Fifteen players were selected in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft — an annual avenue for teams to potentially acquire talent from other organizations whose decision-makers did not place them on the 40-man roster. For those unfamiliar, in order to be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, a player must not be on his team’s 40-man roster and must have played in either parts of five professional seasons (if they signed at 18 or younger) or four professional seasons (if they signed at 19 or older). The deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 by selecting their contracts to the 40-man roster typically falls in mid-November and spurs a good deal of player movement as teams jettison borderline players and non-tender candidates from their roster in order to protect younger prospects.
A player who is selected in the Rule 5 Draft must spend the entire subsequent season on his new club’s Major League roster and cannot be optioned to the minors. The player can technically spend time on the injured list as well, but at least 90 days must be spent on the active roster. If not, the player’s Rule 5 status rolls into the following season until 90 days on the active roster have been accrued. If a team at any point decides it can no longer carry a Rule 5 selection, that player must be passed through waivers and subsequently offered back to his original organization. Any other club can claim the player via waivers, but the same Rule 5 restrictions will apply to the claiming team.
Broadly speaking, the Rule 5 Draft rarely produces impact players. There are plenty of exceptions over the years, though, with names like Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, Shane Victorino, Joakim Soria, Josh Hamilton and, more recently, Garrett Whitlock and Trevor Stephan thriving in new organizations. The Rule 5 Draft dates back more than a century and has even produced a handful of Hall of Famers: Roberto Clemente, Hack Wilson and Christy Mathewson.
It’s unlikely we’ll see any Cooperstown-bound players come from this year’s crop, but the teams who opted to select a player will be content if any of these names become a viable reliever or role player for the next several seasons. Here’s a look at this year’s group of 15 Rule 5 players and where they stand a couple of weeks into the 2023 season. We’ll do a few of these throughout the season, keeping tabs on which players survive the season and formally have their long-term rights transferred to their new clubs.
Currently on a Major League Roster
- Thaddeus Ward, RHP (Nationals, from the Red Sox): Ward was one of Boston’s best prospects a few years back but went the better part of two years without pitching due to the canceled 2020 minor league season and Tommy John surgery in 2021. He impressed in 51 minor league frames in his 2022 return, and many Red Sox fans were irked not to see him protected last November. The Nats selected him with the top pick in the Rule 5, and after a solid spring he’s tossed 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on four hits and a couple of walks. Ward is averaging 94.3 mph with his heater and has fanned seven of his 23 opponents (30.4%). The Nats are the exact type of rebuilding team that can afford to carry a player all season even if he struggles, so it’s quite likely that Ward will spend the year in their bullpen — and potentially get a look in the rotation sometime down the road.
- Ryan Noda, 1B/OF (Athletics, from the Dodgers): Like the Nats, the A’s aren’t going anywhere this season, so there’s every incentive for them to give Noda a long audition. The 27-year-old slugger hit .259/.395/.474 in Triple-A last season, and while he fanned in 28.2% of his plate appearances he also walked at a gaudy 16% clip. It’s been more of the same with the A’s. He walked 11 times but fanned on 26 occasions in 69 spring plate appearances. So far in the regular season, he’s belted a pair of homers, drawn seven walks and whiffed a dozen times in 37 A’s plate appearances. The A’s aren’t ones to shy away from a three-true-outcomes skill set, and they’ll see if Noda can do the Jack Cust dance for them moving forward.
- Jose Hernandez, LHP (Pirates, from the Dodgers): A rocky spring didn’t dissuade the Pirates from carrying Hernandez on their Opening Day roster, and so far it seems wise that they looked past that 8.18 Grapefruit League ERA. In 5 1/3 frames, Hernandez has held opponents to one run on five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He’s averaged 96 mph on his heater. The 25-year-old Hernandez used that power fastball and a sharp slider to fan nearly 30% of his opponents in Double-A last year, and the Bucs are currently trusting him as one of two lefties in Derek Shelton’s bullpen. He’s already picked up his first big league hold.
- Blake Sabol, C/OF (Giants, from the Pirates): Sabol was technically selected by the Reds with the fourth pick in the draft, but Cincinnati and San Francisco had an agreed-upon deal sending Sabol to the Giants for a player to be named later. (Such swaps are common in the Rule 5 Draft.) The 25-year-old Sabol split the 2022 season between Double-A and Triple-A in Pittsburgh, batting a combined .284/.363/.497 with 66 games behind the dish and another 22 in the outfield. A monster spring showing (.348/.475/.630) and an injury to Mitch Haniger set the stage for Sabol to open the season in left field for the Giants. He’s hitting just .194/.265/.290 through his first 10 games and has split time between catcher and outfield pretty evenly. If the Giants feel he can legitimately play both spots, that’s just the type of versatility they crave when constructing their roster.
