useful reliever who will stick around and be a part of the next good Orioles team, whenever we are so blessed for there to be another one.
As anyone who watched the 2019 edition of the team knows, there were also plenty of bullpen innings that went to players who have either already shuffled out of the organization or will soon be sent packing if they don’t get it together. Opportunity is there for Rucker to grab a role. While he, too, will have to jump from Double-A to MLB, it can be done.
Bailey and Rucker did not crack MLB Pipeline’s list of 13 names to watch for the Rule 5 draft. Neither one was among Pipeline’s top 30 prospects with his previous club. These facts do not make either one of these players useless or a guaranteed failure.
Considering that the greatest Orioles Rule 5 success story this decade was Ryan Flaherty - with the possibility that Anthony Santander could surpass him if he carries his April-August performance into 2020 - expectations should already have been low for their future value, even with the Orioles selecting second overall.
For what it’s worth, Fangraphs most recent prospect ranking placed Bailey at 26th in the Astros organization, with a 40 future value on the 20-80 scale. That would put Bailey at the same level as MLB-experienced pitchers like Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate, as well as far-from-the-majors guys like lefty Drew Rom and catcher Maverick Handley. Rucker did not place on this Cubs prospect ranking either.
In all, there were 11 players selected in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 draft. The O’s were the only team to select two players. The Orioles did not lose any players to other teams in this phase, so everyone who was holding their breath about Cody Sedlock or Gray Fenter, or for some reason Brett Cumberland or anyone else left unprotected, can exhale and breathe again.