JJ Cooper comes down with Rule 5 fever every year and puts out the most comprehensive list of prospects that could be taken. The list ends up around 100 deep. Usually only about 15 are taken and of those 15 only about 25-30% of players stick with their new organization.
Cooper’s list of top five prospects available include players in the Tampa Bay Rays minor league system.
RHP Burch Smith
Coming in at number one is right hand pitcher Burch Smith.
This is a decision I think the Rays know is coming. Smith is as close to a lock as I think there’s been in a rule five draft recently. He has some major league experience. A team could give him the opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation or put him in the bullpen.
The Rays didn’t feel he’s worth the roster spot. Maybe that’s a mistake, but it’s probably best for Smith. He won’t get an opportunity to start unless severe injuries hit the Rays rotation. This is similar to the decision to designate Chase Whitley for assignment. They both could be used by the Rays this year, but they also have comparable or better arms that need to get major league experience.
C Nick Ciuffo
Coming in at number five is catcher Nick Ciuffo.
Ciuffo is solid defender who might be fine in a backup role today. His bat still needs time to develop. I think Ciuffo is probably the one the Rays hope isn’t taken, but the risk is definitely there.
You’re never going to be able to protect everybody who can be taken. Last year Cooper listed twelve players as cream of the crop, including Yonny Chirinos. Only two were selected and both were returned.
Last year 18 players were taken and only five stuck. Three of the five that stuck were selected by or traded to the San Diego Padres. There are still a couple that will have rule five rules follow over to next year until they earn 90 days on the major league roster.
I would have protected Ciuffo, but understand it’s hard to keep a prospect who you don’t expect to see playing any role on your 2018 team. They chose to protect an arm like Jose Mujica over Ciuffo. This is definitely the most controversial of those exposed. This is going to be the most scrutinized decision if he’s taken.
Without knowing who did select him I don’t know how likely he is to stick, but if a team doesn’t care about 2018 he’s gone. The odds could vary from 0% to 100% depending on destination.
Catchers don’t typically stick but we did lose Oscar Hernandez when he was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He collected a major league paycheck, but it likely hindered his development long term.
LHP Travis Ott
Left handed specialists are a popular option in the rule five draft and Travis Ott is a possibility.
I don’t expect Ott to be taken, but any pitcher can be taken. This would be very similar to the Rays selecting Kevin Gadea last year from the Seattle Mariners.
I still believe Ott has the skills to be a major league starter, but if he’s taken it’s as a reliever. If he sticks they could then go back to developing him as a starter in 2019. Most likely if the Rays lose him it’s as part of a trade that’s worked out before opening day as was the case with LHP Kyle Lobstein being traded for C Curt Casali after being selected by the Detroit Tigers.
RHP Kevin Gadea
The Rays went off the board and selected Kevin Gadea. Gadea ended up injured and missed the whole season. He was offered back to the Seattle Mariners but they opted to keep the money.
Gadea didn’t show up to camp with the ability to reach 95. I think there are others that are more likely although improbable that could be selected out of the Rays minor leagues.
Teams have been selecting drafted players more frequently in order to not have to keep them on a roster for a full season. A team is still required to keep a player on the 25 man roster for at least 90 days before the rule five requirements are lifted.