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What Happened In the 2023 Rule 5 Draft?

Former Rule 5 Draft pick Johan Santana; Photo via UCinternational

The Rule 5 Draft is a yearly draft that takes place at the MLB Winter Meetings each December. This is a draft of current minor league players that are not on 40-man rosters. The qualifications to be an eligible player for the Rule 5 draft are different depending on the age at which a player was drafted/signed. If a player was drafted/signed at the age of 18 or younger, then they must have spent five seasons in the minor leagues. If drafted/signed at 19 or older, the player must have spent four seasons in the minor leagues. Any player who meets these two qualifications and is not on a 40-man roster is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. If a player is drafted, he must spend his entire first season on the 26-man major league roster of the team that picked him. If he is removed from the 26-man roster, his rights will be returned to his original team.

To draft a player, a team must have room on its 40-man roster. Teams can “pass” a pick if they do not want to select a player. There are typically 10-20 players drafted a year and roughly half of them are returned to their original team at some point throughout the season. If you would like to know more about the process of the Rule 5 draft, check out this article, which goes into more depth about the process and history of the draft.

The 2023 edition of the Rule 5 Draft took place on December 6th during the Winter Meetings in Nashville. Ten players were selected, eight pitchers (one lefty and seven righties) and two position players (one SS and one 3B). All ten of these players have an excellent chance of making a 26-man roster, and most will likely play in the MLB this year, so it is important to take a deep dive into each of the players picked to show why they were available and what value they can provide to their new teams. 

A’s select RHP Mitch Spence (25) from Yankees

Was an unranked prospect for NYY, now ranked 23rd in OAK system

Mitch Spence was drafted in the 10th round of the 2019 MLB draft from Division 2 school University of South Carolina Aiken. Spence pitched his first full season in the minors in 2021, racking up a 3.94 ERA in rookie ball. For the 2022 season, he started in AA and struggled a little, but his three true outcome numbers (22.9% K%, 7.5% BB%, and 3.4% HR%) all looked solid, leading to his promotion to AAA that same season. He stayed in AAA for the 2023 season where he posted a 4.47 ERA across 29 starts with a 21.8% K%, 7.5% BB%, and 4.3% HR%. He was not placed on the Yankees' 40-man roster because New York has one of the deepest farm systems in baseball and Spence was not perceived to have a very high ceiling. However, Mitch has a very good chance to make the A’s rotation and eat a lot of innings for them right away. He has a good arsenal consisting of a mid-90s fastball, a sweeper, a curveball, and a cutter that he uses effectively to miss barrels and avoid walking people. Spence’s main issue is that he does not have a true “out” pitch. However, Spence can be a quality back-of-the-rotation arm in the MLB due to being consistently posting solid strikeout, walk, and home run numbers. I like this pick for Oakland, and I expect Spence to start the season on their major league roster with a good shot to earn a lot of innings.

Royals select RHP Matt Sauer (24) from Yankees

Was ranked 25th in NYY system, now ranked 22nd in KC system 

Sauer was a 2nd-round pick by the Yankees in 2017 out of Righetti HS in California. He slowly improved from 2017 to 2019 while going through the lower levels of the minors. The Covid-19 pandemic canceled all of minor league play in 2020, but Matt came back in 2021 and has since worked his way up to AA. Sauer’s calling card is his strikeout numbers. While his run prevention is not elite, he has consistently struck out over 10 guys per 9 innings every season and has only been getting better. His fastball sits low- to mid-90s and pairs with a stellar wipeaway slider. This is a high-reward pick for the Royals. If Sauer can live up to his potential and become an elite strikeout guy, he could end up being a valuable piece. He will likely start the season out with the Royals and could carve out a role as a back-of-the-rotation or bullpen arm. Kansas City can afford to take a chance on a guy like Matt, given they will not be in contention for much of anything in 2024.

Rockies select RHP Anthony Molina (21) from Rays

Was unranked in TB system, now ranked 22nd in COL system 

Molina was signed out of Venezuela by the Rays in 2018 at just 17 years old and quickly established himself in rookie ball in 2019. He dominated the complex league in 2021, earning a promotion to low A to start 2022 and finishing 2023 in AAA. Primarily a reliever for most of his career with a few spot starts mixed in, Molina became a full-time starter for the first time in 2023 and showed some success. He was left off the 40-man roster by the Rays, likely due to the team not thinking he was MLB-ready just yet. He is still just 21, and the Rays have a very good system, so they did not have much room for him. The Rockies are always looking to acquire pitching, making Molina is a very good pickup. His main two pitches are a fastball, which averages 94 and tops out at 97, and a change/splitter, which he has great control of and can throw at any count. Anthony also has a mid-80s slider that will be a key factor in him determining whether or not he is a starter or reliever for Colorado in 2024. If he can master the slider and become a three-pitch pitcher, then he could easily get some starts for the Rockies. If not, he will likely stick to a bullpen role. This is a good high-potential pick for the Rockies. With Molina being just 21, he has a lot of room to grow.

White Sox Select LHP Shane Drohan (24) from Red Sox

Was ranked 19th in BOS system, now ranked 19th in CWS system 

Drohan was a 5th-round pick in 2020 out of Florida State by the Red Sox and saw success early on in 2021, posting a 3.96 ERA in low A ball. He continued success in 2022 and 2023 until he made his way up to AAA in 2023. However, Drohan struggled mightily in AAA posting, with ERA and FIP numbers both above the 6 mark. Shane has always been a high strikeout and walk guy at every level. However, he was able to rack up enough Ks to still be effective until he got to AAA, where he posted over 6 walks per 9 innings. These struggles in AAA led to the Red Sox keeping him off the 40-man roster, but his prior success led to the White Sox taking a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft. Drohan utilizes a fastball in the low 90s. His best offspeed is a changeup effective against righties and lefties. He also uses a mediocre curve and slider that still needs a lot of work. If he can figure out his command issues then Drohan could be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter, but seems unlikely. Of the picks so far, I think Drohan has the highest chance of being returned to his team and not making it to the White Sox in the big leagues.

