The MLB Winter Meetings will begin on Sunday, December 4th, and take place through Wednesday, December 7th. While the possibilities of different trades and signings will be on the mind of most baseball fans, the major event of the Winter Meetings tends to be the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place on Wednesday.
The Rule 5 Draft did not take place last year due to the MLB lockout. Thus, there will be a plentiful pool of available players on Wednesday.
The Royals have long been active participants in the Rule 5 Draft, as they acquired Brad Keller through the December draft back in 2017. Burch Smith in 2017, Sam McWilliams in 2018 and Stephen Woods, Jr. in 2019 were also picked up via the Rule 5 Draft but did not last as long in the Royals organization as Keller.
Nonetheless, this draft can be an ideal way for the MLB teams to pick up solid pitching or position player talent (the Tigers have found success with Victor Reyes and Akil Baddoo) at a low price (each pick costs $100K roughly).
It will be interesting to see if the Royals will be active in the Rule 5 Draft, as they are currently full on the 40-man roster, and would thus have to designate someone for assignment in order to select someone in Wednesday’s draft. The Royals did not select anyone in the 2020 draft, and it seems, for now, they are content with how their roster is looking, as their only major non-tenders this offseason were Luke Weaver, Jake Brentz, and Nate Webb.
While the Royals may not be active themselves in the draft, they have a lot of intriguing prospects in their farm system who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. It is highly possible that one of those prospects could be gone from the Royals organization after the draft completes on Wednesday.
Baseball America in their most recent Rule 5 Draft preview already mentioned one possible Royals prospect who could get picked up by another team come draft night.
Therefore, in this post, I wanted to take look at the position players, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers in the Royals farm system who are Rule 5 eligible and could be selected.
It is important to note that I will not be looking at ALL Rule 5-eligible players in this post, simply the ones I could see possibly getting selected, based on the past precedent of previous drafts. If you want to see all Rule 5-eligible players, Roster Resource’s Royals depth chart does a good job of listing them all out.
Remember, other organizations may like Rule 5-eligible players in other organizations, but they have to keep them up at the Major League level the whole season. Therefore, teams want to draft guys who offer upside and premium tools but haven’t put it together for one reason or the other.
Polished, but low-ceiling prospects will tend NOT to be drafted because the fact of the matter is that other organizations already have plenty of those kinds of players in their system. Hence, it is likely we won’t see players like Clay Dungan, Jake Means, or Austin Cox selected in the Rule 5 draft, because other teams have plenty of versions of those players in their own farm system.
Let’s take a look then at prospects in the Royals system who could hear their name called on Wednesday.
I have written about Porter before on this blog. The more I dive into him, the more I like, and wish we could find a spot for him on the Royals roster. On the other hand, I think that will be the same train of thoughts for opposing teams leading up to the Rule 5 Draft.
Porter has pretty much performed at the plate at every level within the Royals farm system. Over this past year, he hit .301 with a 142 wRC+ in 327 plate appearances in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and in Triple-A Omaha, he pretty much did the same thing with a .301 average and 150 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances. The 27-year-old catcher and corner infielder demonstrates a superb eye ate the plate, as he has never posted a walk rate below 14.5 percent and has only posted a BB/K ratio below 0.80 once in his career.
The issue for Porter has been determining his defensive position, as his defensive tools at catcher are suspect, and he doesn’t provide enough power outlook to stick at the corner infield positions either. That said, Porter may have one of the best plate approaches of anyone in this Rule 5 Draft-eligible class, and that will make him a hot commodity, especially if they can live with Porter being a backup catcher who can hit. Teams may see Porter as Eric Haase 2.0, which wouldn’t be bad to have off the bench in 2023.
At the surface level, one can understand why Tolbert was left off the Royals’ 40-man roster. He hit .219 in in 348 plate appearances in low-A Columbia in 2021 and didn’t improve much in High-A Quad Cities either in 2022. With the River Bandits, he posted a .224 average as well as an 85 wRC+ in 517 plate appearances.
So why would Tolbert get any traction in the Rule 5 Draft?
Speed, plain and simple.
Last year with the River Bandits, Tolbert stole 60 bases on 60 attempts. You read the right. Tolbert stole 60 bags and wasn’t caught once. And over the past two seasons? Tolbert has stolen 113 bases and has been only caught twice.
Tolbert has elite and MLB-ready speed, which is what teams are looking to add to their rosters in the Rule 5 Draft. Even though he hasn’t played above High-A, one could see an MLB team perhaps utilizing Tolbert in a “Terrance Gore-esque” role off the bench in 2023.
Rave got some major publication this Fall, as he not only played in the Arizona Fall League, but held his own as well. He made the AFL All-Star team and also hit two home runs with a .657 OPS in 75 plate appearances (he cooled off at the end of the season).
Last year, Rave was solid in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, as he hit 14 home runs and posted a 102 wRC+ in 461 plate appearances with the Naturals. He struggled a bit in his adjustment to Triple-A Omaha, only hitting .195 in 43 plate appearances. However, that was a small sample, and Rave’s power, speed, and defensive tools still rate highly with scouts (which is a big reason why he played for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League).
Granted, Rave does struggle with swings and misses, as he struck out 24.9 percent of the time in Double-A and 30.2 percent of the time in Omaha. Even in the AFL, he struck out 22 times, which is still a high number.
Nonetheless, there is a lot of Kyle Isbel in Rave’s profile, with perhaps some 20-20 upside, should all the tools mature in 2023. He did steal 22 bases in Northwest Arkansas, so an uptick in power could make him an everyday player at the MLB level in the long term, despite the strikeout issues.
