As an annual contender with a sustainable pipeline of talent, the Dodgers always have too many players on the fringes on their 40-man roster. Therefore, they often lose prospects in the Rule 5 Draft and lose even more in the minor league portion. My favorite target for the Orioles is, unsurprisingly, Dodgers farmhand Carlos Duran. Rule 5 pitchers are often injured or coming off injuries, but Duran has already played half a season after missing the first few months of 2022. Here is what FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen has to say about him:
"He missed the first half of the 2022 season with a shoulder injury but was back to sitting in the mid-90s when he returned and built back up to five-inning outings late in the year. The 21-year-old has a heavy sinker and a potential plus-plus slider spearheading a developmental starter’s pitch mix. A drafting team could deploy him as a reliever (he threw just 48 innings in 2022 — it’s a snug workload fit) before resuming starter development in 2024. His slider has an elite spin rate (about 3,000 rpm) and grades out well in other proprietary pitch metrics, and his fastball’s sink and tail keep it off barrels. His size (6-foot-7) and the visual nastiness of his stuff provide the eyeball scouting compliment to the data."
An envious sinker-slider mix sounds like every reliever on the Yankees and Jhoan Duran, who as far as I know is not related to Carlos. The large frame and potential 2023 innings remind me a lot of Tyler Wells, where the Orioles stuck him in the bullpen before moving him to the rotation the following year. Drafting players who haven’t even reached AA is falling out of fashion, but pitchers can make the jump better than hitters can. Since scouts like Duran so much, there is a very good chance a weaker team picks him first. I could see the Cubs, Diamondbacks, or Giants drafting him.
The Orioles have plenty of pitching options in the Rule 5 Draft
The Braves have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball, but Victor Vodnik could quickly become a late-inning arm. He is available due to an extremely high walk rate, but pro pitching development could help him harness his stuff. Here is what Brad Johnson of MLB Trade Rumors thinks:
"Vodnik is a relief prospect with a cutting fastball. He has an adequate changeup and a work-in-progress slider. He pitched to a 2.93 ERA at Triple-A last season. He had issues with walks but made up for it by inducing over 50 percent ground balls. He’s allowed high BABIPs – a sign he might not have a high leverage future. He appears to be big league ready. Teams can look at him as comparable to the typical non-roster invitee."
A high BABIP will absolutely plummet his performance if walks continue to be an issue, but I think it is impressive that he nonetheless had a low ERA. Since his stuff is still unfinished, Vodnik would likely get a longer leash from a rebuilding team than what the Orioles can provide.
The Red Sox love poaching players from rival farm systems (Garrett Whitlock was a Yankee minor leaguer), and the Birds might return the favor. I was quite surprised the Sox did not protect Thad Ward, who is a classic injured pitcher than can make the jump to MLB right now. Here is Longenhagen again:
"He looked good in the Arizona Fall League, locating 92-94 mph fastballs while mixing in two above-average breaking balls: a cutter and a slurve, which was plus. He looks like a possible bulk relief fit right now. He might be tough for another team to take in the Rule 5 because of the innings increase he’d have to endure by working on the big league roster all season."
Speaking to those strong numbers, Ward had a 2.43 ERA in 33.1 AA innings and then a 2.84 ERA in 12.2 AFL innings with high strikeout rates and high-but-not-alarming walk rates. I would be comfortable making Ward a multi-inning reliever, and I think he’d be a safer pick than some other injured pitchers.
Longshot picks: Jacob Wallace (Red Sox), Noah Song (Red Sox), Sean Boyle (Yankees), Joey Murray (Blue Jays), Jimmy Robbins (Blue Jays) Nick Mikolajchak (Guardians), Jayden Murray (Astros), Matt Ruppenthal (Astros), Antoine Kelly (Rangers), Erik Miller (Phillies), Victor Castaneda (Brewers), Aaron Leasher (Padres), Mitchell Stumpo (Diamondbacks), Nick Robertson (Dodgers)