Red Sox add pitching depth in minor-league Rule 5 draft

Jul 22, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; A detail view of Boston Red Sox hat and glove laying in the dugout at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 22, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; A detail view of Boston Red Sox hat and glove laying in the dugout at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Red Sox selected a pair of pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft

Major League Baseball remains in a standstill in negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. While this has resulted in the Rule 5 Draft being postponed until after the lockout, the minor league portion carried on as planned. The Boston Red Sox used this opportunity to add pitching depth to their farm system.

The minor-league Rule 5 Draft allows teams to select players who were not protected on a 38-man Triple-A roster. Unlike the major-league version, selected players aren’t required to spend the upcoming season on the major league active roster. These players rarely make a significant impact in the year they were taken in the draft but they can provide valuable depth to fill out minor league rosters with the potential to reach the big leagues at some point down the line.

Only teams with open spots on their 38-man Triple-A roster are eligible to make selections. The Red Sox made picks in each of the first two rounds of the draft and none of their unprotected players were selected, allowing them to walk away with a deeper farm system.

Left-handed pitcher Austin Lambright was selected with the No. 19 pick in the first round. Lambright was a 10th-round pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft. He hasn’t pitched since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the minor league season last year and an injury wiping out his 2021 season.

In 2019, Lambright owned a 2.85 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 33 relief appearances spread across the Royals’ Low-A and High-A affiliates. He showed elite strikeout potential with a 14.1 K/9 but also struggled with his command with a 4.8 BB/9. He misses bats at an impressive rate but he’ll struggle at higher levels if he continues to miss the plate this frequently.

Lambright was lights-out against lefties, holding them to a .065 batting average and .319 OPS in 2019. He still walked nine batters in 56 plate appearances against lefties but he has the potential to be a useful asset against them if he can reign in his control issues.

The Red Sox are making an annual tradition out of selecting Yankees pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, with right-hander Brian Keller being the latest prospect to be stolen from their rivals.

Keller posted a strong 2.77 ERA in 26 appearances, including 11 starts, for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That ERA might be a mirage though. He struck out 65 batters in 55 1/3 innings for a decent 10.6 K/9 but also walked 46 for an alarming 7.5 BB/9. Keller’s walk rate was a more reasonable 2.3 BB/9 in 2019 so the control issues might be a small sample from a pitcher who had to sit through a canceled season after gaining limited experience a the Triple-A level.

The news that another pitching prospect has been taken from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft will have Red Sox fans dreaming that they’ve found the next Garrett Whitlock. Let’s pump the breaks on that comparison though. Again, the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft isn’t the same as the major-league version so Keller his hardly a lock to appear in the majors at all next season.

A better comparison would be Kaleb Ort (2020) and Raynel Espinal (2019), a pair of pitchers the Red Sox selected from the Yankees system in each of the previous two minor-league Rule 5 Drafts. Both pitchers made very brief major league debuts this year. They barely had time to finish their cups of coffee before it was time to catch the bus back to Worcester.

We shouldn’t expect much more that from Lambright or Keller, if we see them at all in 2022. The goal wasn’t to find the next Whitlock though. That’s not a reasonable expectation for the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The Red Sox had openings on their minor league roster and they filled them with a pair of pitchers who have flashed some potential.

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