The Rule 5 Draft is nigh upon us, and the draft-eligible players have been set with all of the MLB’s 40-man rosters revealed for the upcoming 2018 season.
The Rangers tend to be one of the more active teams during the Rule 5 draft and for the extremely low cost of player acquisition; it may be an underrated way of adding potential value to a club. With the final 40-man rosters set for all 30 MLB clubs, there are some names that the Rangers could foreseeably explore to attempt to close some roster holes. While the likelihood of significant value is low, the Rule 5 draft can be an excellent way to find bullpen arms, role players, and the occasional injured prospect that can impact the team further down the line. Let’s take a look at a few names that the Rangers could be looking into for the 2017 Rule 5 draft in order of my interest.
With a stacked farm and some key 40-man additions, the White Sox left an intriguing arm unprotected in Jordan Guerrero. Guerrero is a 23 year old left-handed starter who had an excellent year in AA, where he struck out 8.4 batters per 9 innings while continuing his trend of above-average command. Guerrero has a bread and butter combo in a 91-93 sinking fastball and a plus changeup. Guerrero has been developing a curveball which will probably never be an average pitch, but with his command it could be the last addition necessary before being able to crack and stick on a big league roster. Also of interest is that he has two full seasons of AA ball under his belt, which is more experience than most of the other draft-eligible prospects. Guerrero has a realistic shot at holding down a #5 spot in a rotation pretty soon which makes him one of the most interesting draft eligible players in 2017.
Nick Burdi of the Minnesota Twins is the most intriguing bullpen arm available. Burdi sits 98-100 with the 4-seam fastball in addition to a hard upper 80’s slider that is regularly considered plus. Occasionally he will mix in a changeup, but he mostly sticks to a fastball-slider combination. His command has improved over the past few seasons and he got off to a strong start in 2017 at AA before tearing his UCL and undergoing a successful Tommy John’s surgery. The Rangers could look to draft Burdi and his huge potential as a back of the bullpen arm and stash him on the 60-day DL, where he would not take up a 40-man roster spot during the 2018 season, with a target of Burdi being able to rehab and contribute in the future. Burdi might have the highest projection in the Rule 5 Draft if his rehab goes well.
Another Twins arm piques the interest in Kohl Stewart, a 22-year-old right-handed starter. Stewart was the 4th overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft and although he initially looked the part, his K rate dropped off a cliff between his age 19 and 20 seasons and his walk rate has gone up as well. Stewart has struggled with some nagging injuries during his brief career which may have contributed to his inconsistent performance. Stewart works with a plus sinking fastball that sits between 92-95 with two average or better offerings in his curveball and slider. He occasionally mixes in a changeup although it’s usually described as below average. Command is the big question, but most scouts believe he can at least be average there, which should allow him to stick as a back of the rotation arm. It is unlikely that Stewart would be ready for a full time rotation spot in 2018, but he should be able to handle a spot in the bullpen and make the transition back to starter as he continues to develop.
Trevor Clifton isn’t too far removed from being one of the Cubs more promising pitching prospects. While the righty starting prospect doesn’t have overpowering stuff, he has a fastball that sits between 92 and 94 with two average or better pitch projections in his curveball and changeup. Clifton has clean arm mechanics and is an above average athlete, which should translate into above average command as he moves forward. Although he struggled at times in his first season at AA, his stuff should get a boost if used as a bullpen arm and could be a valuable piece as soon at 2018.
Dom Nuñez of the Colorado Rockies is a surprising non-addition to the 40-man roster. The 22-year-old catching prospect has an advanced approach at the plate with enough hit and power to eventually provide average offensive production from premium defensive position. The arm is considered fringe average, but he’s still managed a 35% Caught-Stealing rate in the minors while his off-the-charts makeup have allowed him to improve defensively every year. By drafting Dom, the Rangers could very possibly get a current backup catcher profile with some potential for more with the bat. Backup catchers do have to carry a heavier load than most role players, so an MLB club might consider the task too much for the young inexperienced catcher.
The Rangers have been consistent in trying to acquire value from an under-utilized source in the Rule 5 Draft. While successes are few and far between, no option that could provide a useful piece should be ignored. With an arm-heavy draft coming up and the Rangers in need of so many arms, it’s easy to see the team taking an pitcher that could contribute soon or make an upside pick with Burdi (if he’s not already gone when they draft 15th).
KEVIN CARTER is a former scout, and has a winning smile. Ask him questions about prospects on Twitter at @KevinWC7