The 2020 Rule 5 Draft will be coming up this week on December 10th (during the “virtual” MLB Winter Meetings), and it seems likely that the Kansas City Royals will once again be an active participant in the annual event. The Royals made picks in the Rule 5 Draft in 2019 and 2018 (Stephen Woods, Jr. and Sam McWilliams, respectively), and traded for two Rule 5 picks in 2017 (Brad Keller and Burch Smith). Thus, with an ownership group that seems willing to invest in building organizational depth, and with four spots on the 40-man roster left to fill, it seems likely that general manager Dayton Moore will once again utilize the Rule 5 Draft to help build the roster at the Major League level in 2021.
Of course, the Rule 5 Draft is a gamble for any organization. While the draft has produced Royals contributors such as Keller and Joakim Soria (who was drafted in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft; he was Moore’s first Rule 5 pick), neither McWilliams nor Woods played with the Royals after being drafted (though the Royals did trade for Woods’ rights after he was offered back to the Rays). Thus, it will be interesting if many teams will take risks on Rule 5 picks, especially with reports coming out about the the “tight” finances of MLB clubs this off-season.
If the Royals do take a player in this iteration of the draft, it most likely will be a pitcher. Since Moore has taken over as Royals General Manager at the beginning of the 2006 season, he has been active in eight Rule 5 Drafts (he has made seven selections; in 2017, the Royals didn’t make a pick, but they traded for two Rule 5 selections). In all eight Rule 5 Drafts under Moore, the Royals acquired pitchers. Thus, it doesn’t seem plausible that Moore will buck that trend, especially considering how much Moore values pitching depth at both the Minor and Major League level.
So, taking a look at MLB.com’s Top Rule 5-eligible prospects, I focused on five pitchers who could be possible targets for the Royals on Thursday, should they get involved in the Draft.
Roel Ramirez, RHP (St. Louis Cardinals)
Ramirez is the 27th best prospect in the Cardinals system, and flashes a lot of similarities to former Royals Rule 5 pick Soria. In 2019, he made a move from the rotation to the bullpen, and he made 36 appearances as a reliever in Double-A Springfield, posting a 4.98 ERA in 72.1 IP. Last year, Ramirez did make one appearance with the Cardinals, but it was a disaster, as he allowed six hits, four home runs and a walk in 0.2 IP. Here is a video compilation of his debut below:
While his debut was certainly one to forget, Ramirez has some interesting tools, with a fastball-splitter combo this is rated as 60 and 55 grade pitches, respectively. Considering his upper Minor League experience, it is possible that the Royals could perhaps ease Ramirez in as low-leverage reliever at first, and hope that he could develop his control and command over the course of the season.
Enyel De Los Santos, RHP (Philadelphia Phillies)
De Los Santos may be the most heralded player eligible in the Rule 5 Draft, as he has 30 MLB innings under his belt, and is currently the Phillies’ 9th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. De Los Santos will be 25 years old soon, and he casts a big presence on the mound, as he stands at 6’3, and 235 pounds. He has moved around a lot in his professional career, as he was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2014 and was traded to the Padres before eventually landing in Philadelphia. De Los Santos made his debut in 2018 and was decent, as he posted a 4.74 ERA in seven appearances (which included two starts) and 19 IP. However, he took a step back in 2019, as he only pitched 11 innings and allowed 13 hits and 9 runs, which produced an ERA of 7.36. Despite being a Top-10 prospect, De Los Santos did not pitch with the Phillies in 2020, and they chose to leave him off the 40-man roster as well, which left him eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
However, when one sees him pitch on tape, it is easy to see his potential, as evidenced by his 10-strikeout performance in five innings of work with the Leigh Iron Valley Pigs in 2019:
If the Royals select De Los Santos, he could be a middle-relief option right away that could transition to a higher-leverage role should he surprise in a change of scenery. According to Pipeline’s scouting report, he has a solid fastball-slider combo that would suit well in relief. That being said, he will have to improve his command (career 1.85 K/BB ratio in the Majors) if he wants to make it at the MLB level.
