‘Four-Out, One-In”: A look at the MiLB Rule 5 Draft, and the Royals’ most recent addition

The Major League Baseball Rule 5 Draft has been tabled for now due to the owner’s lockout, but the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft was still able to take place on Wednesday, December 8th.

For those who don’t know, the MiLB Rule 5 Draft works a little differently from the Major League version, which is more widely familiar with baseball fans. Here’s Max Rieper explaining some of the differences between the two drafts, and why the Minor League portion is even more of a crapshoot than the Major League one, which typically happens around this time of the year as well (it usually wraps up the MLB Winter Meetings):

The minor league Rule 5 draft is different than the MLB Rule 5 draft, which was postponed until the lockout is over. In the minor league Rule 5 draft, any player that is eligible for the MLB Rule 5 draft and is not on the Triple-A 38-man roster can be selected. Any team that selects a player must pay $24,500 to the original team, but unlike the MLB Rule 5 draft, the selected player is not required to stay on any particular roster all season. Very few players from the minor league Rule 5 draft ever make the big leagues, but a few have had an impact such as Justin Bour, Omar Narvaez, Alejandro De Aza, and Tyler Gilbert.

“Royals lose four pitchers in the minor league Rule 5 draft” by Max Rieper; Royals Review

The Royals could not select anyone in the MiLB Rule 5 draft, as they had a full 38-man roster, as highlighted by Royals Athletic beat writer Alec Lewis:

While the Royals could not select anyone, they did lose four players in the draft, all pitchers (which tends to be typical in the Major League Rule 5 draft, in addition to the Minor League one).

Honestly, while the four players lost have some interesting profiles, they probably were longshots to crack the Major League roster in 2022, especially with the plethora of pitching depth in the Royals system, as evidenced on Fangraphs’ Roster Resource Depth Chart. Furthermore, that’s not taking into account free agency once the lockout is over, as relief pitching was mentioned as a priority for the Royals front office this offseason, and they already have added one in Taylor Clarke, who was signed shortly before the lockout.

Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the four pitchers the Royals lost in Wednesday’s draft, as well as the most recent Minor League move they made on Thursday afternoon to shore up their middle infield depth in Triple-A Omaha.

The biggest loss for the Royals in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 draft has to be Grant Gavin, a local product who went to St. Pius X High School in the Northland. Gavin seemed like a candidate to make his Major League debut at some point in 2021, especially after his first month with the Storm Chasers.

According to Baseball-Reference splits, in eight appearances and 16 IP in May in Omaha, Gavin posted a 2.25 ERA and struck out 21 batters while only walking four, good for a K/BB ratio of 5.25.

June was not as impressive, as his ERA was 4.96 over nine appearances and 16.1 IP. However, Gavin still struck out batters at a high rate (11.0 K/9), and minimized walks (4.00 K/BB ratio), despite giving up more home runs in his second month of play in Triple-A (five in June compared to one in May). Gavin doesn’t sport an elite fastball (reports said it sat in the low to mid 90’s), but he showcased excellent control, and some good breaking stuff in the first two months, as evidenced in this strikeout below of the St. Paul Saints’ Keon Broxton (of the Twins organization) in early June:

Unfortunately, Gavin started to regress the deeper the Storm Chasers went into the Triple-A season. He posted ERA marks of 5.52, 4.76, and 5.16 in July, August, and September, respectively. Furthermore, his K/BB ratio also plummeted to 1.33 and 1.75 in July and August, respectively. While Gavin’s 4.36 ERA and 2.63 K/BB ratio wasn’t bad by any means, especially considering it was over 74.1 IP with the Storm Chasers, it was mostly padded by a really good first two months.

Hence, considering that rough middle stretch of the season, and the lack of “premium” stuff (Gavin was not a Top-51 prospect last year, according to Fangraphs rankings), it is not a surprise that the Royals opted not to call up the 26-year-old Parkville native. While Gavin would have been a better story to bring fans to Kauffman Stadium than mid-season acquisitions Anthony Swarzak or even Domingo Tapia, it never seemed like the Royals trusted Gavin enough to give him an opportunity at the Major League level.

Now, Gavin will try to prove that he can fit in the San Diego Padres bullpen, as they drafted him 10th overall:

While Gavin may have a realistic shot of earning a spot in the Padres bullpen in 2022 (if everything falls right), the other three former Royals pitchers selected in the MiLB Rule 5 draft are more high-risk, and have a low likelihood of making a Major League roster next year, or in the near future at all.

Austin Lambright was the second-highest former Royals pitcher, as he was selected by the Boston Red Sox. A former 10th round pick by the Royals in the vaunted 2018 draft, Lambright hasn’t pitched since 2019, as he missed all of last year due to recovery from Tommy John (his second instance, as he got Tommy John surgery in college). In his last professional stint, Lambright struck out 74 batters in 47.1 IP across low-A Lexington and High-A Wilmington.

