The Orioles selected the contracts of five of their prospects ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to protect players from this year’s Rule 5 draft, adding them to the 40-man roster and keeping them safe from being picked away. The group of four pitchers and one position player is headlined by top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, and also includes pitchers Noah Denoyer, Seth Johnson, and Drew Rom, as well as infield prospect Joey Ortiz.
The players who will become Rule 5 draft-eligible this year are those who signed at 18 or younger for 2018, or those who signed at 19 or older for 2019. Generally, that means 2017 international amateur signings, 2018 high school draft picks, and 2019 college draft picks who have not already made it onto the 40-man roster. The Rule 5 draft is set for December 7 this year.
With better injury luck, Orioles fans would have already seen their 2018 first round pick Rodriguez on the 40-man roster during the 2022 season. The lat injury he suffered in June prevented that from happening. Rodriguez began the season as one of the game’s best pitching prospects and nothing he did when healthy did anything to change that impression.
In 69.2 innings for Triple-A Norfolk this year, Rodriguez struck out 97 batters, maintaining a K/BB ratio of more than 4.5. He was amazing. If he’d been able to debut, maybe the Orioles would have gotten a wild card spot. I am looking forward to the team benefiting from his presence next year. Hopefully the O’s can find a workload management strategy that lets Rodriguez pitch all year.
Ortiz was the Orioles fourth-round pick out of New Mexico State in the 2019 draft. His time there overlapped with current Oriole Kyle Bradish. The infield prospect made a big leap this year and now has at least one list, FanGraphs, rating him as one of the top 100 prospects in the game. That’s because Ortiz already had a strong defensive reputation and the new 2023 anti-shift regulations will put even more of a premium on players who can play good defense up the middle in the infield. He added some power to his profile this year.
Johnson, 24, is the newest addition to the Orioles system here, arriving from the Rays in the three-team trade that sent Trey Mancini to Houston. He made seven starts at High-A this year before needing Tommy John surgery, which was known at the time of the trade. That’s why Johnson was available even though he’d pushed himself onto some top 100 lists thanks to the substantial improvements he’d been making since converting from shortstop to pitcher in college.
Even with the surgery, Johnson is in the top 10 Orioles prospects with MLB Pipeline. The Rays are the team with the biggest 40-man roster crunch this offseason. Trading Johnson removed one tough choice. The Orioles benefited from having the space to carry an injured pitcher.
Rom, who turns 23 next month, joined the Orioles organization in that same 2018 draft as Rodriguez. He was the fourth round pick, receiving an overslot bonus from the then-O’s brain trust. The lefty pitcher has steadily climbed the minor league ranks, with scouts believing he has a projectable frame, meaning he’d add velocity as he matured. That seems to have started happening this year. Rom struck out 144 batters in 120 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season.
Denoyer might be the most surprising addition out of this group of players if only because he had pretty much no prospect stock before the season began. The undrafted free agent from 2019 pitched for High-A and Double-A this season, striking out a combined 99 batters in 71.2 innings. Not bad, although at 24 he was certainly old for those levels. Denoyer also just spent time in the Arizona Fall League, adding 21 strikeouts in 20 innings with a 4.50 ERA in six games.
In each of the last two years before this, the Orioles added six prospects to the 40-man roster ahead of this deadline. With the exception of last year’s addition of Kevin Smith, all of them have gone on to play for the team. That’s what we should expect for all of these guys, as well, even if Rodriguez is the only one of these guys who figures to waltz onto the Opening Day roster and we don’t know when we’ll see the rest.
By protecting five prospects when they had six open spots on the 40-man roster, the Orioles have kept a spot open to make a Rule 5 draft pick of their own in a few weeks time. We’ll see on December 7 whether they have any of their own players picked. Two years ago, they didn’t protect reliever Zach Pop and lost him in the draft. Due to the lockout, there was no Rule 5 draft last year, so the O’s players left unprotected a year ago never had a chance to be taken.