At this point of the season, it’s reasonable to expect the remaining Rule 5 players who are on big league rosters to hold those spots for the remainder of the season. That doesn’t mean that each has necessarily impressed to the point where he’s viewed as a viable long-term option, but with rosters set to expand in a couple of weeks and this much time already invested in each player, the remaining prospects who are clinging to eligibility have likely secured themselves a look in 2019 — even if it means opening the season in the minors.
When I last checked in on this year’s Rule 5-ers back in June, there were nine players either on active MLB rosters or on the big league disabled list, with the rest of this year’s class having been returned to their original organizations. That number hasn’t changed, though the complexion of the list is a bit different, and there have been some encouraging strides among the bunch. Here’s how the class looks at present:
Active Big Leaguers
- Victor Reyes, OF, Tigers (from D-backs): Reyes still isn’t hitting much, but the Tigers have given him much more time in the outfield as the season wears on. The 23-year-old played just nine complete games through the end of June, but since July 1, he’s logged 22 full games of action in addition to numerous partial appearances where he’s either been pinch-hit for or entered the game as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement. Reyes is hitting just .244/.279/.256 through 86 PAs in July and August, so he’s not impressing at the plate in spite of the recent uptick in playing time. He is 7-for-8 in stolen base attempts and has registered solid defensive marks in the outfield. It still seems likely that he’ll be ticketed for regular work in Triple-A next season once he can be optioned.
- Brad Keller, RHP, Royals (from D-backs): As the Kansas City Star’s Maria Torres noted over the weekend, Keller has been a rare bright spot in a largely abysmal season for the Royals. Keller posted underwhelming numbers in Double-A last season and skipped Triple-A entirely, but the Royals deserve some credit for nabbing him anyway last December. In 100 1/3 innings this year, Keller has posted a terrific 3.32 ERA. And while his 6.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 marks are underwhelming, he’s notched a strong 54.8 percent ground-ball rate. It remains to be seen if Keller can sustain his minuscule 0.45 HR/9 rate, though he’s never averaged even a homer per nine frames in the minors. Fielding-independent pitching metrics are fairly spread out on him, due in no small part to that low homer rate, but if he can settle in even as a pitcher capable of delivering an ERA in the low 4.00s over a season’s worth of starts, that’d make him a very successful pick.
- Burch Smith, RHP, Royals (from Rays, via trade w/ Mets): Kansas City hasn’t been as successful with Smith, whose ERA sits at an ugly 6.54 through 64 2/3 innings — mostly out of the bullpen. He’s averaged 8.6 K/9 against 4.5 BB/9, and in addition to issuing too many walks, he’s been far too homer-prone (1.95 HR/9). More than 18 percent of the fly-balls against Smith have left the yard — a troubling trend for a pitcher with just a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate. Smith barely pitched from 2014-17 due to injuries, including Tommy John surgery, so the Royals may not want to give up on him in spite of the poor results. At this point, they’ve come far enough along that it could make sense to keep him around and see how he fares in the upper minors next season. He’ll be 29 in April, but he has minor league options remaining.
- Carlos Tocci, OF, Rangers (from Phillies, via trade w/ White Sox): Tocci has been the most seldom-used player in the Majors, functioning almost exclusively as a defensive replacement for much of the season. He’s appeared in 51 games and totaled just 103 plate appearances, but the Rangers have given him a slight increase in playing time in August. This month, he’s started nine games and shown a bit of promise in that tiny sample, hitting .300/.323/.367 in 33 plate appearances — albeit with nine punchouts and just one walk. Tocci is hitting .207/.255/.250 overall, though, and appears ticketed for minor league work in 2019 even if his glove has been solid in limited work to date.
- Elieser Hernandez, RHP, Marlins (from Astros): Hernandez, who turned 23 back in May, made the jump from High-A to the Majors and, unsurprisingly, has posted less-than-stellar results. He’s tossed 56 2/3 innings for Miami, including five starts, while working to a 5.08 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.27 HR/9 and an extremely low 26.3 percent ground-ball rate. Some struggles were to be expected given the considerable jump he faced, however, and it’d be fair to say he’s at least held his own, given that he skipped both Double-A and Triple-A. He should survive the season with the rebuilding Marlins, and he’ll likely be ticketed for upper-minors work in 2019.
- Brett Graves, RHP, Marlins (from Athletics): Graves was on the DL back in June, having missed the first two-plus months of the season with an oblique injury. Since making his big league debut, he’s posted a 6.23 ERA with 10 strikeouts against seven walks (two intentional) and three hit batters in 17 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old has primarily been a starter in the minors but has been used out of the bullpen in Miami to this point. He’s displayed good ground-ball tendencies thus far (53.6 percent) and has yet to allow a homer. Though he missed notable time this year, Graves was activated early enough that he’ll accrue the requisite 90 days on the active roster to shed his Rule 5 status this season — provided he doesn’t incur an injury before rosters expand.
On the Major League Disabled List
- Julian Fernandez, RHP, Giants (from Rockies): Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery back in April. He’ll accrue MLB service time while spending the season on the 60-day disabled list and will retain his Rule 5 status heading into 2019, if the Giants wish to hang onto him all offseason.
- Pedro Araujo, RHP, Orioles (from Cubs): Araujo is the last of three Orioles picks from the 2017 Rule 5 Draft remaining on the big league roster, but he’s been on the DL since June 11 due to an elbow sprain. When he was active, he showed plenty of ability to miss bats (13.9 percent swinging-strike rate, 9.3 K/9) but also averaged 5.8 walks and a staggering 2.89 homers per nine innings pitched. It’s not clear if he’ll return this season, but if he doesn’t, he’ll retain his Rule 5 eligibility into 2019. The Orioles won’t be able to option him until he spends 90 days on the active MLB roster, and he’s a bit more than two weeks shy of that right now.
- Nick Burdi, RHP, Pirates (from Twins via trade w/ Phillies): The flame-throwing Burdi missed nearly all of 2016 due to injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017, but he’s finally on the comeback trail in a new organization. Pittsburgh sent the former Louisville standout on a rehab assignment earlier this month, and he’s pitched seven innings with an 11-to-4 K/BB ratio across three levels so far. He’s yielded five earned runs in that time, though the Bucs likely aren’t focusing heavily on bottom-line results at this point of his recovery. Burdi will have to carry over his Rule 5 eligibility into the 2019 season if the Pirates wish to retain him, but he’s a highly intriguing bullpen piece who could be worth the investment. Burdi’s heater received 80 grades on the 20-80 scale prior to surgery, and he’s been touted as a potential big league closer since his college days.
Returned to Original Organization
- Anyelo Gomez, RHP: Returned to Yankees by the Braves
- Nestor Cortes Jr., LHP: Returned to Yankees by the Orioles
- Jordan Milbrath, RHP: Returned to Indians by the Pirates
- Mike Ford, 1B: Returned to Yankees by the Mariners
- Anthony Gose, LHP: Returned to Rangers by the Astros
- Jose Mesa Jr., RHP: Returned to Yankees by the Orioles
- Tyler Kinley, RHP: Returned to Marlins by the Twins
- Luke Bard, RHP: Returned to Twins by the Angels