Baltimore Orioles Rule 5 guys on the bubble.
The biggest name remaining is outfielder Ryan McKenna. McKenna burst onto the scene last year with his elite speed, ability to get on base, and a bit of home run power. However, since hitting .377 with a .467 OBP and 28 extra-base hits in 67 games with High-A Frederick, McKenna has struggled to a .234 average and seen his wRC+ drop to league average in his two stints in Double-A.
Coaches expressed frustration with his play, he stole a career-high 25 bags, but was caught 11 times in the process, and there’s some competition in the outfield now. Austin Hays has the inside track to the starting center field job and Cedric Mullins came on very strong at the end of the year and will spend his offseason following a new development plan the organization has set for him. McKenna may be an elite defender, but will his upside be enough to protect him?
My gut says the Orioles will protect him and give him one last opportunity to prove himself. McKenna is only 22, so there’s still time to adjust and improve, and his upside is higher than any free agent signing the Orioles will be willing to spend on this offseason.
Acquired as part of the return for Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day, catcher Brett Cumberland now finds himself Rule 5 eligible and on the bubble. Injuries limited him to just 60 games across three levels, finishing with a .248 average, .395 OBP, four home runs and 20 RBI in 41 games at the Double-A level. With a career average of .243, Cumberland has been unable set settle in offensively, which is problematic considering his subpar defensive abilities.
The Orioles don’t need another Chance Sisco/Austin Wynns type, they have catchers with better defense in the system, and have a guy named Adley Rutschman waiting in the wings. Cumberland doesn’t need to be protected and may still stick with the organization.
RHP Gray Fenter is a bit of tougher decision. Fenter was healthy all season with the Delmarva Shorebirds, finishing with an 8-2 record, 1.81 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and .185 average against in 22 appearances (17 starts). He was part of a record-breaking pitching staff, striking out 123 in 94 innings. Armed with a three-pitch mix, including a fastball that some believe can sit in the mid-90’s if converted to a reliever, Fenter has the potential to contribute at the major league level, down the road.
I want to say the Orioles protect him and bank on his potential, but he has yet to pitch above full-season A-ball and the Orioles will need every 40-man spot available for pitchers to help them get through 2020. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t work out in Fenter’s favor and I could see another team taking a chance on him.
RHP Steven Klimek is another interesting name. Now 25, Klimek had a big year between Frederick and Bowie, going 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA and .191 average against. He allowed a total of zero home runs, always something very special to see from an Orioles pitcher at any level. His big curveball received a lot of praise this season and he posted a career-high strikeout rate (9.28/9 IP) while with Bowie. Unlike Fenter, since Klimek already has AA experience, I could see the Orioles protecting him, starting him out at Triple-A next year and seeing what he has.
Last up, we take a look at a few guys who are eligible, but odds are very low they get protected. However, there is always the possibility of getting snagged by another team, especially in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.