Generally followed by only the hardcore-est of the hardcore, the Rule 5 draft has been a bigger point of emphasis in recent years as transactions at the Winter Meetings have slowed. The draft has three phases- the major league phase, the Triple-A phase and the Double-A phase- and players are eligible to be selected if they have been playing pro ball for four years if signed after their 19th birthday, or five years if signed before, and are not currently on their parent club’s 40-man roster. Players selected in the major league phase come with a $100,000 transaction fee and must remain on their new team’s 25-man roster throughout the entirety of the upcoming season, or they must be offered back to the team they were selected from. Teams will sometimes get around this requirement by negotiating a trade for the player they selected in the Rule 5, allowing them to then send that player down to the minor leagues without restriction. Those drafted in the minor league phases have no such roster restriction, and become full members of their new organization for a fee of $12,000 (Triple-A phase) or $4,000 (Double-A Phase).
The 2018 edition took place at noon eastern today, and saw the Astros figure heavily into the action. Virtually every projection had righty reliever Riley Ferrell coming off the board early, and those predictions came true when the Marlins made him their selection in the major league phase. Ferrell was a 3rd round pick of the Astros in 2015 after serving as TCU’s closer, and was seen as having big league closer upside. To some that is still the case, but the control issues that prevented Ferrell from starting in college have not gone away, or even lessened to a significant degree. While he’s had no issue missing bats with his plus fastball/slider combination, he walked 34 batters in in 51.2 innings in 2018 between Double and Triple-A. He was picked for his stuff, which remains easy plus, but to stick in the majors long-term he will need to make some real improvement in the strike-throwing department. Relief pitchers are among the easiest to stash on a big league roster for a full season, so while it is entirely possible that Ferrell is ineffective for Miami in 2019, the probability is probably low that he will be offered back the Astros.
Towards the end of the major league phase, the Giants snagged another Astro in CF Drew Ferguson. A member of the same 2015 draft class as a 19th rounder, Ferguson has been a strong piece for the Astros’ minor league clubs at virtually every stop. At 5’11”, 180, Ferguson has a bit of pop, above average speed and can handle any outfield position, making him an ideal fourth outfielder. He’s already 26 and does not project as a regular, but was a natural option in the Rule 5 due to his combination of pro-ready polish and versatility. Ferguson isn’t exactly a contact dynamo, typically striking out a clip north of 20%, and only managed double digit home runs at a single stop once, during his 90 game stint with the Lancaster JetHawks in which he also stole 28 bags. While Ferguson had no path to playing time in Houston barring multiple injuries, he is ready to contribute to a major league bench and should have a safe roster spot with San Francisco so long as he can handle the bat against major league pitching. It is for players like this that the Rule 5 draft exists.
In the minor league phases there was more activity, with the Astros losing another arm and adding their only player of the day. Righthanded pitcher Ryan Thompson was plucked by the Rays, having pitched in a relief capacity for Corpus and Fresno in 2018. Thompson has 6’6” size and was generally tough on minor league hitters last year, posting an 18.0% K-BB% in 59 innings with Corpus, which translated to a 2.77 FIP. Thompson’s statistical profile is that of a large finesse pitcher who excels in limiting free passes and long balls. Thompson was a 23rd round selection of Houston in 2014, and was seen as an organizational player or borderline prospect.
Towards the end of the action, the Astros finally made a selection, grabbing backstop Alejandro Flores from the Nationals organization. Flores is just 22, and had returned to American ball after a two-year stint in the Mexican League, where he played for Hagerstown in the SAL league and saw the field in 66 games. While his slash line of .216/.309/.390 is lackluster, he did have solid strikeout and walk rates of 18.0% and 9.8% and was hamstrung by a .244 BABIP. Despite the ugly batting average, Flores’ performance still translated to a 102 wRC+, and his .174 ISO evidences some modest pop. Flores is a bit of an enigma, and is likely just seen as organizational catching depth, but given his youth and strange path through pro ball thus far, there could be potential for a step forward here.