The now 27-year-old carries the potential to be a lefty specialist who can make batters swing and miss in the late innings. That being said, he hasn’t pitched competitively in two years, and after a second TJ surgery, it will be a longshot that Lambright will do much for the Red Sox other than give bullpen depth in their organization at the Double-A or maybe Triple-A level in 2022.

The other two selections were Robert Garcia, who was selected by the Miami Marlins, and Luis de Avila, who was selected by the Atlanta Braves. Both pitched in Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Low-A Columbia, respectively, and while they showed some flashes of potential, they both were hit far too much to be effective long-term bullpen options in Kansas City.

Garcia was drafted by the Royals in the 15th round of the 2017 out of UC Davis (I’m privy to him as a Sacramento-native, though I am more of a Sacramento State guy). Garcia did strike out 60 batters in 48 IP, and posted a 2.61 K/BB ratio with the Naturals in 2021. However, he gave up 9.2 hits per nine innings, and as a result, ended the 2021 campaign with a 5.63 ERA. While he didn’t get a tremendous number of save opportunities, he did show that he could handle high-leverage situations at times in Double-A, as evidenced by this save he noticed against Wichita in July:

As for De Avila, he also generated his fair share of swings and misses, much like Garica. Over 52.1 IP with the Fireflies, he struck out 59 batters and posted a 3.11 K/BB ratio, which is similar to what Garcia did with the Naturals. However, he was hit far more often than Garcia, as De Avila gave up a H/9 of 11.9 against Low-A hitters, not exactly a sterling mark.

De Avila may remind some of a Framber Valdez-lite, and that is evident by this clip of him below, competing for his native country of Colombia in international competition:

There certainly are some interesting tools from De Avila, in addition to Garcia and Lambright. That being said, with the amount of depth the Royals have pitching-wise, it is likely that the Royals organization will be able to handle the loss of these high-risk arms in 2022.

While the Royals lost some interesting talent in the MiLB Rule 5 draft, the Royals did make a Minor League acquisition, which can still happen during the lockout (only Major League moves are prohibited).

At the surface level, Castillo is not a “head-turning” move by the Royals front office. He only posted a 73 wRC+ in Triple-A El Paso across 113 games and 435 plate appearances, and though he made his Major League debut in 2021, he only appeared in three games for San Diego:

Castillo appears to be an infield version of Edward Olivares: not a lot of power, ho-hum BB/K ratio (0.34 in 2021), and he has some base-stealing ability, though he didn’t really showcase it very much last season (only 12 stolen bases on 17 attempts in Triple-A a year ago).

Originally signed by the Cleveland Guardians organization in 2012, Castillo was the 28th-best prospect in the Padres system last year, according to Baseball America. Here’s what Baseball America said about Castillo in their scouting report at the beginning of the year:

A late bloomer, Castillo has found his niche as a reliable player who isn’t flashy but gets the job done. He’s the rare switch-hitter who is productive from both sides of the plate, although he is stronger righthanded. He handles velocity, rarely strikes out and has tremendous instincts in the batter’s box. Castillo lacks power and rarely walks, but he consistently gets the bat to the ball and finds a way to get on base. Castillo’s average speed plays up with his excellent baserunning skills, helping him be successful on 74% of stolen base attempts in his career. He is a tick above average defender at second base and shortstop with an average arm, and he has also played third base, center field and left field.

Ivan Castillo Scouting Report; Baseball America

Castillo seems to be the quintessential prospect that Dayton Moore likes to acquire, and it is pretty likely that Moore and the Royals front office won’t give him much of a chance either, much like Olivares, Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, and Lucius Fox before him.

That being said, I do think Castillo was acquired to solidify the middle infield in Triple-A Omaha. The Royals already lost Fox on waivers to the Orioles, and they also were looking thin after former 40-man member Jeison Guzman signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Minor League free agency:

Right now, the only middle infielders “projected” to be in Triple-A are Gabriel Cancel and Clay Dungan, and they are more second base types than shortstops. While Nick Loftin could perhaps make a run to be the starting shortstop in Omaha at some point in 2022, it is likely that he will begin the year in Double-A Northwest Arkansas (since he primarily played in High-A Quad Cities in 2021).

Sure, it is possible that Bobby Witt, Jr. could start the year in Omaha, which means he would be slated to be the incumbent shortstop for the Storm Chasers. However, depending on how CBA negotiations go, it is possible that Witt, Jr. could make the Royals Opening Day starting lineup, especially considering the “hole” at third base, currently.

Thus, the acquisition of Castillo should excite Royals fans in that way…

It gives insurance at shortstop for the Storm Chasers, should Witt be playing in Kansas City on Opening Day in Cleveland in 2022.

Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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