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Potential targets for the Rays in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft

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Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day
Kevin Gadea #54 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For those unaware of the date, the MLB Rule 5 draft will take place during the upcoming Winter Meetings on Dec 14th, 2017. There isn’t a team out that wouldn’t like to land an elite player through this draft.

Maybe the next Johan Santana, as the Twins did in 1999. Or maybe it could be the next Jose Bautista (2003), Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria (2006), Ender Inciarte (2012) or Delino Deshields (2014).

However, the truth of the matter is that for the vast majority of the selections made, few ever make a significant impact on the MLB club, let alone become an elite caliber player. With that said, sometimes the piece acquired can become a long-term assets to its acquiring team.

An example from last season’s draft is Luis Torrens, who the Padres added from the Reds after the draft in return for infielder Josh VanMeter. Torrens has since made the jump to MLB and now stands as the backup to Austin Hedges.

In the same draft, selecting 4th overall, the Rays selected Kevin Gadea from the Mariners. It may have been hard for Gadea to remain on the roster to begin the 2017 season, but as Jake Bensky suggested here on DRB, an injury may have solidified his staying on with the Rays. His elbow issues allowed the Rays to place him on the 60-day DL, and to eventually activate him from the DL in October while out-righting him to AAA Durham.

While it’s true that Gadea had no impact on the 2017 Rays (he only managed 4.1 innings in Spring Training), a successful return to health in 2018 could be to the benefit of the Rays who gain depth in a pen that may already be facing a lot of change with the possible and rumoured departure of their closer, Alex Colome.

The Rays also selected RHP Ty Hensley (Yankees) and RHP Jairo Munoz (Phillies) last year in the AAA portion of the draft, showing more activity overall than most years. Hensley in particular is an interesting selection because he spent the entire season on the DL, just as Gadea did, something the Rays were aware would happen when they selected him. Hensley was activated in September and assigned to Bowling Green (-A) while Munoz has since become a minor league free agent.

With this in mind, and the knowledge that gems have in fact been found while sifting through Rule 5 eligible players, let’s take a peak at 7 options that may be of interest to the Rays when - and if - they make a selection in this year’s edition (not in order of preference).

OF Charcer Burks - 22 yrs old - 6’0” 170 lbs - Cubs

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AA (121 games)
  • 2017 Stats: in AA (fangraphs)

535 PA / 21 DB / 3 TR / 10 HR / 69 BB / 107 SO, line of .270 /.370 /.395

.125 ISO / .329 BAbip / .357 wOBA / 125 wRC+

Managed a fairly even .798 OPS vs LHP and .752 OPS vs RHP

  • Ranked: 22nd best Cubs Prospect by MLB.com
  • Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 40 | Run: 60 | Arm: 40 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45
  • Notes from MLB.com:

“After showing promising on-base ability earlier in his pro career, he began to hit the ball with more authority in 2016 and more consistency in 2017. He has some wiry strength and while he won't be a major home run threat, he stings the ball enough to keep pitchers honest. Club officials praise his makeup.”

Fit with Rays: While the Rays have an entire army of arms coming up through the system, ready to help out, what they lack is near-MLB ready talent in the outfield. In 2017, that led to the additions of Colby Rasmus, Jason Coats, and Mallex Smith, two of which could still have an impact in 2018, as could prospect Johnny Field.

What the Rays would gain in Burks is a player who may not have reached his full potential yet. The patience he shows at the plate is encouraging, and his ability to hit well against both LHP and RHP make him a potential decent 4th outfielder option as he’d also provide speed off the bench.

One thing Burks lacks is a great projection in terms of power, and although he may not have the patience at the plate of someone like Burks, the next option has shown more power overall.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Glendale Desert Dogs at Scottsdale Scorpions Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

OF Jason Martin - 22 yrs old - 5’11” 190 lbs - Astros

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AA (79 games)
  • 2017 Stats: in AA (fangraphs)

300 AB / 35 DB / 5 TR / 18 HR / 19 BB / 82 SO, line of .273 /.319 /.483

.210 ISO / .343 BAbip / .357 wOBA / 121 wRC+

vs RHP in AA (235 AB) he managed an OPS of .876

  • Ranked: 15th best Astros Prospect by MLB.com
  • Scouting grades: (MLB.com) Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 55 | Arm: 40 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Notes from MLB.com:

“Martin's hitting ability stands out more than his pop, as he works counts while using a compact left-handed swing to hit line drives to all fields. He does have at least average raw power and is starting to turn on more pitches, so he could become a 15-homer threat in the big leagues. He has solid speed and is improving as a basestealer.”

