Baltimore Orioles: Approaching today’s Rule 5 draft
The MLB Rule 5 Draft takes place today in Las Vegas. The Baltimore Orioles have myriad needs at the major league level; how will they address them?
The Baltimore Orioles currently have two open spots on their 40-man roster. With the Orioles having so many needs at the major league level, and room for improvement quite literally everywhere, at least one of those spots will be filled with a selection in today’s Rule 5 draft, which takes place at 12 pm. You can stream the event here.
If we’re prioritizing the Orioles needs, there are two spots which need immediate improvement; middle infield and behind the plate.
Mike Elias stated recently that he’s considering Jonathan Villar as the Orioles primary shortstop. If the Orioles plan to use Villar full-time at short, it takes the possibility of Elias going after a plus-defensive shortstop in the free agent market off the table.
As of right now, roster resource lists Steve Wilkerson as the primary second baseman for the Orioles, with Breyvic Valera backing him up. While that’s certainly the cheapest route to get through the 2019 season, there’s limited upside.
Will the Orioles address this in the Rule 5 draft? Almost certainly.
We listed five potential Rule 5 draft targets before the winter meetings got underway, and we included A’s shortstop Richie Martin and Rays second baseman Kean Wong. Cardinals second baseman Max Schrock could find his way into the conversation as well.
The 23 year old Martin posted an .807 OPS in 2018 at Double-A Midland with 6 home-runs and 25 steals. Martin hasn’t been a particularly efficient base-stealer in the minors, with just a 66% success rate, and he has just 15 homers in four seasons.
Martin has been a solid, if not great, defender in the minors, but he needs more time to develop. He isn’t a realistic option to start the season in the Orioles lineup, but the Orioles have the space to keep him around if they like what they see.
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Schrock is a good defender and, at 24, has shown promise in the minors, posting an .801 OPS at Double-A. But his bat didn’t translate well last year to Triple-A, when he hit .249/.296/.331 with an 84 DRC+. Schrock likely needs at least a few more at bats against Triple-A pitching, but he’s closer than Martin is.
Kean Wong is a different story. The 23 year old Wong has hit .274/.337/.385 in two seasons at Triple-A Durham and if not for the promotion of Brandon Lowe, Wong would be in Tampa right now.
Wong is a good defender at second, but he’s close to physically maxed out and he doesn’t have a ton of upside at the plate. Wong doesn’t have the highest ceiling of the available prospects in today’s Rule 5 draft, but he is major league ready and can contribute in Baltimore right now. That matters to an Orioles team with limited talent at the major league level, and with several Orioles, including Valera, who’ll be coming off injuries as we get into spring training.
The Rule 5 draft options behind the plate are slim; Ali Sanchez of the Mets and Dom Nunez of the Rockies are interesting prospects but they’re not ready for the majors, and the Orioles certainly won’t use their top pick on one of them.
The Orioles might be better served to look for a catcher in the free agent market. Bringing back Caleb Joseph on a cheaper contract might be out of the question but Robinson Chirinos, Martin Maldonado, and Nick Hundley are all available. Jonathan Lucroy is likely out of the Orioles price range. None of them have upside, but they would all bring veteran leadership to a clubhouse desperately in need of it.
If the Orioles don’t use their top pick on a middle infielder, they might use it on a pitcher, hoping to solidify the middle of their bullpen. Mariners righty Art Warren and Twins lefty Tyler Jay are popular names being thrown around.
There are plenty of free agent relievers available, so if the Orioles don’t grab a pitcher in today’s Rule 5 draft, there will be options left out there.