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Toolshed: Judging stickiness of Rule 5 picks

On scale of one to five, assessing selections most likely to last
Jose Soriano pitched an inning in the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game. (Paul R. Gierhart/
December 11, 2020

First, there were the picks. Next comes figuring out who sticks. On Thursday, 18 players were selected in the Major League phase of the annual Rule 5 Draft. With their selections, each of the 18 took another step toward their goal of playing in The Show (or in one case,

First, there were the picks. Next comes figuring out who sticks.

On Thursday, 18 players were selected in the Major League phase of the annual Rule 5 Draft. With their selections, each of the 18 took another step toward their goal of playing in The Show (or in one case, returning there).

They took such steps as parts of new organizations, having been left off their old clubs' 40-man rosters. But if they want to find permanent homes with their new teams, they'll have to stick on their respective Major League active rosters for the entire 2021 season or at least 90 days if the rest of the period includes time on the injured list.

That is no small task as recent history tells us. Only four of the 11 selected in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft stuck this past Major League season -- one that lasted only 60 games. The year before that, only three of 14 met the Rule 5 roster requirements. Over the last two Drafts alone, that's a success rate of only 28 percent. Extrapolate that to this year's bunch, and that gives us an expected stick rate of only five of the 18, if current trends hold.

There will be other factors at play that could make 2021 different than other seasons, of course. Financials across the game could make clubs more willing to hold onto low-cost acquisitions like Rule 5 players. On the other hand, none of the 18 could enjoy the benefits of a Minor League season in 2020, and the lost development time could put them behind previous Major Leaguers who got meaningful playing time this summer.

Taking all of this into account -- along with the skills of each player and the roster situation for his new club -- this edition of Toolshed evaluates the stickiness levels (five being most likely to stick, one being least) of the 18 players selected in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.

1. Jose Soriano, RHP, Pirates (from Angels): The conditions are right for a stick here. The Pirates are in an obvious rebuilding mode and could use whatever prospects they can acquire as part of that. They first turned to Soriano, who stands out for his velocity first and foremost. The 22-year-old right-hander threw in the mid- to high-90s in 2019 and also can sport an above-average curveball, giving him the two pitches needed to work out of a Major League bullpen. What's more, he underwent Tommy John surgery in February and could be stashed on the injured list to open the 2021 season as rehabs his way back from the elbow surgery. That said, there are still no guarantees his stuff will be back in the same place when he returns, and even if it does, he still has yet to pitch above Class A, making the Majors an extreme jump. The control issues (48 walks in 77 2/3 innings) he experienced at Burlington will only be exacerbated in The Show. Still, the Bucs could be wiling to ride out the storm, if it means keeping Soriano's velo in the system through the murky waters of 2021. Stickiness level: Four

2. Brett de Geus, RHP, Rangers (from Dodgers): If the plan is to make a full year in a Major League bullpen, it can help to already be a reliever and a dominant one at that. The former Dodgers right-hander posted a 1.75 ERA and an 0.94 WHIP with 72 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings between Class A Advanced and Class A in 2019. He followed that up with eight scoreless appearances in the Arizona Fall League that same autumn. Like Soriano, de Geus can feature a plus fastball and plus curve and also sports an above-average slider for good measure. He spent time at the Dodgers' alternate site this summer, meaning the jump might not be as far as it would be from Rancho Cucamonga to Arlington. There is space in a rebuilding Texas bullpen for de Geus as well, and his ability to throw strikes should help his case as a potential multi-inning hurler at the back of the relief corps. Stickiness level: Four

3. Akil Baddoo, OF, Tigers (from Twins): This is where things get a little tougher. Baddoo certainly has his strengths as a 22-year-old outfielder, namely his plus run tool, ability to take a walk and his chances at playing a competent center field. But the last time he was in the Minors, he hit just .214/.290/.393 with four homers over 29 games at Class A Advanced before he underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2019. He was healthy enough to return for instructs this fall, and that's where the Tigers must have fallen for him. Putting that aside, Detroit already has a pair of impressive defensive outfielders on the fringe of its Major League roster in Derek Hill and Daz Cameron, each of whom made their debuts in 2020 and don't come with the same roster requirements as Baddoo. The Tigers were willing to let Victor Reyes toil on the Major League roster in 2018, then saw him improve in his second and third seasons. But the club has a little more depth on the grass now and might be a little less forgiving if Baddoo's bat doesn't handle the jump from the Florida State League to the Majors. Stickiness level: Two

4. Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Red Sox (from Yankees): Pitching, pitching, pitching. Arms were by far the biggest issues in Boston in 2020, and there must have been some relief at the Fenway offices when Whitlock was available for the taking here. The 24-year-old right-hander was a former top-20 prospect in the Yankees system on the strength of his plus fastball with good sink and impressive slider, and with that repertoire, he climbed all the way to Double-A. Tommy John surgery in July 2019 knocked his status down a few pegs, but Whitlock shared video this fall of himself throwing 94 mph again coming off the procedure. The Sox still could open him on the injured list as a means of rehabbing him properly and giving them extra time to decide his Rule 5 fate. It's worth noting that Boston was one of the four clubs to carry a Rule 5 pick for the duration of 2020 in infielder Jonathan Arauz. Whitlock could provide potentially even more help when healthy with his ground-ball-based approach. Stickiness level: Four