From BA: Noted that Scouts love his makeup and aptitude

Fit with Rays: What they’d gain in Martin is a player who may not have reached his full potential yet and has shown more power than most expected. If that surge in power is coupled with improved base-stealing abilities, as noted above, he’d have real potential as a decent bench option/4th outfielder. If looking at potential ceiling between Martin and Burks, the Rays may be more tempted by Martin than Burks.

C Taylor Gushue - 23 yrs old - 6’1” 215 lbs - Nationals

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AA (4 games), played 91 games in +A
  • 2017 Stats: +A (fangraphs)

376 PA / 9 DB / 0 TR / 18 HR / 41 BB / 88 SO, line of .241 /.327 /.437

.195 ISO / .267 BAbip / .339 wOBA / 111 wRC+

vs RHP in +A (235 AB) he managed an OPS of .815

  • Ranked: 23rd best Nationals Prospect by MLB.com
  • Scouting Grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 30 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
  • Notes from MLB.com:

“Gushue is a switch-hitter and has a quick, compact swing from both sides of the plate. His power has improved in each of his four Minor League campaigns, and scouts believe he'll offer at least average power once fully developed. He does most of his damage from the left side of the plate, where he balances a mature approach with some feel to hit and above-average raw power. Defensively, the big-bodied catcher is a capable, durable receiver with an average arm and a quick release. He still has some gains to make with his pitch framing and block, though Nationals club officials have been pleased with his progress this season.”

Fit with Rays: If - and honestly when - the Rays lose Nick Ciuffo in the upcoming draft, there will be a hole to fill near the upper echelon of the minors for the Rays. One of the contenders for AA catching duties, David Rodriguez, struggled in 2017, and may need some more time in Migh-A before making the leap.

Adding Gushue, along with one or two veteran catchers that can provide depth in AAA on minors - or two way - deals makes some sense. I don’t think he ends up being as good as Ciuffo long-term, but he may be capable of providing above-average power with average abilities behind the plate.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1B Ryan O’Hearn - 24 yrs old - 6’3” 200 lbs - Royals

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AAA (114 games)
  • 2017 Stats: in AAA (fangraphs)

463 AB / 26 DB / 1 TR / 18 HR / 45 BB / 119 SO, line of .252 /.325 /.450

.199 ISO / .309 BAbip / .338 wOBA / 99 wRC+

vs RHP had an OPS of .775, and vs LHP had an OPS of .778

Notes from MLB.com:

“No longer asked to serve pitches to the opposite field like he was in college, O'Hearn now concentrates on driving the ball. He generates well above-average raw power with strength and leverage, and he can hit the ball out of the park to all fields. His left-handed swing gets long and he has an aggressive approach, resulting in a lot of strikeouts, though he has shown a willingness to take walks.”

From BA (ranked 8th pre-2017): Noted that O’Hearn was the best homegrown option to earn the starting spot at 1B should Eric Hosmer depart in 2018.

Fit with Rays: Hosmer isn’t the only 1B leaving his team in 2018, and the departure of Logan Morrison has left a hole at 1B for the Rays. Not only did the Rays lose LoMo this offseason, but they also dealt Casey Gillaspie to the White Sox in return for LHP RP Dan Jennings, and also lost Patrick Leonard (who could man 1B) to the same team as a minor league free agent.

While Brad Miller may be able to take that job for himself, and Jake Bauers figures to give it a shot post-June, it would make sense for the Rays to not depend on that. Miller has dealt with surgery and core issues recently, and some still question whether Bauers’ power will be enough to be a regular at 1B. O’Hearn would be ready to chip in as early as 2018 and would also provide a potential DH option, both in AAA and MLB.

1B Gavin LaValley - 22 yrs old - 6’3” 235 lbs - Reds

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AA (67 games)
  • 2017 Stats: Combined +A and AA (milb.com)

483 AB / 30 DB / 0 TR / 18 HR / 34 BB / 116 SO, line of .269 /.318 /.443

.250 ISO +A, .101 AA / .391 wOBA +A, .304 in AA / 150 wRC+ in +A, 90 in AA

vs RHP in AA (188 AB) he managed an OPS of .604

Notes from MLB.com:

“the corner infielder worked hard to get his body in shape, and it paid off. His approach is improving, and he's becoming a better all-around hitter. That, in turn, is allowing his over-the-fence power to start showing up more consistently. He's played both infield corners and is below average at third but slightly above-average at first, where he's likely to stick if he develops into an everyday player.”

