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Atlanta Braves Rule 5 Draft Primer and Preview

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The Rule 5 Draft is coming up at the MLB Winter Meetings. Here is a quick look at what the Rule 5 Draft is, who the Braves did and did not protect, and what they could do.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rule 5 Draft is coming up on December 12, 2019 at the MLB Winter Meetings and with it comes all of the usual rosterbation from prospect diehards that want to extract as much value as is humanly possible from any given situation. I understand and respect these people.

However, the reality of the Rule 5 is that, for the most part, most of the players taken are going to be lottery ticket-type relievers and a significant portion of them will get offered back to their original teams because, as it turns out, they were not worth a 40 man roster spot on their new team. There have been notable success stories of Rule 5 selections (Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, Marwin Gonzalez, etc.), but for the most part these end up being relatively minor moves. Before we get into the Braves-specific portion of things, here is a quick rundown of how the Rule 5 Draft.

What is the Rule 5 Draft and how does it work?

The Rule 5 Draft was instituted essentially to make sure that teams don’t just stockpile players in the minors forever without giving them opportunities to play in the major leagues. Without it, teams could just just fill out their best roster and then let the rest of the guys (who could still be quite good) sit in the minor leagues and prevent them from going to other organizations where they could feasibly have an opportunity to play.

As a result, any prospect who was signed when they were 18 years old or younger and has played five seasons OR any prospect who signed when they were 19 or older and has played four seasons is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. To protect a player from being in the pool of draftable players, a team must put that player on their 40 man roster by November 20. This is why we saw so many roster moves recently

After that, the drafting itself is very similar to how the regular MLB Draft goes with teams picking in reverse order based on regular season standings. Teams do not have to pick a player, however, which is important to note especially for teams with little to no roster space. If a team does pick a player, they pay the player’s original team $100,000 and must keep that player on their 25 man roster for the entire season. If they do not keep him on the roster, they must offer that player back to their original team for $50,000.

You lost yet? Me too, but we will soldier on

Who did the Braves protect and leave unprotected?

Lets get the easy names out of the way. Cristian Pache, William Contreras, Tucker Davidson, and Jasseel De La Cruz were all protected from the Rule 5 Draft when the Braves added them to the 40 man roster a couple of days ago. None of these names are surprising as they all rank among the top 12 or so (depending on which rankings you look at) prospects in the Braves’ farm system. It is very rare for players with their sorts of pedigrees to be left unprotected and, to the surprise of no one, they were protected.

The name that is lesser known that was also protected was LHP Philip Pfeifer who had himself a breakout campaign in 2019. Acquired from the Dodgers back in 2016 in the trade that sent Bud Norris and Dian Toscano out of town, Pfeifer had largely been a reliever who had been passable in the minors who also walked way too many batters before the 2019 season. However, last season, he saw more action as a starter and excelled while seeing a notable jump in his strikeout rate and drop in his walk rate on his way to a 2.97 ERA in 133.1 innings. We still project him as a reliever, but his versatility as a starter or reliever and throwing with his left arm made him a player worthy of protection.

There were some notable players that were left unprotected, although it is unclear as to how likely it is that they will be selected. Righty reliever Brad Roney seems like the most likely guy the Braves could lose in the Rule 5 as his profile fits the mold for guys that usually get picked: high upside relief pitcher. He has a live arm with a fastball and breaking ball that both get ugly swings, but he also missed the entire 2018 season due to injury and has a bit of a track record of command issues.

The Braves also left Thomas Burrows unprotected and while he is ranked highly as a relief prospect by some outlets, he had a very underwhelming 2019 season which included a big jump in his walk rate plus he doesn’t really get a lot of swing and miss even when he is on. Reliever Corbin Clouse would have been a real risk to lose as well, but he recently underwent shoulder surgery after battling issues with it all season which likely means he will go unpicked.

Who have the Braves picked in the past and will they make a pick this year?

The Braves have been moderately active in recent years in the Rule 5 Draft although it is worth mentioning that Alex Anthopoulos and co. did not make a pick in 2018. The Braves’ recent picks in the Rule 5 include Anyelo Gomez (2017), Armando Rivera (2016), Evan Rutckyj (2015), and Dan Winkler (2014). Winkler was the only guy to stick for any appreciable period of time which is pretty much par for the course with Rule 5 selections.

Everything seems to line up for the Braves to have another quiet Rule 5 draft. They can feasibly make room on the 25 man to make a selection if need be, but this Rule 5 class does seem a little bit underwhelming and with so many teams picking ahead of them, the strength of the class will likely not be around when it comes time for the Braves to pick. While it is far from a certainty that the Braves won’t make make a pick in the Rule 5 Draft, it seems as though the roster spots that they likely would have filled already have new faces in them as the Braves have been raiding the free agent reliever market early this offseason.