5. Mac Sceroler, RHP, Orioles (from Reds): The O's might be highest in the industry on Sceroler right now, which bodes well for him. The 25-year-old right-hander wasn't a top-30 prospect in the Reds system going into the Rule 5 Draft, and he doesn't rank among the top 30 in the Baltimore pipeline now either. What Orioles brass did say is that they're impressed by Sceroler's four-pitch mix -- namely his splitter, which can be plus -- and his ability to throw strikes. He showed that skill off at Class A Advanced in 2019 when he fanned 127 and walked only 29 in 117 innings. However, the Orioles made two Rule 5 picks with right-handed pitchers last year as well, and neither of them were able to make it out of spring with the team. It's going to be more of a uphill battle for Sceroler. Stickiness level: Two

6. Zach Pop, RHP, Marlins (from Orioles via D-backs): It always gets a little more interesting when a team trades for a Rule 5 pick. Miami swapped a player to be named later for Pop in hopes of adding him to its bullpen immediately. The 2017 seventh-rounder out of Kentucky normally thrives on a low- to mid-90s sinker that generates a ton of ground balls along with a solid slider. Like so many others here, he underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2019, but returned to throwing in the back half of this year. He should be good to go this spring. His ground-ball nature is a little reminiscent of Sterling Sharp, the Rule 5 pick Miami made last year who was returned to the Nationals midseason. Sharp was normally a starter who tried transitioning to the bullpen. Pop at least has known the relief role throughout his pro career. That could work to his advantage in 2021. Stickiness level: Three

7. Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Rockies (from Dodgers): The Rockies are always in search of cheap pitching help, and they must have fallen for the stuff and potential of Sheffield. The 25-year-old right-hander can throw as high as 99 at times, and his breaking pitches can flash above-average at times. That's how he struck out 74 over 55 innings across Double-A and Class A Advanced in 2019. The problem: he also walked 43 over the same span. Sheffield can really struggle with control at times, limiting his impact and potential. He showed some improvement in the Arizona Fall League last year but will need to show a lot more to stick around Colorado. Stickiness level: One

8. Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP, Angels (from Astros): Velocity is never a bad thing to bet on, and the former Houston hurler certainly has it in spades. Rivera has been clocked at 102 at times, and that will play quickly in the Majors. His above-average changeup and average slider should keep hitters at least somewhat off balance, but he might be best served sticking as much as he can with the heater to start. Like many flamethrowers, the 23-year-old still could improve his control, and coming from Class A, he is in for an awakening against Major League hitters who are even more patient than those at the lower levels. The Halos, however, already have shown that improving the bullpen is a priority this offseason, and Rivera's velocity could be one piece of that puzzle. Stickiness level: Four

9. Luis Oviedo, RHP, Pirates (from Indians via Mets): Oviedo was at one point one of the most promising pitching prospects in the Cleveland system before a back injury and inconsistency (like a 5.38 ERA in 19 Class A starts) caused his stock to dive after 2019. On a good day, the stuff is still there. Oviedo is back to throwing in the high-90s in the Venezuelan Winter League right now as he's working in relief, and the Pirates could make use of that in a bullpen. He also sports two decent off-speed pitches in his curve and slider. His overall ceiling actually might be higher than Soriano's, making him a worthwhile pick for the Bucs, but he comes with more question marks due to the injuries and ineffectiveness. Given all that, the bet here is that he doesn't stick, but don't be surprised if Pittsburgh is willing to be super patient for a payoff that is more likely to come in 2022. Stickiness level: Two

10. Will Vest, RHP, Mariners (from Tigers): There is certainly an arrow pointing upward next to Vest's name. The question is whether the Mariners caught him at the right time or a little too early in his ascension. A former college shortstop, Vest's velocity has climbed in recent years to the mid-90s and can touch a little higher. A slider gives him a solid second option, and the changeup rounds out the profile. He last posted a 3.27 ERA with 58 strikeouts and only 18 walks over 55 innings across three levels of the Detroit system and could have perhaps improved those numbers, had he brought the better stuff to a normal 2020. Seattle was willing to carry Yohan Ramirez through 2020 as a Rule 5 pick, so there is some recent stickiness history here, though in theory the M's should be willing to make a tougher charge for a playoff spot as its young talent blooms in the Majors. Stickiness level: Three

11. Kyle Holder, INF, Phillies (from Yankees): The Phils had a serious need at backup infielder and may have found just the solution in Holder. The 2015 first-rounder is about as gifted defensively as one can find on a Minor League infield, and he is plenty capable of playing shortstop at the top level, though he also has experience at second and third. The problem is the bat. Holder sports a career .667 OPS in the Minors, and his .265/.336/.405 line over 112 games at Double-A in 2019 was his best yet. The bat will be easier to hide on the bench, and he might only be asked for a handful of at-bats per week. The glove, at the very least, can paper over the other cracks. Stickiness level: Five

