Some MLB teams are closing their spring complexes to scouts from other teams until either Major League spring play commences or until after the Rule 5 draft, per ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel (via Twitter).
McDaniel also suggests the Rule 5 draft could be cancelled outright, at which point teams would likely be more lenient. Canceling the Rule 5 draft would be unfortunate, as it offers at least an opportunity to blocked minor league players to get opportunities for promotion elsewhere. While it may pale in comparison to the other issues currently on the table, canceling the Rule 5 draft would close off at least one avenue that struggling teams have utilized to find and audition controllable players.
The implications here are fairly clear. Currently the only players allowed in camp are those that are not on the 40-man roster. Those are also the players who will be available for plucking during the Rule 5 draft. By locking opposing scouts out of camp, teams are strategically denying valuable information to clubs about the progress of certain players. Without current scouting, teams picking in the Rule 5 draft will have to rely on old information, which is difficult when specifically looking for players who might have jumped a rung in terms of their development.
Last year’s Rule 5 draft proved a (relatively) fertile area of player acquisition for Major League clubs. Akil Baddoo (Tigers), Garrett Whitlock (Red Sox), Jordan Sheffield (Rockies), Trevor Stephan (Guardians), and Zach Pop (Marlins) being among the players who stuck with new clubs after being taken in the draft. Tyler Gilbert (Diamondbacks) put up 1.1 rWAR for Arizona after being selected in the Triple-A phase of the draft. He improbably tosses a No-Hitter in his first start for the Diamondbacks, finishing the year with a 3.15 ERA/4.27 FIP over 40 innings in the Majors. These players provided some of the more memorable success stories from the 2021 campaign.
Whitlock, for example, was one of the most important players on a playoff team. Working out of the bullpen, Whitlock became the Red Sox most reliable reliever down the stretch. He finished the year with a 1.96 ERA/2.84 FIP across 46 outings totaling 73 1/3 innings, good for 3.0 rWAR. Finding a ready contributor like Whitlock in another team’s complex will be much more difficult if scouts don’t have access to those playing fields.