- Mason Englert, RHP (Tigers, from the Rangers): Englert isn’t a power arm but had a strong showing in the Rangers’ High-A and (briefly) Double-A rotations in 2022, when he pitched to a combined 3.64 ERA in 118 2/3 innings. The Tigers have used him out of the bullpen so far, and the results haven’t been great. He’s surrendered six runs in just 7 1/3 innings, including a trio of long balls. Englert was a 2018 fourth-rounder who’s generally regarded as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter. It’s feasible Detroit could get him a look in a starting role at some point. Englert entered the 2023 season with just 15 1/3 innings above A-ball, so some struggles aren’t exactly surprising.
- Kevin Kelly, RHP (Rays, from the Guardians): In a shocking and unprecedented development, the Rays look like they’ve plucked a pitcher from obscurity and perhaps found a keeper. Small sample caveats abound this time of season, but Kelly has now made four relief appearances of at least two innings (including today’s game) and yielded three runs on eight hits and no walks with seven punchouts. That comes on the heels of a 3.38 ERA and 21-to-6 K/BB ratio in 13 1/3 spring innings. The Guardians have a deep farm system and perennial 40-man crunch, which can lead to players like this going unprotected; Kelly posted a 2.04 ERA, 29.9% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate in 57 1/3 frames between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
- Gus Varland, RHP (Brewers, from the Dodgers): The Brewers looked past Varland’s woeful 5.98 ERA in Double-A across the past two seasons, betting on the right-hander’s raw stuff rather than his results. So far, so good. Varland obliterated opposing hitters in spring training, whiffing a comical 17 of the 35 batters he faced (48.6%). So far during the regular season, he’s allowed a pair of runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts through six innings out of the bullpen. Varland is averaging 95.9 mph on his fastball and has kept 11 of the 22 balls in play against him on the ground.
On the Major League Injured List
- Nic Enright, RHP (Marlins, from the Guardians): Enright announced in February that just weeks after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, doctors diagnosed him with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s undergoing treatment and has said he hopes to “use his platform to provide hope and inspiration to others who fight their battle with cancer.” Enright is currently on Miami’s 60-day injured list, but baseball of course takes a back seat in this type of instance. We at MLBTR join fans of the Marlins, Guardians and every other organization in pulling for the 26-year-old Enright and wishing him a full recovery.
- Noah Song, RHP (Phillies, from the Red Sox): Ranked as the No. 65 prospect in the 2019 draft by Baseball America, Song slid to the Red Sox in the fourth round due to his military commitments as a Naval Academy cadet. His professional experience is limited to 17 Low-A innings in 2019 while spending the past three seasons in the Navy but was transferred from active duty to selective reserves earlier this year, allowing him to play baseball. He’s on the Phillies’ 15-day injured list with a back strain, and it’s tough to imagine him just diving into a Major League bullpen after spending three years away from the game. Still, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski held that same title in Boston when the Red Sox drafted Song and has said since the Rule 5 Draft that he feels Song’s pure talent is worth the risk.
- Wilking Rodriguez, RHP (Cardinals, from the Yankees): The 33-year-old Rodriguez is a remarkable story. It’s been eight years since he last pitched in affiliated ball and nine years since his lone MLB cup of coffee with the Royals. Since then, he’s been a staple in the Venezuelan Winter League and the Mexican League. During his past two seasons in Mexico, he hurled 73 innings with a 2.71 ERA — including 44 2/3 innings of 2.01 ERA ball with a 43.2% strikeout rate there in 2022. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal in August, but because of his prior minor league experience from 2007-15, he was Rule 5-eligible and selected by the Cardinals. A right shoulder issue has Rodriguez on the 15-day IL right now. He’s yet to pitch for the Cardinals this year.
Already Returned to their Former Club
- Nick Avila, RHP: Avila allowed eight runs in ten spring innings with the White Sox and was returned to the Giants, for whom he posted an electric 1.14 ERA in 55 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A last season.