Nationals select SS/2B Nasim Nunez (23) from Marlins

Was ranked 16th in MIA system, now ranked 23rd in WAS system

Nunez was a 2nd-round pick by the Marlins in 2019 out of Collins Hill HS in Georgia. He is known for being a defensive specialist who also provides a lot of value running the bases. Viewed as one of the best defensive middle infielders in the minor leagues, Nunez’s bat has never quite kept up with his defensive prowess. He has consistently posted wRC+ marks under 100 and has only made it up to AA. However, even if he can just be slightly below average at the plate, Nasim can provide value due to his excellence in other areas. The Nationals have struggled to fill the middle infield spots over the last couple of years, so it makes sense to take a chance on a guy like Nunez. He will have to battle to earn a spot with the Nats and will likely be used mainly as a utility man if he ends up making the roster. All in all, this is a pretty good pick for the Nats. If Nunez can figure out his bat enough to earn starts, then he could be a Gold-Glove-level SS. 

Cardinals select RHP Ryan Fernandez (25) from Red Sox

Was unranked in BOS system, now ranked 26th in STL system 

Fernandez was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Hillsborough Community College in Florida. He flamed out as a starter but transitioned to a full-time bullpen role in 2019 and has slowly made his way up the ranks of the minors. By 2023, he was dominating in AA, with a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 IP before getting his first call-up to AAA. However, he struggled in AAA, putting up a 6.16 ERA in 30.2 IP. As such, the Red Sox left him off the 40-man roster, and the Cardinals took a chance on him given their desperate need for pitching. Fernandez throws 97-99 on a fastball, but it does not have much movement. His two offspeeds are a low-90s cutter and a high-80s slider that generate a lot of whiffs against righties. There is little upside to becoming a major-league starter. If Fernandez carves out a role with the Cardinals, it will likely be as a righty specialist reliever.

Mets select RHP Justin Slaten (26) from Rangers (later traded to Red Sox)

Was unranked in TEX system, now ranked 25th in BOS system

A 3rd round pick in 2019 from the University of New Mexico, Slaten spent 2019-2021 as a full-time starter. He began a transition to the pen in 2022 and was a full-time reliever in 2023. Justin is another high strikeout and high walk guy who could very easily be an effective reliever if he figures a couple of things out. His primary offering is a fastball that sits 94-97 and can occasionally reach near triple digits. His main secondary pitch is his low-80s slider, but he also features a cutter and has started throwing a changeup more since getting moved to the pen. Slaten had his best year in 2023, but he was left unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft largely due to the amazing depth in the Rangers system. Justin has the stuff to be a big-league reliever, and I think he will be in the Red Sox bullpen to start the year. He will be a valuable arm for them right away if he can control his stuff and get strikeouts.

Guardians select 3B Deyvison De Los Santos (20) from Diamondbacks

Was ranked 5th in ARI system and, now ranked 12th in CLE system

Santos was signed from the Dominican Republic in 2019 and quickly showed his elite hitting tool. Santos was the best prospect with the most upside among everyone selected. He has not played above AA and is still crazy young, but his bat is incredible. He has some of the best raw power in all of the minor leagues and has shown it off on multiple occasions. The Guardians are hoping he can provide at least some value in 2024 since he has to spend the full season with them if they want to keep him. He has sky-high power potential and could become a legit middle-of-the-lineup bat but needs a lot of time to refine his skills. 

Padres select RHP Stephen Kolek (26) from Mariners

Was unranked in SEA system, now ranked 24th in SD system

Kolek was drafted in the 11th round of the 2018 MLB draft out of Texas A&M. He was inconsistent from 2018 to 2022 and jumped between the starting rotation and bullpen. However, he showed flashes of promise. Kolek posted a solid 2023 season in his first campaign as a full-time reliever, pitching to a 4.23 ERA in AAA in 61.2 IP. The 6’ 3” righty sits mid-90s with his fastball and can top 98 with a lot of sink. This leads to a high ground ball rate and helps him miss barrels. Stephen’s main secondary offering is a slider in the low- to mid-80s that generates a lot of whiffs and weak contact. He also has a changeup used primarily against lefties. Kolek has the pieces to be a decent bullpen arm and the Padres have lost multiple RP to FA, giving Kolek a real chance to make San Diego’s opening-day roster. 

Rangers select RHP Carson Coleman (25) from NYY

Was unranked in NYY system, remains unranked in TEX system 

Coleman was a 33rd-round pick in the 2019 draft from Kentucky and did not make his debut until 2021. While he missed all of 2023 due to injury, Coleman dominated as a reliever in 2022, posting a 2.86 ERA in AA. He has a plus fastball and a decent slider to pair with it. Coleman is unlikely to stick with Texas due to the Rangers having a surplus of talent. Because they are contenders, Texas cannot afford to waste innings on a guy hoping he can develop, but Coleman will get a good chance to prove himself in Spring Training. He will pitch in the big leagues eventually, but I am not sure if this is his big break. It will be interesting to see if Carson can crack the Rangers' 26-man roster or if he will be returned to the Yankees.



"Johan Santana on May 5, 2012" via UCinternational licensed under CC BY 2.0


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