The three day, 40 round Rule 4 Draft is a marquee event for Major League Baseball held annually each June. The draft presents an opportunity for franchises to restock their minor league systems and provides high school and college players across the country the chance to join a professional organization and chase their dreams of making the big leagues.
Within the draft, the first 10 rounds are considered to be the most important for the selecting teams. Each of the 300+ picks inside those rounds comes with a bonus slot value attached, and the slot values add up for each team to create their bonus pool for signing players. It is imperative for teams that the players they select in the first 10 rounds sign a professional contract, otherwise the team not only loses out on that drafted player, but also has to subtract the slot value of that pick from their bonus pool. In 2017, only three players selected in the top 10 rounds failed to sign with the team that drafted them. One of those young men was Drew Rasmussen, a right-handed pitcher from Oregon State selected by the Tampa Bay Rays at #31 overall.
Rasmussen arrived at Oregon State as a freshman back in 2015 and immediately hit the ground running in his college career. During his first year on campus he tossed 106.0 frames in 19 appearances (14 starts) for the Beavers, working to a 2.80 ERA. He pitched the first perfect game in OSU history against Washington State, was a freshman All-American and made the Pac-12 First Team. He began his sophomore season in the Beavers’ rotation and during his first six starts he compiled a 3.41 ERA in 37.0 innings, but with an improved 42:10 K/BB ratio and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Then disaster struck in March, and the right-hander heard a pop in his elbow. He needed Tommy John surgery.
The righty was able to work his way back from the procedure relatively quickly and returned to the mound after only about 13 months post-op. Oregon State was one of the top collegiate teams in the nation during the 2017 season and Rasmussen was indeed able to contribute, first in a bullpen role while rebuilding his strength and stamina before returning to the rotation. All together he wound up appearing in eight games, starting four of them, and logging 27.0 innings. He yielded only a 1.00 ERA and stuck out 26 batters against just five walks, once again posting a sub-1.00 WHIP while displaying remarkable control so soon after his surgery. Rasmussen recorded two saves and three winning decisions while helping OSU earn the #1 seed in the College World Series.
Post-surgery, Rasmussen was boasting a plus fastball in the 92-96 MPH range, touching 98 and with good extension, according to MLB Pipeline. He was getting swings and misses with his heater while also flashing a solid changeup and slider. He has a starter’s build at 6’2″ and 225 lbs and an easy delivery with a pretty standard high three-quarters release point, which helped lead to pretty effective control around the strike zone. Even with his previous surgery, the profile was strong enough for the Rays to use their Competitive Balance Round A pick on Rasmussen, which came with a $2,134,900 slot bonus value.
After the draft, however, some concerns arose over discrepancies between his pre- and post-draft physicals. Tampa Bay’s main concern was his surgically repaired elbow. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement, and Rasmussen’s request to become an MLB free agent was denied due to his two remaining years of college eligibility. So he prepared to return to Oregon State for what would be his redshirt junior season. But the elbow issues that the Rays deemed worrisome enough to let the righty walk proved to be significant; he required a second Tommy John procedure in August of 2017.
Not surprisingly, Rasmussen wound up missing the entire 2018 campaign for OSU while recovering and rehabbing from another significant surgery. Even though he didn’t take the mound at all, his scouting report when healthy and previous work for Oregon State had outlets like Baseball America (#109) and MLB Pipeline (#200) convinced that the former first-round pick was still one of the top draft prospects out there. He wound up falling to day two, and with their 6th round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Milwaukee Brewers selected Drew Rasmussen at #185 overall.
Although it’s not official yet, the belief is that Rasmussen will sign with Milwaukee this summer (for potentially below the pick #185 slot value of $251,700) rather than return to school and try the draft again next season, when he’ll be a 23 year old senior sign without any negotiating leverage. Rasmussen told Brad Ford at Brew Crew Ball that he hasn’t advanced to the point in his rehab where he is even playing catch yet, and that he was waiting to take that next step until he knew what organization he would be a part of. Now the Brewers and their award-winning medical staff will be able to guide him through a recovery and throwing program to get him back to full strength.
Most scouts believe that Rasmussen’s medical history will force him into relief as a professional, although Drew himself says that the Brewers have not yet given him any indication either way as to whether he’ll be in a bullpen role or a starter once he’s fully healthy. He has had plenty of experience, and success, in both spots. For what it’s worth, he says he prefers the structure of being a rotational pitcher although the variability of coming out of the bullpen can be exciting.
The Brewers may have landed themselves one of the most compelling prospects in the draft, a first-round talent with the stuff to be a successful starter who plummeted down draft boards and missed out on a couple million dollars due to injury. The club has been extremely cautious in bringing back their young arms from such dramatic afflictions and we shouldn’t expect to see Rasmussen make his professional debut until sometime in 2019. But the successful rehabs of Taylor Williams and Adrian Houser, both of whom have contributed at the MLB level this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery within the past two years, should help inspire some confidence that Milwaukee’s medical staff can help Drew Rasmussen get back to 100 percent. Once he’s healthy, he’ll be one prospect whose development I’ll certainly be watching closely.