Ah, the Rule 5 Draft. A deceptively simple transaction day that usually doesn’t generate much interest outside the baseball industry. But if you’re still following the team at this point in the offseason wondering what Farhan Zaidi is going to do with the team, then you should know that today’s draft was important!
A quick refresher on the Rule 5 Draft:
Players who signed with their current club at age 18 or younger and have played professionally for at least five years are eligible to be selected, as are those who signed at 19 or older and have at least four years of professional experience.
Teams can avoid this by adding these eligible players to their 40-man roster, as the Giants did last month when they added Melvin Adon, Sam Coonrod, and Logan Webb. Also, only teams with space on their 40-mans can participate in the draft. The Giants had five spots open on theirs coming into today’s draft. Teams pay a player’s original team $100,000 when they draft him.
Then it gets a little weird. Players selected have to remain on the 25-man major league roster for the entire season or else be offered back to their original team. Teams can make a trade with a player’s original team to gain full rights of that player so that they gain the ability to use their options, etc. And then there’s a minor league portion of the draft where Triple-A teams can claim Double-A players. There’s no rule about a player having to be offered back to the original team.
The Giants claimed Julian Fernandez from the Rockies last year and he was all set to open the year with the team before an elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery and ended his season. He was claimed by the Marlins in the offseason. They also made two picks in the Triple-A phase — pitcher Eduardo Rivera and shortstop Wander Franco. Rivera is now a minor league free agent, Franco is still in the organization.
Given the nature of roster management these days, keeping Rule 5 picks on a 25-man for a full season seems like a tall task; and, they’re not really intended to be huge, franchise-altering moves anyway.
Most Rule 5 draftees are marginal players, but some turn into major league All-Stars. The best known Rule 5 players are Roberto Clemente, who was drafted from the Brooklyn Dodgers by the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the 1955 draftand fellow Hall-of-Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, picked in the 1910 Rule V Draft. Also, 2004 American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana (1999) and 2008 All-Star Dan Uggla (2004), 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton (2006) and 2010-2011 AL home run king Jose Bautista (2003) were Rule 5 draftees.
But! This was also our first good chance to see just how Farhan Zaidi would be running things. We got a little taste of it earlier in the week when the team claimed OF Mike Gerber, but these are guys who are intended to be on the major league roster come Opening Day.
Might they signal a clear direction for 2019? Here’s who they drafted:
Travis Bergen - LHP
Drafted by the Blue Jays in the 7th round of the 2015 draft out of Kennesaw State, the just-turned-25-year old is an intriguing arm who’s struggled with injuries his entire pro career. 2018 marked his first fully healthy season, and the season-long performance showed why he was drafted so highly:
In 56.2 innings across Single-A and Double-A, he struck out 74 and walked just 15 with a combined ERA of 0.95. Prior to the year, he’d pitch a total of 28.2 innings since being drafted. Here’s a look at him warming up:
Bergen’s high spin rate fastball baffled hitters, especially as he matches it with a solid curveball. He’s able to handle righthanders and lefthanders and could be more than a matchup lefty. Statistically he’s one of the best pitchers available in this year’s class.
The Giants' Rule 5 selection has a 1.27 career ERA and a 12.0 K/9. He has to chew with his mouth open or something. Maybe he doesn't have thumbs. Will investigate.— Grant Brisbee (@GrantBrisbee) December 13, 2018
Drew Ferguson - CF
The 26-year old from the Astros organization is another 2015 draftee (19th round). In 350 minor league games, he’s posted a line of .297 / .393 / .455. For comparison’s sake, Chris Shaw was also drafted in 2015, and for his career (404 games), his line is .275 / .335 / .509.
Ferguson’s four extra points of OPS come from that high on base percentage. But he does have a little power. Look! A video:
Baseball America says:
A fractured wrist cost Ferguson two months last year, but when he was on the field he did what he usually does by hitting for average and getting on-base. Ferguson doesn’t match the upside of some other players on this list, but he does a lot of little things well. He can play all three outfield spots, does an excellent job of working counts and generally fits the profile of a fourth outfielder. The 26-year-old has nearly 700 at-bats at Double-A and Triple-A.
And their second pick was a center fielder with a .305/.436/.429 line and solid K/BB in Triple-A. I'll assume he's awaiting trial for racketeering.— Grant Brisbee (@GrantBrisbee) December 13, 2018
The Giants also made two adds in the minor league phase:
Peter Maris - 3B
From Tampa Bay (undrafted). 25 years old, with a career minor line of .277 / .356 / .401.
Sam Moll - LHP
He was drafted ahead of Cody Bellinger in 2013. He turns 27 in January. Pronounced “Mull”.
Moll pitched in the big leagues for the Athletics in 2017. It was a brief stint and an ineffective one, but it’s not often a team can pick up a recent big leaguer in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Last winter Moll was waived and claimed on three separate occasions. He’s since had an elbow injury, but he’s back on the mound and throwing this winter, making him a potentially useful MiLB Rule 5 pick.
Meanwhile, the Giants lost Dusten Knight - RHP (28th round pick, 2013) to the Twins, Jeffrey Baez - OF (a minor league free agent the team signed last month) to the Diamondbacks, and Ian Gardeck - RHP (2012 draft) — whose career had been derailed by injuries until getting it back on track in 2018 — to the Rays.
What we learned from today’s draft and this week’s other move is that the Giants are more than likely to move either Will Smith or Tony Watson between now and the trade deadline and that they’re building up outfield depth with speed, defense, and on base percentage.
The Rule 5 players are fringe moves at best, but it’s clear Farhan Zaidi is trying to stack the 40-man with as many players who can provide positive value beyond their minimum salary as he possibly can before making any trades involving the higher priced talent.