The most exciting time of the offseason – Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings – will take place next week just outside of the nation’s capitol in National Harbor, Maryland. Amidst all the trade rumors and free agent signings, one of the notable events that happens every year at the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which this year will occur bright and early on December 8th.
A quick refresher on Rule 5 draft eligibility:
A player who signed when 18 years old or younger is eligible for the draft after five years. A player who signed at age 19 or older is eligible after four years. According to the rules, it’s how old a player was on the June 5th immediately preceding his signing. The cost of each pick is $50,000 paid to the organization losing the player. If a player is selected, that player must remain on the active MLB roster or disabled list for all of the 2017 season, lest he be run through waivers and offered back to his original team for $25,000.
Thanks to all the trades that Doug Melvin and David Stearns have made over the last two years, Milwaukee’s farm system is stuffed with more talent than we’ve ever seen before. The club added Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips, Ryan Cordell, and Taylor Williams to the 40 man roster last month to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, but the Brewers still were unable to safeguard all of the prospects who could draw interest from other teams around the league. Jim Goulart over at Brewerfan.net has a comprehensive list of all the Rule 5 eligible players within the Brewers’ minor leagues, and here are the players who are the most likely to attract attention during this year’s draft:
LHP Wei-Chung Wang
Doug Melvin and company memorably selected Wang in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft from Pittsburgh, at which point he had never pitched above rookie ball. It wasn’t pretty, but Wang stuck with the team all through 2014 and the Brewers were able to retain his rights. After a poor start to the 2015 season in high-A, the Brewers were able to pass Wang through outright waivers and remove him from the 40 man roster. Over the last year and a half since then, he’s re-established himself as a legitimate left-handed pitching prospect. Wang spent last season split between AA Biloxi and AAA Colorado Springs, posting a combined 3.78 ERA in 133.1 innings pitched. He struck out 21 percent of the batters he faced (7.7 K/9) while walking just 6.4 percent (2.4 BB/9), and both FIP (3.38) and DRA (3.96) largely supported his results on the mound.
Despite his success in the minors this year, the new front office regime apparently didn’t feel the need to protect Wang. That didn’t stop JJ Cooper of Baseball America from identifying Wang as one of the top Rule 5 Draft eligible players, noting that while he doesn’t throw as hard as he did a couple of seasons ago – “his fastball is average at best and gets some fringe average grades” – he features an “excellent” changeup to go along with an average slider along with good command and control. Fangraphs’ KATOH projections similarly identified Wang as one of the top left-handers available. The 24 year old (25 next April) does have only five years of club control left after having already spent a season in the big leagues, but he’s an MLB-ready arm who could soak up innings next year at the back-end of a pitching needy team’s starting rotation.
RHP Miguel Diaz
Diaz was an international signee by the Brewers back in 2011 at the tender age of 16 and only just turned 22 a few days ago on 28 November. He spent all of 2016 in Appleton with the Class-A Timber Rattlers, tossing 94.2 innings with a 3.71 ERA and marks of 8.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Both FIP (3.59) and DRA (3.30) feel he was even better than his solid earned run average showed, as well.
We don’t typically see younger, less experienced prospects like Diaz taken in the Rule 5 Draft, which may be why Slingin’ Stearns didn’t feel compelled to protect the youthful right-hander. As we saw with the Padres selection and retention of Luis Perdomo last year, however, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility. Diaz has quite the promising profile, too; an eye-witness report by BP’s Grant Jones earlier this year graded Diaz as having a 60 OFP, saying he has the “[u]pside of good number three pitcher; risk factor makes power reliever very possible.” Diaz received future grades from Jones of 70 for his fastball, which sat 95-96 MPH and touched 98, along with 60 for his slider and 55 for his changeup. A selecting team could theoretically utilize Diaz’s fastball/slider combination out of the bullpen this year with the idea of continuing his development as a starter in the minor leagues once his contractual rights are retained.
OF Kyle Wren
The Brewers picked up Wren in a minor trade with the Braves during the 2014-15 offseason, shortly after his father Frank was fired as Atlanta’s general manager. The diminutive left-handed hitter played all three outfield positions for both AA Biloxi and AAA Colorado Springs in 2016, slashing an impressive .322/.412/.412 across a combined 471 plate appearances at the two levels. With Milwaukee’s crowded outfield situation, however, Wren wasn’t able to find his way on to the 40 man roster after his strong campaign.
Wren’s game offers very little power, as he owns just an .079 ISO and five home runs in 448 career minor league games. He’s a speedster who has stolen at least 29 bases in all four of his professional seasons, has a line drive approach to all fields and is considered an above-average defender. Wren has only struck out in 13.5 percent of his career plate appearances and showed an increased ability to draw free passes in 2016. Wren walked 13.4 percent of the time this past season after posting just a 7.8 percent walk rate during his first three seasons in the minors. KATOH pegged the 25 year old (26 next April) as the top outfielder available in the Rule 5 Draft, with author Chris Mitchell adding “[f]rankly, I’m surprised a player of Wren’s caliber went unprotected.”
Others Who Could Draw Interest:
UTIL Nate Orf
1B/OF Garrett Cooper
RHP Josh Uhen
RHP Angel Ventura