Parrish doesn’t possess an elite fastball, as it was graded a 40 by Fangraphs, and only sits in the 91-93 MPH range according to scouts (though it can top out at 95 MPH). However, Parrish has demonstrated a propensity to eat innings in the Minor Leagues and has showed polish when his control and command is on. That will make him a commodity with MLB teams that are looking for high-floor pitchers in the Rule 5 draft.
Parrish dominated in his second appearance in Double-A last year, posting a 2.13 ERA in 10 starts and 55 IP with the Naturals. Unfortunately, he was batted around a bit in his promotion to Triple-A Omaha, as his ERA inflated to 5.62 in 17 appearances (15 starts) and 73.2 IP with the Storm Chasers.
His vaunted command also dipped as well last season, as his K/BB ratio went from 3.43 in Double-A to 1.16 in Triple-A. It was the first time in Parrish’s career that he posted a K/BB ratio under three.
I think the lackluster outing in Triple-A makes him being selected a long shot in the Rule 5 draft. However, I wonder if some teams will look at his Triple-A stint as an outlier and take a chance on him, with the idea of him maybe starting him out as a swing man, just to test the waters.
Veneziano went under-the-radar going into 2021, as he didn’t appear on any Royals Top-30 prospect lists. He then proceeded though to be the Royals’ High-A pitcher of the year by the end of the season, thanks to a 3.75 ERA, 12.20 K/9, and 3.43 K/BB ratio in 93.2 IP with the River Bandits.
Unfortunately, last season was a bit of a step back for him in Double-A Northwest Arkansas as he posted a 5.72 ERA in 26 appearances (25 starts) and 122.2 IP. The strikeouts were still there for the most part (9.46 K/9), but the walks inflated a bit (4.84 BB/9) and he struggled with the long ball once again (15.3 HR/FB rate, which was a 2.2 percent increase from 2021).
Veneziano does possess a live fastball that sits in the upper 90s, and his delivery may remind some of Chris Sale, which isn’t a bad thing (it is very deceptive to hitters) as long as he can avoid Sale’s recent injury history. In addition, Veneziano has shown a propensity to strike batters out in bunches, which could make perhaps a transition to the bullpen realistic.
It isn’t out of the question to think that Veneziano could turn into an Andrew Miller-lite reliever at the big league level.
If there’s a player in the Royals system who could be tabbed as the most likely to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, it may be Sikkema, as Baseball America listed him as one of their top prospects to watch in the Rule 5 Draft.
Sikkema has prospect pedigree, as he was a former first-round pick, and is currently rated as the Royals’ 16th-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Sikkema also appeared in the AFL as well, as he posted a 2.45 ERA in three starts and 11 innings of work.
Much like many Royals pitchers in the Minor League system last year, Sikkema struggled with command, as he posted a 1.93 K/BB ratio in eight starts and 32.2 IP with the Naturals last year. That is a big reason why his ERA ballooned from 2.48 in High-A ball in the Yankees system to 7.44 in Double-A in the Royals system, after he was acquired by Kansas City in the Andrew Benintendi deal.
Sikkema possesses intriguing stuff, even if his pitch mix and command still are a work in progress, which is why the Royals chose to protect Alec Marsh over him (though I thought they would protect both).
Nonetheless, his prospect pedigree will certainly attract some opposing front offices in the Wednesday draft, with their hope that their development team can tap into what made him successful in the Yankees organization. Hence, it would be really surprising if Sikkema goes undrafted and is still in the Royals system when pitchers and catchers report in later Februrary.
Dipoto was another possible Rule 5 pick I wrote about and despite a strong AFL campaign (1.93 ERA; 14 strikeouts and only one walk in 9.1 IP), he was left unprotected by the Royals this winter.
Many people will dismiss Dipoto simply because of his name (he’s the son of Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry), but he has shown tantalizing stuff, even if his control has been an issue over the course of his Minor League career in the Royals farm system.
As mentioned by Langin’s Tweet, Dipoto certainly had his control issues in 2022, as he posted a 7.35 BB/9 with Naturals in 63.2 IP. Granted, he struck out 11.87 batters per nine innings, and his 1.62 K/BB ratio isn’t as bad when one thinks about his astronomically high BB/9 mark.
I do not think Dipoto will carry that impeccable command from AFL play to the MLB level, if selected in the Rule 5 Draft. But, he’s showing that he’s making adjustment to address his control issues.
At the very least, Dipoto’s profile gives teams something to work with, even if it may require some patience and creative usage when it comes to possible playing time out of a MLB bullpen in 2023.
Del Rosario has always been an intriguing pitching prospect in the Royals system, ever since he was acquired from Atlanta after their international scouting scandal.
Originally developed as a starter, Del Rosario has transitioned to the bullpen the past two seasons (mostly due to injuries) and pitched solely as a reliever in 2022 between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha.
The strikeout numbers aren’t great for Del Rosario, which could deflate his stock going into the Rule 5 Draft. He posted 6.79 K/9 with the Naturals and 5.40 K/9 with the Storm Chasers in 2022. That said, he did stay healthy for a full season last year, and posted decent, though flawed numbers in both of his stints in Double-A and Triple-A.
Del Rosario looked good in his limited stint in Omaha, posting a 2.70 ERA in nine appearances and 10 innings of work. He also improved his K/BB ratio from 1.81 in Northwest Arkansas to 2.00 with the Storm Chasers, and also saw a similar gain in groundball percentage as well (31.7 percent to 45.5 percent from Double-A to Triple-A, respectively).
Therefore, he is showing gains as a pitcher, even if it is not necessarily showing in terms of swings and misses.
The stuff is there from Del Rosario, and one has to wonder if a club with a solid pitching development team will take that risk on Del Rosario, hoping that they can fully tap into his potential out of their respective bullpen next season.
Photo Credit: Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP SPORTS MEDIA, LLC.