Rule 5 Draft might become Red Sox “secret weapon”
The Rule 5 Draft is one of the lesser-known parts of the offseason, at least to the casual baseball fan. A good amount of teams, even the Boston Red Sox in certain years, don’t give the Rule 5 a second thought. To them it’s just roster depth filling, especially bigger market teams. The Red Sox, who are trying to figure out their team identity again, have taken a different approach to their Rule 5 picks than those other teams. At least in the past couple years.
Before I get to far, I want to go over what the Rule 5 draft is. There are two, technically three, phases to the Rule 5 draft. There’s a Major League phase where any team that takes a player has to pay $50,000 dollars to the team they are taking said player from.
That same player is also immediately added to the selecting team’s 40-man roster. They must stay on the 26-man roster for the whole upcoming season, and remain active (not on IL) for 90 days. If they don’t meet those requirements, the player is offered back to his old team for $25,000, half of what the selecting team paid for him. If the old team declines, the new team is allowed to waive the player.
The next phase is technically two different ones but they are usually grouped together when talked about. The Minor League phase of the draft has a Triple-A and Double-A portion. Each player selected in these rounds cost considerably less than the Major League phase.
The Red Sox have grabbed a couple good players in both the Major League and Minor League phase(s) during the past couple Rule 5 drafts. Both pitchers, and both taken from the fierce rival New York Yankees. 29 year-old RHP Raynel Espinal and 24 year-old RHP Garrett Whitlock. Those two guys could come in handy for the team at some point sooner than later.
Whitlock will be on Red Sox Opening Day Roster
The 6-foot-5 Whitlock was originally picked in the 18th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Yankees. The young righty in just a few short seasons has moved somewhat quickly through the Minor League Ranks. Although he never touched Triple-A, Whitlock moved from Rookie League to Double-A quicker than most do. If it weren’t for him getting sidelined halfway through the 2019 season due to Tommy John Surgery, he easily could have made the jump to Triple-A.
Without a 2020 minor league season, due to COVID-19, and although he might not have been ready to play anyway, Whitlock didn’t get the chance to make the jump after recovery. Both of those factors didn’t stop the Red Sox from choosing him with the 4th pick during the Major League phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.
Throughout his short time in the Minors, Whitlock has compiled a pretty solid stat line. In 42 Games (38 starts), his record stands at 12-8 with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Not to mention 201 Ks in almost as many innings (205.1). So Whitlock is no stranger with getting batters to swing and miss. Whitlock has already showed during Spring Training he hasn’t missed a step after recovering from TJ surgery.
In three Spring Training appearances (6.0 IP) for the Georgia Native, he has a 1.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 7 Ks. Whitlock, who is on the 40-man roster and will be in the bullpen on Opening Day, could be a long-relief/spot-starter option for Boston. It’s highly doubtful he will be offered back to the Yankees.
Espinal could possibly make his Red Sox debut this season
Unlike Whitlock, Espinal will not begin this season sitting in the Fenway bullpen. But that doesn’t mean we won’t see the 29-year old Dominican native donning a Red Sox uniform this season.
The Spring Training non-roster invitee was originally signed as an International Free Agent in 2013 by the New York Yankees. Espinal hasn’t moved up the Minor League ranks as quickly as Whitlock has. In his six Minor League seasons, only two have been spent in Triple-A (2018, 2019). For some players it just takes them a bit to get their footing and Espinal was one of those players.
His ERA and other stats may have fluctuated over the years, which could be a reason as to why he hasn’t made it to the Majors yet. One thing that has stayed consistent for Espinal is his K/9. Through all six Minor League seasons, his career K/9 is 10.6. That includes a career high 12.8 K/9 through 67.0 IP in 2018 during a full Triple-A season. In that same season. the veteran Minor Leaguer, had a 3.09 ERA and a sub-1.25 WHIP through a career high 41 games.
Most of his strikeouts are attributed to his mid to high 90’s fastball that he has some pretty good control over. With only two other pitches in his repertoire it seems unusual for a guy to have as high a K/9 as Espinal does. Having only three pitches is also probably a main reason why he doesn’t get many starts. Hitters, I would think, could pick up on what he’s gonna throw easier than a pitcher who has four or five pitches.
All four batters Espinal has faced this Spring Training have gone down on strikes. Which gives the Red Sox some hope for a prospect that isn’t on their top 60 list. Down the road this season if he plays well enough in Triple-A, I assume he will start there, then he could be helpful as bullpen depth in the Majors.
Will the Red Sox continue this streak of Rule 5 Draft steals? No one knows. What we do know is that it has been kind to them as of late.