Fit with Rays: As noted above, the Rays may be in the market for 1B depth, and LaValley fits the bill. His fielding abilities at the positions are what’s most intriguing when combined with his power. While he did struggle once moved up to AA, the Rays wouldn’t need him to be a candidate for AAA duties until Bauers gets promoted (we assume).

Here’s a short video of Gavin hitting for the Daytona Tortugas.

RHP Brad Keller - 22 yrs old - 6’5” 230 lbs - Diamondbacks

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AA (26 Starts)
  • 2017 Stats: in AA (fangraphs)

130.2 IP / 142 hits / 57 BB / 111 SO / 7 HR / 1.52 Whip

.210 ISO / .343 BAbip / .357 OBA / 121 wRC+

vs RHP in AA (235 AB) he managed an OPS of .876

  • Ranked: 12th best Diamondbacks Prospect by MLB.com
  • Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45

Notes from MLB.com:

“He can throw downhill from his 6-foot-5 frame with a ton of sink on his low-90s fastball, generating a ton of groundball outs. He has the chance to have two at-least-average secondary pitches in his slider and his changeup. Keller had shown very good command in previous seasons, though his walk rate jumped with the move to Double-A. He could improve even more within the strike zone and learn to run his stuff off the plate when he needs to, which might lead to more missed bats and continued weak contact.”

“Keller is ahead of the curve age-wise in the upper levels at age 22. He's the type of pitcher who will learn from his ups and downs to make him a better overall pitcher.”

Fit with Rays: No team in MLB ever claims to have too much pitching. There aren’t many minor league pitchers who have 3 seasons of 130+ innings by the time they’re 22 yrs old, but that’s what Keller’s accomplished, including a full season of AA under his belt. The notes on improvements from MLB.com are accurate, as he was able to lower his whip from 1.68 in first half to 1.40 in the second half. Most of that was due to the benefit of a lower average against, which went from .292 in the first half to .268 in the second half.

For the Rays, a team that may promote as many as 3 to 4 pitchers into the rotation this year, he’d represent a way to add depth and experience to a AAA staff and to ensure promotions to that level aren’t too aggressive in nature. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with seeing if he can continue learning and possibly become a viable threat for the back end of the rotation.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

RF Victor Reyes - 23 yrs old - 6’3” 170 lbs - Diamondbacks

  • Highest level reached in 2017: AA (126 games)
  • 2017 Stats: in AA (fangraphs)

479 AB / 29 DB / 5 TR / 4 HR / 27 BB / 80 SO, line of .292 /.332 /.399

.106 ISO / .342 BAbip / .333 wOBA / 110 wRC+

vs RHP in AA (378 AB) he managed an OPS of .769

  • Ranked: 19th best Diamondbacks Prospect by MLB.com (23rd by BA pre-2017)
  • Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 35 | Run: 55 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Notes from MLB.com:

“Just 22 for all of the 2017 season, the move to Double-A was a good test for Reyes and his contact-oriented approach. If he can grow into a little more extra-base pop, he could become an everyday corner outfielder, though he likely profiles better as a fourth outfielder who hits his way to the big leagues.”

Fit with Rays: The Rays could use some depth among MLB ready OF prospects in AAA, and Reyes is getting close. While he hasn’t shown the power many have hoped he’d show, he can cover all 3 outfield positions well with a good arm and great speed. His speed would also play well off-the-bench as a 4th outfielder, and he’s hitting well enough to project that he’d be capable of making good contact against MLB pitching.

Here’s a great video montage of Reyes showing him hitting from both sides of the plate.

Overall Rule 5 Draft Thoughts

It’s hard to say how many of the guys listed above will be available when the Rays are ready to select, as we still don’t know how they plan on addressing budget issues and how that will impact the current roster. Should the Rays choose to release any players by Friday’s deadline, or engage in a trade, there could be a slot available on the 40-man (and eventual 25-man) roster for any of these players. There are plenty of intriguing pieces available in this draft, some of which could have a good impact on the depth of this roster in 2018 or beyond.

Read More: MLB Non-Tender Deadline Approaching

If I were to have a personal favourite, it would be any of those that have shown above-average power at the plate. The Rays do a tremendous job of developing many aspects of players within their ranks, but power-hitting is not one of them. That’s why they’ve been forced to resort to acquiring power outside the organization (Souza, Dickerson, Morrison, Coats, and Rasmus as recent examples), instead of promoting their own prospects such as Gillaspie and Leonard (now both with the White Sox).

With this in mind, if I had a vote I’d have to advocate for Martin, O’Hearn, and then Gushue (if Ciuffo is selected) in that order, with the hopes that their power plays at the next level(s). Enjoy the draft and feel free to let us know your thoughts on who you’d like to see the Rays pick and why in the comments!