Rule 5 Picks Contributing to the Baltimore Orioles Current Success

Tyler Wells #68 of the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
Tyler Wells #68 of the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

The Rule 5 Draft has been an annual tradition for decades that the Baltimore Orioles take advantage of, and four players on the active roster show why.

The Baltimore Orioles are playing surprisingly well right now, and there is a subtle trend factoring into the team’s success. There are a whopping four players on the active roster who were Rule 5 picks at one point, and the Orioles drafted three of them. OF Anthony Santander, SP Tyler Wells, 2B Richie Martin, and INF Jonathan Arauz were all minor leaguers drafted by other teams onto the Major League roster, and each of them showed enough to stay on the roster the whole season.

As a reminder, minor leaguers are only eligible for the Rule 5 Draft four years after signing at the age of 19 or older or five years after signing at the age of 18 or younger. The drafting team pays the former team $100,000 per pick, and they must keep the choice on the active roster for the whole season. If they do not, then they offer the player back to the previous team for $50,000.

Because the Rule 5 Draft is a low-cost method of acquiring players, the Baltimore Orioles are active participants every offseason. While the event was canceled this spring to allow for more opposition scouting, Rule 5 has been closing out the Winter Meetings for decades, and the Orioles have made a pick every draft since 2006.

Very few Rule 5 picks become meaningful Major Leaguers by default, but the Baltimore Orioles’ go-wide approach is working. Santander is the best of the bunch, and the one drafted longest ago, back in December 2016. He caught scouts’ attention with a .862 OPS and 20 home runs at high-A. He clearly wasn’t ready for the big stage and spent most of 2017 on the injured list, but the Duquette regime was right to be patient and hold onto him.

Rule 5 Picks Contributing to the Baltimore Orioles Current Success

After limited action in 2017 and 2018, Santander emerged as a common power threat in 2019 with 20 home runs and a league-average slash line. He then became team MVP in 2020 with a .575 slugging percentage. His output has fallen since then, but he is still a dangerous hitter and walking much more this season. Tony’s track record and current 118 OPS+ make him a valuable trade chip.

The team should be most proud of developing Wells into a quality starter, considering how challenging a task is for anyone and that Wells went in the second round of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft. At the time, he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Unlike most relievers the Baltimore Orioles have cycled through during the rebuild, Wells pitched well enough out of the bullpen last year to stick around.

Wells worked in a multi-inning role last season. Over the course of 44 games totaling 57 innings, he pitched to a 4.11 ERA and a 3.63 FIP. His peripherals were much more vital due to an unprecedented 29% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate, albeit with a below-average home run rate.

Since he already established himself as a long reliever, I was skeptical of the team moving him to the rotation because they might mess up a good thing. Instead, Wells is flourishing every five days, with a 3.23 ERA and a 123 ERA+. Interestingly, his FIP is worse than last year at 4.35 because his K-rate has plummeted to 15%, but he is limiting hard contact much better this season.

Following the worst season in team history, the Orioles had the first pick in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. Just like the following First-Year Player Draft, Mike Elias went with the consensus top player available in Richie Martin. The speedster was coming off a strong season at AA, where he hit .300 with 25 steals, and there were plenty of open spots on the Baltimore roster.

Unfortunately, Martin hasn’t amounted to much in the years since. He was overmatched as a rookie jumping two levels, but his numbers haven’t improved. His OPS+ in 2019 was just 53, and in 2021 and ’22, his numbers were 53 and 58. At least he’s consistent.

Martin has been acting more as upper-level depth than as a contributor, but that is still important for every team. His speed and versatility are essential traits, and a .823 OPS at AAA this year implies he can still hit better for the Baltimore Orioles.

The other standard method for reaching the Orioles is by waiver claim, and Jonathan Arauz joined the team that way just a few weeks ago. The Red Sox took him in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft, and Arauz played 25 games in a bench role during the shortened season. At the time, he was a surprising pick, considering he only had a .700 OPS at AA in 2019. He only hit a little better than Martin during his first MLB two seasons, with OPS+ numbers of 73 and 69, and his defense is more reliable.

After starting this season 0-10 in the Majors and hitting .185 at Worcester, the Sox cut ties with Arauz, and the O’s jumped at the opportunity to get another glove-first infielder. He has only played three games so far, but Arauz has already supplied a surprising sparkplug. Sunday in Chicago, he had two hits, a homer and an RBI single, and he made two web gems in the field. The home run was his first hit of the season.

The Baltimore Orioles are making real progress, and the record backs it up. dark. Next

The Orioles have had plenty of Rule 5 picks that don’t pan out (remember pitchers Mac Sceroler, Brandon Bailey, and Michael Rucker?), but that is part of the process. The growing number of successes shows the front office has found a working strategy. Expect them to keep making picks every December.