After two uncharacteristically quiet days, MLB’s Winter Meetings finally got rolling on Wednesday, with Craig Kimbrel landing with the Orioles and the Yankees reportedly closing in on a deal for star Padres outfielder Juan Soto. But amid all that mayhem, executives also carved out time for one of the quirks of the baseball calendar: the Rule 5 Draft.
For the uninitiated, the Rule 5 Draft basically exists to prevent prospect-hoarding. Every player who signs with an MLB organization has only so many years before they have to be added to that team’s 40-man roster. If they aren’t added (or “protected”) by a certain point — the fifth Rule 5 draft for players who signed at 18 or younger; the fourth for players who signed at 19 or older — then they’re made eligible to be selected. From there, teams can pay a small fee to pick players, with the the catch being that they have to keep said players on their active roster all season in order to fully gain the rights to that player’s services.
This year’s edition went down in a ballroom of the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville. A total of 10 picks were made, with the Yankees the main losers with three players selected. We’ve run down all of them below.
2023 MLB Rule 5 Draft: Pick-by-pick analysis
1. Oakland Athletics: RHP Mitch Spence (Yankees)
Again, no team was raided more than the Yankees, who saw three of their pitchers selected — including two right at the top. Spence made 29 starts for Triple-A last season, posting a 4.47 ERA. He doesn’t have much upside, but he has a low-90s fastball and a full compliment of breaking balls that could allow him to stick in the back-end of a rotation — especially one as sorry as Oakland’s right now.
2. Kansas City Royals: RHP Matt Sauer (Yankees)
Sauer, a second-round pick in 2017, posted a 3.42 ERA across 14 appearances in Double-A last season, with 13 of those coming as a starter. The Royals could theoretically let him compete for a rotation spot in the spring before deciding whether they’d prefer him in relief.
3. Colorado Rockies: RHP Anthony Molina (Rays)
Molina split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a 4.50 ERA. His changeup is a legit weapon, missing bats a healthy 35% of the time, and the presence of a true out pitch could allow him to thrive as a reliever.
4. Chicago White Sox: LHP Shane Drohan (Red Sox)
The 24-year-old lefty split last season between the upper minors, dominating Double-A before scuffling in Triple-A en route to a 5.05 ERA overall. Still, there’s reason for optimism here: Drohan has a varied arsenal, including a pair of low-90s fastballs, a slider, a cutter and a changeup that generated an eye-popping 46% whiff rate. The tools are there for a back-end starter, or even a multi-inning reliever, and Chicago is desperate for pitching help.
5. Washington Nationals: SS Nasim Nuñez (Marlins)
Also from our Rule 5 preview: “Nunez hasn’t really hit at any stop on his professional journye, but he can really defend at either middle infield spot and he can really, really run. His ceiling is likely someone like Nicky Lopez, but hey, that’s a useful player for a contender to have on its bench.” The Nationals don’t figure to be a contender, but he does fit Washington’s M.O.
6. St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Ryan Fernandez (Red Sox)
Fernandez, originally drafted in 2018, has been limited by injuries to just 128 career regular-season appearances. Of those, 42 came last season, including 26 in Triple-A. His results were so-so (6.16 ERA), but he generated a whiff rate north of 30%, and if he can get his command under control he could be a steal.
8. New York Mets: RHP Justin Slaten (Rangers)
Slaten was also featured in our Rule 5 preview: “Slaten posted a 2.87 ERA with a whopping 13 K/9 across Double-A and Triple-A, showcasing a high-90s fastball and a bat-missing slider. Entering his age-26 season, he’s strictly a relief prospect, but he could be a good one.”
10. Cleveland Guardians: 3B Deyvison De Los Santos (Diamondbacks)
De Los Santos spent 2023 in Double-A, where he batted .254/.297/.431 with 20 home runs in 113 games. He has big-time raw power, but it comes with a rough approach (as his sub-.300 OBP indicates) and it’s hard to see him sticking on a big-league roster all season long at this stage in his career. Still, Cleveland is desperate for pop, and he’s a worthy flier.
15. San Diego Padres: RHP Stephen Kolek (Mariners)
The brother of former top-five pick Tyler Kolek, this Kolek split last season between Double- and Triple-A, amassing a 3.76 ERA in 49 appearances. His arsenal includes a pair of mid-90s fastballs that generated tons of weak ground balls, and again, San Diego needs as many young pitchers as it can get with Blake Snell, Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo hitting free agency.
23. Texas Rangers: RHP Carson Coleman (Yankees)
The third and final Yankee selected, Coleman missed the 2023 season after undergoing elbow surgery in the spring. The last time we saw him on the mound, he struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings in 44 appearances across High-A and Double-A. He’s purely a relief prospect, but the ceiling is obvious, and the Rangers can afford to let him take his sweet time recovering.