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Rule 5 draft history: Catching up with the class of 2015

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When it comes to the Rule 5 draft, the only thing you sometimes hear about are the rare success stories. But what about the guys who failed with their new team and got sent back down to the minors with their old team?

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Today we take another look at the fascinating exercise that is the Rule 5 draft. Every December, at the very end of the Winter Meetings, the Orioles are one of the most prominent participants in this tradition. In an offseason void of virtually any big moves, the smaller ones like these are scrutinized even more.

The perspective is slightly different this time though, as inspired by a recent article comment courtesy of neveraging:

“It would be a cool analysis to look at Rule 5 draftees who were returned to their original team due to under performance who letter became serviceable Major Leaguers a couple years afterward. Obviously, it is these who should be targeted by a team with no expectation of current success.”

So members of the 2015 Rule 5 draft class were used as a sample group this time around. Of the 16 players selected that year, eight were returned to their original team at some point during the 2016 season. Those are the players we’ll be taking a closer look at:

Jake Cave, Outfielder

After being selected by the Reds in December 2015, he was returned to the Yankees on April 5, 2016. He split the rest of that season between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .268/.330/.427 with a .758 OPS in 426 combined at-bats. The following year, he split his time between the two upper levels of the Yankees farm system again, improving his slash line to .305/.351/.542 with a .893 OPS in 406 at-bats.

He was traded to the Twins in 2018 and has appeared with the big league club in each of the past two seasons. In 283 MLB at-bats in 2018, Cave had a .786 OPS and in 198 at-bats in 2019 that number rose to .805.

Evan Rutckyj, Pitcher

The young left-hander was selected by the Braves, but then returned to the Yankees on March 18, 2016. He only pitched 10 innings in 2016 — between Rookie league, short season Single-A and Double-A — and had a 3.60 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, nine walks and 13 strikeouts. He appeared in one game in 2017, in which he gave up a solo home run in 0.2 innings. He has not pitched since.

Colin Walsh, Second Baseman

He lasted 38 games with the Brewers during the 2016 season, during which he had a .424 OPS. On June 4 Walsh was sent back to the Athletics, from which point forward he had a .772 OPS in 201 Triple-A at-bats. He bounced back in 2017 with a .413 OBP and .848 OPS while playing for three different minor league teams, but he hasn’t played since.

Josh Martin, Pitcher

Martin was returned to the Indians from the Padres on April 12, 2016, and went on to put up good numbers in Triple-A for his original ball club, managing a 3.41 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 66 innings pitched. After a couple of solid seasons, flash forward to 2019, and his ERA ballooned to 6.09 with a 1.79 WHIP.

Chris O’Grady, Pitcher

The Reds sent O’Grady back to the Angels on March 30, 2016. Between Double-A and Triple-A that year, he had a sturdy 3.29 ERA. But more recently, he had a forgettable 2018 in which he threw up a 6.43 ERA across seven major league innings. O’Grady did not pitch in 2019.

Zack Jones, Pitcher

After spending about half of the 2016 season on the Brewers’ injured list, Jones returned to the Twins and pitched between three levels of the minor leagues, compiling a 3.47 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. But since then Jones has struggled, throwing to a 10.50 ERA in 12 minor league innings in 2019.

Blake Smith, Pitcher

The last time Smith was seen on a mound was back in 2016. He was on the Padres roster until March 27, 2016, appearing in five games (4.1 innings) and allowing three runs. After returning to Triple-A in the White Sox system, Smith had a 3.53 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 75 strikeouts in 71.1 innings.

Daniel Stumpf, Pitcher

Stumpf has the rare designation of being a Rule 5 draft pick in consecutive years. He was taken from Kansas City by the Phillies in December 2015, putting up a 10.80 ERA in seven games before returning to post a 3.34 ERA in the Royals’ system. He was selected again in December 2016, going on to pitch 37.2 innings with a 3.82 ERA for the Tigers, where he resides to this day. In three seasons with Detroit, the 28-year-old left-hander has a 4.37 ERA.

Even though he lasted the entire year with his drafting team, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Orioles’ 2015 Rule 5 selection, outfielder Joey Rickard. He never made it big in Baltimore, but he is still hard at work in the Giants organization.

At least from this particular draft class there don’t seem to be any great surprises. There are some returned players who under performed when sent back to the minors and others who did well enough. But it’s also important to note, there are several players from this draft class who seem to be out of baseball entirely.