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Orioles select two players, including Ben McDonald’s nephew, in Rule 5 draft

The Orioles made another pair of picks in this year’s Rule 5 draft. One of them is Ben McDonald’s nephew. They also lost two players.

2020 Grape Fruit League Media Availability Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Orioles continued their recent tradition of trying to mine talent for the team out of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday afternoon. The team once again made a pair of selections. With their first choice, the Orioles took pitcher Mac Sceroler from the Reds. Sceroler is the nephew of former Oriole and current MASN Broadcaster Ben McDonald. They also made a second selection, grabbing Twins minor league pitcher Tyler Wells.

Sceroler was a fifth round pick by the Reds in the 2017 draft. He spent the most recent minor league season, 2019, at the High-A level, where he pitched out of the rotation. This was his age 24 season, so he was old for the level. Still, there was some decent results there, with Sceroler striking out 127 batters in 117 innings, with a strikeout/walk ratio of 4.38. That is something, although not enough that Sceroler was listed on even deep Reds prospects lists prior to the 2020 season.

Wells was picked by the Twins in the 15th round of the 2016 draft. He made his way up to the Double-A level by the end of the 2018 season, but he had to get Tommy John surgery in May of 2019, so he hasn’t pitched in an organized game since then. That’s probably why he was made available here.

The 6’8” Wells was listed by Fangraphs under “depth starters” in the Twins system before 2020, noting “his pitches have tough angle because of his size and arm slot.” Between High-A and Double-A in 2018, he struck out 121 batters in 119.1 innings, with a strikeout/walk ratio of 3.90.

In a post-draft call with Orioles reporters, the team’s director of pro scouting, Mike Snyder, said that the team was “drawn to the four-pitch mixes” of both Sceroler and Wells. He cited Sceroler as specifically having a “plus splitter,” and called Wells “a 6-8 monster.”

The draft also comes at a cost to the Orioles, at least for now. Immediately after they made their selection, the Diamondbacks chose reliever Zach Pop from the O’s. Pop, part of the Manny Machado trade in July 2018, had Tommy John surgery and had not pitched since early in the 2019 season, so teams haven’t seen him in organized games since then. That may make it tougher for him to stick, or it may not.

Pop was the player I figured was most likely to be picked away from the Orioles, and sure enough, that’s what has happened. Later in the day, Pop was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Marlins in exchange for a player to be named later. The Marlins will have to follow the same Rule 5 process to retain Pop’s rights beyond next season. Miami made a selection of its own in the draft, grabbing pitcher Paul Campbell from the Rays. The Marlins join the Orioles, Athletics, and Pirates as teams with two Rule 5 picks out of this draft.

The Orioles also lost a second player, Gray Fenter, to the Cubs later in the draft. Fenter has not yet pitched above Low-A Delmarva as a professional. It would surprise me if he is able to stick on a major league roster for that reason, but you never know. Fenter was originally an O’s seventh round pick in 2015, so this is actually his second time being Rule 5 eligible.

Sceroler and Wells are now in the Orioles organization, subject to the usual Rule 5 draft restrictions. That means that each will have to remain on the active roster all the way through the end of the 2021 season in order for the Orioles to fully control his rights. They cannot send either one to the minors. Otherwise, they must be offered back to their original team for $50,000, which is half of the price of making a Rule 5 pick.

A Rule 5 player can spend time on the injured list, but if he’s not active for at least 90 days, his Rule 5 restrictions will roll over to the next season. This was a factor for the Orioles after they chose Anthony Santander in the 2016 Rule 5 draft. He spent too much time on what was then called the disabled list that the O’s had to carry him on the roster to begin the 2018 season as well.

Players who were eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year were those who signed at 18 or younger where this is the fifth Rule 5 draft since signing, or the fourth Rule 5 draft since signing for players who were 19 or older. In general, that means high school picks from 2016 and college picks from 2017. Teams could protect players who are eligible by putting them on the 40-man roster, as the Orioles did with six players in November.

Mike Elias has now chosen five players in this draft in the three drafts since he became the general manager of the Orioles. 2018 pick Richie Martin remains in the club’s infield mix, though he batted just .208/.260/.322 in 102 games in 2019 and will need to show more if he’s ever going to be more than a utility option at best. 2019 picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker were returned to their original teams last March, prior to spring training being shut down.

Santander stands as the current success story for the Orioles with the Rule 5 draft. Having not played above High-A before the O’s drafted him, Santander was not any kind of ready for MLB at the time, but the O’s under Dan Duquette stuck with him and once they could do so they sent him to the minors. Last year, Santander emerged as an interesting player.

As Sceroler and Wells are both older prospects already, I think we will have a pretty good idea of whether they might ever contribute by the end of the next season. We could have an idea sooner than that if Elias decides that he has seen enough and returns them to their original teams.

Under Elias’s predecessor Dan Duquette, the Rule 5 draft also brought in O’s franchise legends Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, and Joey Rickard. None of those guys are actual legends, obviously, but if the O’s can pick a useful role player off from another organization, that’s not a bad outcome even if it’s not a very exciting one. It’d mean one fewer spot they have to fill internally.