Major League Baseball’s annual Rule 5 Draft, held on the last day of the Winter Meetings, confuses many, displaces some and pleases few. Below is a primer on the draft and how it affects the Mets this year.
HOW DOES THE DRAFT WORK?
Named for its place in the Official Professional Baseball Rules Book, the draft was created to prevent teams from stockpiling young talent in their minor league system, and instead exposes them to selection by other clubs. The current rules require teams to “protect” players from the draft by placing them on the major league reserve list (more commonly known as the 40-man roster; those terms will be used interchangeably) after either four (if the player was 18 or younger on the June 5 immediately preceding the date he signed his first contract) or three (if the player was 19 or older) Rule 5 drafts have passed since the player signed his first minor league contract. Make sense?
If not, look at it this way. This year, first-time eligible players were generally either college draft picks in 2014, or high school draft picks and international signings in 2013. Players who have gone unselected in the past remain eligible until they hit minor league free agency or are added to the 40-man roster.
This year, the Mets had a few options as to who they would protect ahead of Thursday’s draft, but the four players ultimately chosen were relievers Tyler Bashlor and Gerson Bautista, infielder Luis Guillorme and starting pitcher Corey Oswalt. Since it’s unlikely that any of those players will break camp with the Mets next spring, each of them will technically be playing as major leaguers on optional assignment to the minor leagues in 2018.
In choosing the aforementioned four players to join the 40-man roster, the Mets are exposing over 45 players to selection the Rule 5 Draft. Some of the more notable players that fall into this category include breakout relief prospect Adonis Uceta, knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, and former top prospects Wuilmer Becerra and Jhoan Urena. Becerra spent the 2017 season on the Mets’ 40-man roster but was outrighted off it in October.
If a player is selected (which can only happen if a team has an open spot on their 40-man roster), the drafting team must pay the player’s original team a $100,000 fee. The player must then remain on his new team’s active (25-man) roster for the entirety of the upcoming season, or else he gets offered back to his original team for a $50,000 fee.
Teams may choose a player or pass on their selection, and teams that do make a pick will be offered another choice in the second round. This continues until all teams have passed on a selection.
WHAT ABOUT THE MINOR LEAGUE PHASE?
Following the major league phase of the draft, the minor league phase is held (the separate Triple-A and Double-A phases were eliminated following the 2015 draft). Players eligible for selection in this round are those who were left off of the major league reserve list and the organization’s Triple-A reserve list (which has a limit of 38). Note that players placed on the Triple-A reserve list are not necessarily Triple-A players. These players incur a $24,000 fee and are not returned for any reason. Notable Mets who can be selected in this phase are Jayce Boyd, Nicolas Debora, Ben Griset, and Jose Carlos Medina.
HOW IS THE ORDER DETERMINED?
It’s the same as the First Year Player Draft, in reverse order from the previous year’s standings. However, the fact that some teams have full 40-man rosters and can’t make Rule 5 picks adjusts the order slightly. The Mets will pick sixth as of now, but since the San Francisco Giants, owners of baseball’s second-worst record, have a full major league reserve list, the Mets will most likely make the fifth choice. In addition, teams can simply pass on their selection.
WHO COULD THE METS LOSE?
WHO COULD THE METS TAKE?
It’s almost impossible to tell how the Draft will shake out, given each team’s unique needs and scouting agendas. However, there do appear to be some areas in which the Mets could improve their roster by making a selection.
Although the Mets have one open spot on their 40-man roster, they aren’t obligated to choose a player in the Draft. They could opt to save the spot for a major league free agent, although this could be an opportunity to add much needed healthy pitching depth.
From that perspective, Arizona’s Brad Keller, Baltimore’s John Means and Toronto’s Jordan Romano could prove to be effective back-end starters or long relievers. Romano, in particular, owns a mid-90s fastball, high-80s slider, and a developing changeup that the Blue Jays hope can counteract some of his struggles against left-handed batters.
Angels reliever Damien Magnifico, a former unsigned draft pick of the Mets, has four games of major league experience and has been clocked at 100 mph, and those who light up radar guns are always worth taking a flier on in this setting.
As far as position players go, it would be wise for the Mets to look at available outfielders, considering there are only four primary outfielders on the current 40-man roster, and Michael Conforto’s shoulder may not be 100% at the start of the season. Arizona’s Victor Reyes, Houston’s Jason Martin, and the Cubs’ Charcer Burks are toolsy and relatively close to the majors, having all played at Double-A this past season.
Atlanta’s Dustin Peterson, a former third-round pick who was acquired from San Diego in the Justin Upton deal in 2014, likely gets taken early. The caution here is that he missed time this past season with a broken hamate bone, an injury that diminishes power significantly.
The overall goal of the draft is not for teams to find a star, as the odds of that happening are less than slim to none. Rather, if a team identifies an available player who can adequately patch a need, such as middle relief or utility infielder, the risk is low enough to be worth a shot.
WHAT HAVE THE METS DONE IN THE DRAFT RECENTLY?
The Mets did not select or lose a player in the major league phase of the 2016 draft, but lost southpaws Paul Paez and Adrian Almeida in the minor league phase to the Mariners and Angels, respectively. Paez was released in July while Almeida recorded a 5.31 ERA across 27 appearances in Low-A.
The Mets passed on their selection in 2015, but lost Matthew Bowman to the Cardinals. Bowman was a promising pitching prospect in the system after the Mets took him out of Princeton in 2012, but they believed they could sneak him through the draft following a down year in Las Vegas. In the two seasons since, Bowman has made 134 appearances as an effective reliever for St. Louis. In the minor league phase, the Mets lost RHP Octavio Acosta and SS Alfredo Reyes.
2014 saw both a selection and loss by the Mets. They took LHP Sean Gilmartin from the Twins, who ended up sticking on the active roster for the entire 2015 season. Currently in the Cardinals organization, Gilmartin made one appearance in the World Series for the Mets. Logan Verrett was taken by the Orioles, but he was claimed by the Rangers and was eventually returned to the Mets on May 4. Verrett would eventually end up back on Baltimore this past season, appearing in four games.