Some of My Favorite Royals Rule 5 Targets
This list isn't extensive, but here are a few players I really like who could be good fits for the Royals.
I think the level of interest in the Rule 5 draft varies from anywhere between “what is that?” and JJ Cooper. If you aren’t familiar with Cooper, well I’d recommend you try to find anything you love as much as he loves the Rule 5 draft. I’m somewhere in between that, but I definitely lean much more toward him because I think it’s fun to try to find talent that other teams have decided is worth losing if another team wants them. The hit rate on these picks is incredibly low, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a blast to see how right I can be as I look through the eligibles.
To start, if you’re on the “what is that?” side of the Rule 5 spectrum, I’ll explain. When players enter into an organization they generally have three or four years before they need to be added to a team’s 40-man roster or else they’re eligible for this draft. The draft is held with the worst team from the previous season having first pick and the best team having last pick. Not every team has to pick, in fact, many don’t.
But if a player is selected, he has to remain on the big league roster for the entire season. He can spend time on the IL, but he must be on the active roster for at least 90 days or else he’s subject to the same roster requirements the next season. If a team wants to send that player down to the minors, they have to offer him back to his previous team for $50,000. The team can say no and then that player remains in their new organization, or they can go back to their old organization.
Every year, I comb the list of eligible players from each team and put together a spreadsheet. So yes, I start with stat scouting, which isn’t great, but I’ve found a few things tend to lead to more successful picks. It started as me looking at mostly walk rates and strikeout rates for both hitters and pitchers before digging into some other numbers. I’ve since expanded that to swing and miss rate as well.
It’s my theory that hitters who don’t strike out much and/or walk a fair amount in the minors can hack it in the big leagues. And pitchers who don’t walk a lot and/or strike out enough can also hack it in the big leagues. Once I pick my favorites from the stats, I dig into the scouting reports and go from there. So in this list, I’m going to give you 10 position players and five pitchers who I think could be a good fit for the Royals.
This isn’t every good player. Your favorite player, if you have one, may not be on this list. But these are a few who I think can be a really nice fit for KC, given their needs for 2023 and beyond. I’m not going to pretend to know everything about these players, but based on my research and some conversations with people who know more than me, here are a few I like.
Sean Boyle, RHP, Yankees
Boyle spent time in AA and AAA in 2022 after spending time in AA and AAA in 2021. Repeating multiple levels isn’t my favorite thing, but he did two things that stood out to me. He got swings and misses, though those did drop in AAA and he didn’t walk hitters. Of the Rule 5 eligible pitchers, he was among the innings leaders, throwing 155.1 across the two levels and he was difficult to hit with just 138 hits allowed. Overall, I love the 5.4 percent walk rate and nearly five to one strikeout-to-walk ratio. He doesn’t throw hard, but he does have a delivery that I think probably makes his fastball look a bit quicker. He has plus command and a solid slider. And, hey, at one point, he struck out eight straight hitters in a game.
Trevor Brigden, LHP, Rays
Brigden is an older pitcher on the list as he’ll be 27 next season, but he’s a lefty who reached AAA and struggled in 2021, but he got back for a few innings in 2022 and was outstanding. He gets tons of swings and misses and overall struck out 34.8 percent of hitters he faced while he walked just 3.9 percent. He also gave up just 47 hits in 59 innings. His fastball is good, his slider is okay and his command is slightly less than okay, but his control is obviously excellent. The fastball is where the money is at with him, though. It’s not a hard fastball but it has some big-time break and gets a ton of swings with weak or no contact.
Yovanny Cruz, RHP, Cubs
Unlike Boyle, Cruz can let it eat. His fastball might be a 70, which if you’re unfamiliar with that in scouting terms is based on a 20-80 scale. He also has a changeup that a scout told me is fine now but flashes plus at times. His downside is that he hasn’t pitched above high-A and when he was there this year, he didn’t really strike as many out as you’d expect with his velocity. It was a tiny sample, but 20 strikeouts and two walks is pretty solid, though a lot of those strikeouts were in short-season ball. He’s definitely more of a project, but it’s easy to see the below in a bullpen and getting more and more important innings as the season goes on.