Parker Dunshee, RHP (Oakland Athletics)
Dunshee is the Athletics’ 27th-best prospect and he’s a polished college arm who could be a reliever in the Tyler Zuber type. Though he has mostly pitched as a starter in the Minors, there is some sentiment that Dunshee could be of better value to an organization with a move to the bullpen. While his 5.38 ERA in Las Vegas in 2019 may pop some eyeballs out (and not in a good way), it was mostly fueled by a hitter-friendly PCL environment, as he allowed 21 home runs in 92 innings of work. However, his overall Minor League ERA is 2.94 in 321 innings of work, and his career K/BB ratio is 3.85, which also included a 2.43 mark in Las Vegas, not bad considering the ERA. When looking at his highlights from Double-A in 2018, and it is very easy for Royals fans to see some shades of Zuber:
Dunshee has a five pitch arsenal (Fastball, Slider, Cutter, Changeup, and Curve), though according to Pipeline’s scouting report, “his lack of an out pitch made it tough for him to find consistent success” in Triple-A. However, Dunshee may be worth taking a flier on, with the hope that a move to the Royals bullpen could perhaps help him narrow his repertoire, and help him find that “out” pitch that evaded Dunshee in 2019.
Thomas Burrows, LHP (Atlanta Braves)
Burrows is probably the least sexy name of this bunch as he profiles primarily as a two-pitch reliever, and didn’t accumulate a whole lot of innings in 2019 (he only pitched 57 innings as a reliever across Triple-A Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi). Burrows is the 24th best prospect in the Braves system, according to MLB Pipeline, which has traditionally done pretty well when it comes to developing pitching talent. Here is what MLB Pipeline said in their scouting report about Burrows:
Though he hasn’t always been consistent, Burrows has shown enough glimpses of a strong fastball-slider combination to give faith he can be a big league bullpen piece in the near future. While his fastball sits typically in the low 90s, he throws it from a low three-quarters slot, making it tougher to pick up and hit. But his real bread-and-butter is his slider, which is particularly effective against left-handed hitters. Even with his up-and-down 2019 season, he missed plenty of bats (9.9 K/9).“No. 24: Thomas Burrows” Atlanta Braves Top-30 Prospects; MLB Pipeline
It feels like Burrows is what Daniel Tillo may be once Tillo is healthy and fully transitions to the bullpen. That being said, Burrows has a more limited pitch arsenal than Tillo, and he doesn’t seem to be as good an athelete either, as evidenced by his scouting video:
However, with Tillo recovering from Tommy John and his return unknown, and Richard Lovelady being the only other “healthy” left-handed relief option on the 40-man roster, it is not out of the question to think that Moore might acquire Burrows to see if the former Brave could boost the Royals bullpen in 2021. If Burrows is drafted and has a strong Spring Training, he may be the first lefty Royals reliever out of the pen by Opening Day.
Pedro Avila, RHP (San Diego Padres)
Avila is the Padres’ 26th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and has the potential to be a spot starter or long relief option at the MLB level. All his pitches grade pretty well, and he had a solid MLB debut in 2019, as he went 5.1 innings and allowed four hits, one run and two walks while striking out five in his first and only start. Why was it his only start though? Well, he experienced arm issues and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his entire 2020.
Jacob Markle of Bless You Boys, a Detroit Tigers SB Nation blog, did a Rule 5 preview, and listed Avila as one of eight prospects to watch. Here is what he said about Avila in his report:
Avila’s fastball won’t blow anyone away, he sits in the low 90s, but he wins by keeping hitters off balance with a quality slider/changeup combination that he controls with finesse. Avila could be a decent innings eater for the Tigers right away if he’s healthy again. He’s only 23 years old, has scraped the mid-90s in the past, and pitchers often return from TJS with extra velocity, so there could also be more in the tank.“8 pitchers the Tigers could target in the Rule 5 Draft” by Jacob Markle; Bless You Boys
Here’s a prospect video of Avila pitching in High-A Lake Elsinore, and he held his own despite pitching in the hitter friendly environment of the California League:
The Royals are looking to find success at the Big League level with former Padres prospects, as evidenced by Moore acquiring Franchy Cordero, Edward Olivares, and Ronald Bolanos last Summer. Hence, it will be interesting to see if Avila will join those three former Padres by being selected by the Royals in this upcoming Rule 5 Draft.