In a typical offseason, the Rule 5 Draft might make small headlines with teams legally stealing prospects from each other. In the 2021-2022 offseason, with a lockout that’s not likely to end anytime soon (on top of the Rockies inaction in free agency and the trade market), it’s worthy of a little more space, even if it’s only the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft.
In Wednesday’s Minor League Rule 5 Draft, the Rockies gained one player, LHP Gabriel Rodriquez, from the Braves, while losing LHP Zack Matson and outfielder Walking Cabrera. While most transactions are frozen with MLB locking out the MLB Players Association, minor leaguers, for cruel and unusual reasons, don’t count since they are not in the union. Therefore, minor league transactions are still allowed. In other words, the 2021 Rule 5 Draft is more about finding diamonds in the rough without the pressure of having to put them on the 40-man roster.
Here are the rules for the Major League Rule 5 Draft, according to MLB.com’s glossary:
“The Rule 5 Draft allows clubs without a full 40-man roster to select certain non-40-man roster players from other clubs. Clubs draft in reverse order of the standings from the previous season. Players signed at age 18 or younger need to be added to their club’s 40-Man roster within five seasons or they become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Players who signed at age 19 or older need to be protected within four seasons.”
Likely the most famous example of a Major League Rule 5 Draft jackpot was when the Pirates nabbed Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers in 1955 (there were different rules then), while Johan Santana and Josh Hamilton are the modern noteworthy picks. The Rockies picked up Jordan Sheffield from the Dodgers in 2020 and he ended up making 30 appearances and notching a 3.38 ERA in 2021 for Colorado.
In 2017, the Rockies lost Julian Fernández, the riveting 100-plus-mph-throwing phenom and a small highlight of the Rockies 2021 season (if you don’t look at the earned runs), to the Giants in the Rule 5 Draft. Obviously, the Rockies got Fernández back after he struggled with injuries and was released by the Giants in 2018 and then picked up and released by the Marlins in 2019. Thank goodness or else we might have missed out on this:
Interestingly, Texas took a Rockies prospect named Russell Wilson in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, even though he’d already been drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. His final baseball season was with former Colorado affiliate Asheville Tourists (Class A) in 2011, but the Yankees now own his baseball rights if he decides to make a career change.
The 2021 Major League Rule 5 Draft is scheduled to still happen once the lockout ends, so it will probably be in 2022.
The Minor League portion of the Rule 5 draft operates along the same lines where teams can draft players from other organizations if players signed at 18 or younger and within five years and are not added to the organization’s Triple-A 38-man roster. This also applies to players who weren’t put on the Triple-A roster within four years if they signed with their organizations when they were 19 years old or older.
With Colorado acquisitions being in short supply, it’s worth digging into seeing who the Rockies gained and who they lost.
Addition: Gabriel Rodríguez, LHP, from Braves
A 31st-round pick from 2018, the Braves moved Rodríguez from being an infielder to a pitcher upon seeing he could hit triple digits with his fastball. Unfortunately, he has spent most of his Minor League career injured. In Rookie ball in 2018, he pitched 11 innings in 11 games with 22 walks and 22 strikeouts. He only gave up two earned runs, but also had a WHIP of 2.27. After missing 2019 because of an injury, he got his first full season of action for the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets in 2021 where he threw 32 innings over 27 games and posted an 8.44 ERA and 0-3 record. He recorded 59 strikeouts, but 46 walks for a 2.13 WHIP. One article from 2019 compared him to Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn from “Major League,” while another praised him for having “a really live fastball.” Rodríguez, 22, has a small sample size and a high ceiling, which makes this a good pick for little cost with the Rockies selecting him in the first round at No. 6 overall. Even if he can get a handle on his control issues, it will likely be a few years before he is Triple-A ready.
Loss: Zack Matson, LHP, to Pirates
With the second pick in the first round on Wednesday, the Pirates selected the 26-year-old former Rockies left-handed reliever. A 24th-round pick in the 2016 draft by the Orioles, Matson signed with the Rockies on April 27, 2021 after Baltimore released him. Matson spent his season with Double-A Hartford (his first season at Double-A), logging 33 innings over 35 games with a 5.73 ERA and 2-2 record. He struck out 57 while walking 15, giving up six homers, and holding batters to a .226 average. After a rough start to the season when he had a 15.58 ERA in his first 13 appearances (15 earned runs), Matson only gave up six total earned runs in July (5.68 ERA in six appearances), August (0.00 ERA in nine appearances), and September (1.93 ERA in seven appearances).
Loss: Walking Cabrera, OF, to Mariners
The Rockies signed Cabrera as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2017. He played two seasons with the Dominican Summer League Rockies, hitting .235/.295/.309 with no homers, nine RBI, six walks, and 18 strikeouts in 81 at-bats in 2017. He improved to .272/.341/.447 with seven homers, 41 RBI, 22 walks, and 42 strikeouts in 206 at-bats in 2018. In 2019, he struggled after moving up to Grand Junction, hitting .177/.295/.265 with one homer, 17 RBI, 26 walks, and 58 strikeouts in 147 at-bats. At the same Rookie level, but with the Arizona Complex League Rockies, Cabrera, 21, made significant progress, slashing .237/.325/.384 with 6 homers, 24 RBI, 21 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 2021.
While the odds might not be high for hitting pay dirt with Rule 5 Draft picks, especially the Minor League rounds, there’s always a chance.
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One of the Rockies newest farm teams, the Spokane Indians (High-A), were named the MiLB Organization of the Year earlier this week. Showing successful innovation in their business model, Spokane broke records in sponsorship sales, they increased their online ticket sales by 95%, and forged a partnership with Fairchild Air Force Base, which is less than 20 miles from Avista Stadium. The Indians even run their own concessions and introduced a mobile concessions app in 2021 that performed very well. Speaking of Avista, it’s on its way to being a Zero Waste facility with compost and recycling centers throughout the stadium, causing a reduction in landfill waste of 80% since 2018.
Arguably most impressive, the organization continues to strengthen its partnership with the Spokane Tribe of Indians by working with the Tribal Council for various events and projects. For example, the High-A team has helped revitalize a baseball and softball complex on the Spokane Tribe of Indians Reservation in Wellpinit, Wash., as well as assisting in the creation of a “Native-themed basketball court in Spokane that features artistic imagery and Salish [Spokane’s language] lettering on the court. Additionally, the club continues to honor the Spokane Tribe’s Salish language dialect by using Salish lettering on its home and road jerseys and in signage at Avista Stadium.”
The answer is …. who knows? Trying to find an answer as to why player headshots and content has been wiped away from MLB.com isn’t turning out to be an easy quest. MLB says it’s a legal issue. Legal scholars can’t see how it would be a legal issue. One idea is that it’s a “pressure tactic,” but it’s also hard to see the benefits of that. For now, it seems to be MLB’s policy to use no names and no promotions using names. One of the best examples of this ridiculousness from this article is that “April 30 is ‘Cardinals Third Baseman Bobblehead’ day at Busch Stadium.” Hmm... I wonder who they are talking about. MLB has made exceptions of course. Selling jerseys with names? That’s no problem.
This was also noteworthy:
“Multiple MLB.com employees said they were told they could only mention a player’s name in an article if absolutely necessary, and that player could not be the focus of the story. Any reference to a player must be approved by editors. Reporters were encouraged to write evergreen stories — about former players, non-40-man prospects, coaches, Hall of Fame candidates and history — instead of forward-looking angles about the upcoming season.”
If this is a long lockout, it’s going to get really weird.
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