Mason Englert, RHP, Rangers
Englert will be 23 in 2023, so he’s one of the younger guys you can find who you feel like can contribute at the big league level. Last season, he walked just 6.5 percent of batters he faced and had a swinging strike rate of 19.1 percent in his three AA starts. He had a delivery tweak at some point during the season and saw his velocity tick up a bit at that time, but his best pitch remains a changeup that is legitimately good. My only concern is that I’m not quite sure how he fits in a big league bullpen, so if you’re looking for value out of him outside of long relief, he’s likely going to need to make it as a starter. Still, he’s got the build and while I’d personally ditch the curve, his slider is good enough with his fastball and changeup that he could pitch out of the back of a rotation relatively soon, I would think.
Nic Enright, RHP, Guradians
Enright is a reliever all the way, but he spent the year between AA and AAA in the Guardians organization and was just consistently good. Overall, he struck out 33.7 percent of hitters and walked just 5.4 percent. He gave up just 49 hits in 65.2 innings. Nothing really jumps out at you, but his fastball/curve mix has been difficult for minor leaguers and he kind of fits the profile of Cleveland pitchers who may not be great for a long time but do tend to come to the big leagues and get it done. The fastball tops out at about 94, but he uses the top of the zone to his advantage and works really well with a curve that, when good, is really good. His slider isn’t one that I think he’ll want to use a lot, but if he can go to it like 10-12 percent of the time just to show a different break than the curve, I think it can be effective for him.
Antoine Kelly, LHP, Rangers
Kelly is the one guy who doesn’t fit the mold of the low-walk pitchers, but I think he’s so talented that I’d take a chance on him regardless. So yeah, he walked 15 percent of hitters he faced, but he also only gave up 72 hits in 109.2 innings between high-A with the Brewers and AA with the Rangers. The odds are that he will be a huge liability in 2023 for a big league club, but he pairs a 60 fastball with a slider that might be a 70. Given the command issues, I have a hard time seeing how he can start in the big leagues, but he’s 6’5” and with a weird arm slot and can hit 98 with his fastball. I think on a team that has basically admitted they don’t think they can contend, they could stash this kind of arm on the big league roster, hopefully with a better pitching coach, to develop him into a dominant lefty out of the bullpen. You can see how it will all work in just two pitches.
Cody Laweryson, RHP, Twins
What can I say? I’m a sucker for results. Between high-A and AA, Laweryson gave up 66 hits in 94.2 innings with a 30.2 percent strikeout rate and a 7.3 percent walk rate. He doesn’t throw as hard as you might think, but he does have a funky delivery that hides the ball incredibly well. From what I’m told, it’s his changeup that gets it done. Apparently it’s a low-spin pitch, which is actually okay because lower spin is similarly effective to higher spin. At some point, you do have to lend credence to the results. I’m a bit skeptical of a big righty who relies so much on a changeup, but the Twins have a lot of those guys, it seems, and they seem to do generally decent. He won’t develop into an ace, but I could see a 4/5 starter or a swingman, and that’s valuable for cheap.
Anthony Maldonado, RHP, Marlins
Maldonado is 100 percent a reliever and will be 25 in 2023, but he’s reached AAA and excelled there with an excellent swinging strike rate and an even more impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio. I’m a bit concerned at the lack of groundreds, but he gave up 46 hits in 62.1 innings and did strike out 34.3 percent of all hitters he faced this season. He has a big fastball and basically was just looking to improve his command when he was drafted in 2019 out of Bethune-Cookman. I think at the time the thought was he could start, but he’s stayed in the bullpen and I think that’s ultimately his role. This video is a bit old, but you can see that the slider is also very impressive for him. I think he’s a legitimate big league middle reliever right now.
Evan McKendry, RHP, Rays
I have some concerns about a few things with McKendry, but he’s interesting enough to me that I wanted to include him. He did reach AAA after he was good enough in AA this season and what got him to AAA was a ridiculous 2.7 percent walk rate. He doesn’t throw hard at all and sometimes doesn’t even top 90, which is why he wouldn’t be my first choice in this draft, but the guy knows how to pitch. And if he is sitting more 91-93, which has happened for sure, you might be looking at something interesting in the back of a rotation or as a long reliever. Never discount the Rays pitching factory.
Hunter McMahon, RHP, Twins
If you had asked me which team would be represented the most on the pitching side, I would not have said the Twins would be tied. But here we are. McMahon was certainly old for his level, finally reaching AA and making four appearances this year, but it’s what he did before he got there that caught my attention. Between low-A and high-A, he threw 70 innings with 41 hits allowed, struck out 72 and walked just 12. Oh, and not that it’s a huge deal, but he did go to Staley, so he’s a local kid, and I think that makes for a good story.