12. Dedniel Nunez, RHP, Giants (from Mets): The fastball is the big show here for Núñez. The former Mets right-hander was up to 97 in instructs this fall and also earns points for his heater's high spin rate. The secondaries are a little less consistent, though San Francisco believes his curve and change could play better in shorter stints. Núñez last posted a 4.39 ERA with 94 strikeouts and 23 walks in 80 innings as a starter at Class A Advanced and Class A in a 2019 campaign that ended early due to shoulder problems. He was back in recent months, but he'll head to spring camp with a heavy burden to show his other offerings have improved or that his fastball is good enough alone to see time in a Major League bullpen. Stickiness level: One

13. Paul Campbell, RHP, Marlins (from Rays): Campbell seemed like one of the surest bets to go in the Rule 5 Draft, and indeed, he heads southeast in the Sunshine State to Miami. Now the No. 25 prospect in his new system, Campbell brings two above-average pitches in his fastball and curve -- both with good spin rates -- as well as impressive control. The 25-year-old also has upper-level experience, having pitched 85 2/3 innings at Double-A in 2019. There is a question about what happens when someone with Campbell's pitchability moves to the bullpen, especially since he hasn't been a strikeout-heavy pitcher during his time in the Minors. But his usefulness as a back-end starter and long man out of the bullpen could help him carve out a valuable role in Miami. Stickiness level: Four

14. Gray Fenter, RHP, Cubs (from Orioles): On pure numbers, Fenter was a 2019 standout. The former Orioles right-hander posted a 1.81 ERA and struck out 123 over 94 1/3 innings in the last Minor League season. However, that came as a 23-year-old at Class A. His stuff (fastball, slider, curve, change) is much closer to average, and his velo typically sits in the low-90s -- nothing that screams dominant Major League reliever just yet. Fenter told reporters after the pick that he felt his stuff take off once he understood Trackman and spin rate better in the Baltimore system, and the Cubs will have to hope that part of his game can continue to build. Unless the stuff takes off in the spring however, this feels like a long shot. Stickiness level: One

15. Trevor Stephan, RHP, Indians (from Yankees): Stephan stands out for a plus fastball that can touch the mid- to high-90s and a good sweeping slider that can resemble a cutter. Both offerings play up because of a crossbody delivery that makes pitches tough to pick up for right-handed hitters. He struck out 91 in 80 innings between Class A Advanced and Double-A in 2019, but struggled to keep runs off the board with a 4.73 ERA. His issues may be easier to mask in the bullpen, where he can be used more heavily against right-handed bats, but that might be a tall task for an already righty-dominant Cleveland relief corps. Stickiness level: Two

16. Ka'ai Tom, OF, Athletics (from Indians): Sticking with Cleveland, that was a club that could have used outfield help in 2020. That made it all the more flabbergasting that Tom didn't make the Majors at some point in 2020. Instead, he was scooped up by the A's in the Rule 5. The 5-foot-9 outfielder enjoyed a breakout 2019 in which he hit .290/.380/.532 with 23 homers between Double-A and Triple-A, and the A's are hopeful he can carry that gap-to-gap power from the left side to The Show. Oakland is also planning to get him looks at all three spots on the grass, boosting his chances. Tom won't unseat Mark Canha, Ramón Laureano or Stephen Piscotty for a starting spot, but he could slot in as a backup replacing free agent Robbie Grossman. That is if Oakland doesn't have another move for an outfielder planned this offseason. Stickiness level: Three

17. Tyler Wells, RHP, Orioles (from Twins): The first thing that stands out about Wells is his size at 6-foot-8. The 26-year-old right-hander shows better control than is to be expected from that height, as evidenced by his 121/31 K/BB ratio in 119 1/3 innings between Double-A and Class A Advanced in 2018. But that was before Tommy John surgery knocked him out for all of 2019, and the pandemic kept him from making an official return this summer. Even then, the stuff was average at best with a low-90s fastball that can bear down on hitters quickly being the best of the bunch. The O's are betting on the size here and that Wells has more in the tank. Until he shows it after the layoff, he remains a big Rule 5 question mark. Stickiness level: Two

18. Dany Jimenez, RHP, Athletics (from Blue Jays): Maybe the second time by the Bay is the charm. Jimenez was actually a Rule 5 pick last year as well, having been selected by the Giants. He made two Major League appearances for San Francisco, walking three over 1 1/3 innings, and was returned to the Blue Jays on Aug. 2. This time, the A's came calling and were willing to bet on his upper-90s fastball and impressive slider. Oakland brass even mentioned they have a couple adjustments in mind that could unlock another gear in Jimenez's stuff. The A's bullpen should feature plenty of competition in the spring, and if Jimenez didn't come with roster requirements, he could have gotten some looks over the summer. But he needs to be in the Majors on Opening Day and the rest of the way, and the bet is that's too tall of a task on a team looking to repeat as AL West champs. Stickiness level: Two

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.