- Andrew Politi, RHP: Politi was tagged for six runs on nine hits and three walks in 8 2/3 spring innings with the Orioles, who returned him to the Red Sox late in camp.
- Jose Lopez, LHP: Lopez walked five batters in six frames with the Padres this spring, and the Friars returned him to the Rays on March 27.
- Chris Clarke, RHP: The towering 6’7″ Clarke faced the tough task of cracking a deep Mariners bullpen and was returned to the Cubs late in spring training after allowing four runs on eight hits and a pair of walks in 6 2/3 innings.
- Zach Greene, RHP: The Mets plucked Greene out of the Yankees’ system, but in 4 2/3 innings during spring training he yielded seven runs with more walks (six) than strikeouts (five). The Mets returned him to the Yankees on March 14.
Noah ain’t the same on the south side of town
You can look but you ain’t gonna find him around
Same old Story, same old Song and Dave
I think every club would love a catcher/outfielder capable player. Dude needs to hit better, for sure, but if he does what a find.
Love the Rays line.
Ancient Expos Fan
Agree 100% on the Rays line. Probably also means that Kevin Kelly is eventually going to win the Cu Young. And Rays will probably turn Jose Lopez into a solid piece.
Englert had 1 bad outing and kinda got hung out to dry against the Jays. Hope he has success even if he doesn’t see a lot this year making the jump from AA
I think Englert is going to be the next Whitlock I think.
*I think I said “I think” once too many.
Motor City Beach Bum
He looked pretty sharp in his other outings. I think they’ll hang onto him.
Ryan Noda has a pretty swing and was simply blocked on the Dodgers by higher profile prospects, but he was putting up the big numbers. Love to see blocked guys who are tearing it up get a change of scenery and succeed. Its not hard to see Noda eking out a decent career sometimes being a mix of Darin Ruf and Matt Olson to some success.
There’s quite the talent and performance gap between Ruf and Olson, but I get the gist of what you’re saying.
I meant like “on his best day, he will do Matt Olson things” but that doesn’t mean he will be Matt Olson every single day. He could be 2023 Darin Ruf too. I’m not into hardline predicting like that haha
I expected a team to trade for him at the deadline last year or early in the off-season. When I saw the Dodgers had gotten Gallo from the Yankees I thought for sure Noda was going to be the return. His bat is similar to players like Luke Voit who Cashman seems to like to give a chance. Never thought the Dodgers would give up a pitching prospect for someone like Gallo. A’s have a good one here. Just wish he had a better park to call home.
The way the Phillies are burning through bullpen options, time for ALEVE and start getting Song those precious days on the active roster started….
But guessing late May the final decision will be made. Hopefully he gets his shot with the Phils.
Hard to imagine song will be able to stick with a contender. Would be cool to see him get a chance in a big league game though.
Liking how Hernandez has looked so far. Small sample size, of course, but hopefully he keeps stepping up as the LHP RP the Pirates need
Noah Song appeared in 7 games with Lowell of the then New York/Penn league in 2019 pitching 17 innings. I would say he threw more than a few “professional pitches”
Calm down there. Take a deep breath.
I’m extremely calm and my breathing is fine. Thank you for your concern.
The Rockies originally drafted Kelly, but they almost immediately traded him to the Rays and as a Guardians fan that’s when I knew they wouldn’t be getting him back lol
He’d been a solid reliever in the minors and was probably worth protecting, but you can’t keep everyone and it’s tough to blame them for wanting to protect a lefty (Tim Herrin) with similar stuff instead. It could be interesting to compare their careers though.
The key to both the Red Sox and Phillies seasons is Noah Song. If he’s rightfully returned to the Red Sox, both teams will start being good.
My guess is that Song is a late 2024 call-up, at best.
Mark Canha should be in that list of past rule 5 impact players.
Returning Politi was a mistake.
Haven’t heard the name Jack Cust in a while. He went to my school a few years before me.
Everyone knew he was roiding all through school. Not long after he left the younger guys that were in that group got busted for it. They weren’t even trying to be sly about it either with two of the dudes balding and rocking massive roid guy at 17
Sabol could be better tbh. I’m not impressed with his play behind the plate. Outfield I’m not as bullish on.
As for the catching situation, they need to let Joey Bart play. Stop batting him at the bottom of the lineup, put protection behind him, so he gets some pitches to hit. The strikeout issue is team wide, clearly a coaching issue, not a player issue.
Johan Santana was the BEST rule 5 pick up!