Andres Chaparro, 3B, Yankees
Chaparro is entering his age-24 season and just made it to AA last season, but he was very good. He kept his strikeout rate below 20 percent and showed off his prodigious power with a .305 ISO in 271 plate appearances. He reportedly hit a ball at 117 MPH as well last season, so the maximum exit velocity is certainly there for the third baseman. Now, I say he’s a third baseman and he is, but he’s also not especially great there, which makes him an iffy fit for the Royals, but it’s a bat that Steamer has projected to hit .251/.318/.459 in the big leagues.
This swing is pretty.
Niko Hulsizer, OF, Rays
I hemmed and hawed about including Hulsizer because he immediately breaks one of my rules. He swings and misses. But he has 70 raw power and he can actually handle himself in an outfield corner relatively well. If the Royals decided they wanted to trade Edward Olivares and go after a righty project, he’d be a fun one to watch hit balls into the fountains in between four-strikeout games.
Devin Mann, 2B, Dodgers
The Royals don’t have a middle infield need, but Mann has played some third base even though he doesn’t rate especially well there, so the fit isn’t wonderful with him either, but I love the ability to make contact. His swinging strike rate was 7.6 percent in AA and 6.7 percent in AAA. He struck out a bit more in AAA because of getting into deeper counts, but he showed an ability to do damage to the ball. He’s probably got 50/55 raw power but maybe more like 45 game power, which can change as a hitter gets more comfortable. He’ll need to hit for power because the defense just isn’t quite good enough, but, again, in a year the Royals aren’t expecting to win, a guy like Mann would be a nice audition.
Robert Perez, Jr., 1B/OF, Mariners
If I broke my rule on Hulsizer, I semi-broke it on Perez. He does swing and miss, but he also has some big power. I’m also cheating in listing him as an outfielder at all because he’s really a first baseman, but if they’re interested in Dominic Smith, why not go after a guy who will only be 23? He hit 27 homers with a .245 ISO in 2022 between A-ball and high-A. He walked 12.5 percent of the time. He hits the snot out of the ball. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense, but the power is also really fun to watch, so maybe?
Chase Pinder, OF, Cardinals
And my last player brings me back to following my own rules. Pinder reached AAA for a brief stint this season, but has flashed an innate ability to make contact. He does strike out some, again due to deep counts, but he had almost as many walks as strikeouts. He can play all three outfield positions, but I don’t think the Royals would ever think to put him in center field on purpose. And yes, he is Chad’s brother, if you were wondering. I had a scout tell me that he thinks Pinder can absolutely be a productive big leaguer, but he’s not sure if he’s the weak side of a platoon or a fringy regular. He is a right-handed bat who hit .321/.409/.566 against lefties in 2022, so maybe worth a shot.
On the whole, you see a lot more pitchers than hitters make it and it’s for good reason. It’s a lot easier to stash a pitcher in the bullpen and use them only in low leverage. In the modern day rules of the Rule 5, I think we’ve seen a few hitters excel. Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton, Mark Canha and Dan Uggla com to mind. But it’s really been more pitchers. Guys like Johan Santana, Joakim Soria, RA Dickey, Garrett Whiltock, Trevor Stephan and Brad Keller have all had some big league success as Rule 5 picks. The odds are that a team won’t find a stud, but there’s no harm in taking a shot.
If I had to pick my choices from above, I’d say I’d go after Antoine Kelly, which is pretty funny just because of my criteria and how he doesn’t fit it, but the stuff is just so good. After him, give me Enright or Maldonado and I’m happy. I think I’d probably avoid any bats, but some of that power is super intriguing. I listed 15 players. There are probably 50 others the Royals are looking at, so if they even make a pick, he might not come from the list above, but these are some of my favorite names who will be available.
Nice work David. I’d go after the two Rays pitchers. I don’t care about the age as much as the ability to throw strikes. That would be the one draw back with Kelly for me. If we are keeping Garrett, then it seems like we have a redundancy of hard throwing lefties that can’t throw enough strikes. But I do get the argument that talent is talent and just get him in and see what happens. I guess, does your gut tell you they will select someone in general? I don’t see a reason not too but curious if you are hearing anything.
Good article. The only thing I don't agree with are the high strikeout power guys. I don't think guys like that are worth it. KC has had very few home runs guys work out consistently over the years. They need contact and walks from their hitters. They have too many high strikeout guys now. A team with a lot of high strikeout guys always lead to long losing streaks