In ordinary circumstances, the Rule 5 draft doesn’t matter very much. A team that diligently makes selections, as the Orioles have done first under Dan Duquette and now under Mike Elias, might eventually get lucky and pick a player who has a modestly successful season in the near future. Last year’s pick of Tyler Wells looks like it might have found a useful piece of the back end of a good bullpen. This is not nothing, but it’s also not very consequential. Already good teams aren’t filling holes in the Rule 5 draft.
Even less significant than the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft is the minor league phase of the draft. My default stance on the minor league Rule 5 is that it’s not even worth talking about. Here are the three players selected by the Orioles in last year’s minor league Rule 5: Rickey Ramirez, Chris Hudgins, and Ignacio Feliz.
As a person who wrote about Orioles prospects regularly, I can tell you that neither Ramirez nor Hudgins ever did anything to stick in my memory at all. Feliz was mildly interesting for having a 1.05 ERA in 43 innings at Low-A Delmarva as a 21-year-old, and then less interesting for walking 17 batters in 18.1 innings after a promotion to High-A Aberdeen. You have to get pretty deep on a list of Orioles prospects to get to Feliz’s name.
These are not ordinary circumstances for baseball news. The ongoing ownership lockout of the players has got us in a news drought with no end in sight. The MLB part of the Rule 5 draft is postponed during the lockout, but the minor league phase was still a go. It took place on Wednesday afternoon.
With the understanding that probably none of these players will ever end up having any impact on the Orioles rebuilding project, here are the guys they came away with in this year’s minor league Rule 5. If the Orioles are lucky, maybe one of these guys will be worth mentioning on his own merits in discussion of O’s minor leaguers with talent a year from now.
RHP Nolan Hoffman
The Orioles kicked off the draft by selecting the 24-year-old reliever from the Mariners system. Hoffman was a fifth round pick by Seattle in the 2018 draft out of Texas A&M, so he became Rule 5 eligible this year along with all of the other 2018 college picks. His pro career was knocked off course by needing Tommy John surgery early in 2019, then his return from rehab was delayed by the pandemic canceling the 2020 minor league season.
The result of that is Hoffman only made it above the Low-A level just this year, his age 23 season. He pitched at Low-A and High-A on the season, with a combined 3.53 ERA over 51 innings. He struck out 55 batters while walking just 14. That’s a solid ratio. One thing that stands out looking at his pro career stats is that he’s allowed only two home runs in 84.1 innings. He is a side-armer. Those guys are always fun.
RHP Cole Uvila
Uvila, a right-handed reliever, will turn 28 next month, which is pretty old to still call a guy a prospect. Then again, the O’s modest Rule 5 success Wells was in his age 26 season for 2021. It’s not like there’s a lot of young, high-ceiling talent available in the Rule 5 or especially the minor league Rule 5. Uvila was a 40th round pick by the Rangers in the 2018 draft, selected from Georgia Gwinnett College.
The righty began the 2021 season at the Double-A level, where he posted a 2.20 ERA in 23 games. That came with an impressive 42 strikeouts against 14 walks. It’s a lot of walks for 31 innings. Still, this earned Uvila a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock, where things went... much less well. Uvila pitched 16 games for the Express and had an 8.74 ERA there. Ouch! His K/9 plummeted to 7.1 and his BB/9 ballooned to 6.4.
Uvila has done some work at Driveline Baseball this offseason. It seems that the Orioles may have noticed and liked what they saw.
The minor league Rule 5 draft has the same rules as the MLB Rule 5 as far as who is eligible for the draft. For this year, that’s broadly 2017 high school picks and 2018 college picks. There is a separate Triple-A “roster” where teams can protect up to 38 players who are not on the 40-man roster. A team with a full 38 on its Triple-A protection list can’t make any selections.
The Orioles entered today with 36 players protected, so they were eligible to make two selections. That’s how many they made. If they had lost any players, they could have made an additional pick. There were no O’s minor leaguers taken in the draft.
Best of luck to Hoffman and Uvila now that they’re in the Orioles system. I hope one or both can prove my snark about the pointlessness of the minor league Rule 5 draft wrong.