Pitcher selected in the Rule 5 draft is being returned to the Red Sox
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox had several pitching prospects plundered from their farm system during the Rule 5 Draft but at least one of them will be returning to their organization. Right-handed pitcher A.J. Politi is being returned to the Red Sox, according to Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic.
The Baltimore Orioles selected Politi with the No. 17 overall pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft last December. A Rule 5 Draft player must remain on their new team's active roster (or the injured list) for the entire upcoming system or else the team will need to place them on waivers. If they clear waivers, the player can be offered back to their original team. The O's were forced to designate Politi for assignment when they declined to add him to their Opening Day roster, paving the way for his return to the Red Sox organization.
The Red Sox welcome a familiar face back to their farm system
Drafted out of Seton Hall University in the 15th round of the 2018 draft, Politi made his professional debut with the short-season Lowell Spinners later that year before moving up to High-A Salem the following season. He struggled with control despite an electric strikeout rate early in his minor league career but seemed to settle in as a reliever last season.
Politi worked primarily out of the bullpen last year, making 50 appearances split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester. He went 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA, 0.966 WHIP, 10.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He can bring the heat with a fastball that sits in the 94-97 mph range and can touch 98 mph while working in relief.
He isn't a top prospect by any means, although pitchers tabbed for a bullpen role typically have lower ceilings and therefore aren't as likely to climb the rankings. MLB.com didn't list Politi among Baltimore's top-30 prospects and he wasn't on Boston's list last year.
That doesn't mean he can't be useful. Teams can never have too many arms in their system. If Politi couldn't make the Orioles Opening Day roster, he's not going to be in consideration for a Red Sox team that is already facing a numbers crunch with their own bullpen decisions. Politi should begin the season in Triple-A, where he found success last season, placing him only a bus ride away from Boston if injuries open an opportunity during the course of a long season.
Even if Politi isn't the one getting the call when the Red Sox inevitably need to dig into their pitching depth waiting in Worcester, they will need him to help pick up the slack in Triple-A if another reliever is called up. Adding depth to the farm system also provides the Red Sox with another trade chip. Politi could be used to sweeten a deal or his presence improving the depth in their system could mean the Red Sox are more comfortable parting with another arm in a trade.
The Red Sox hope Politi won't be the only pitcher taken from them in the Rule 5 draft who will find their way back to them. Thad Ward, selected with the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, has made the Washington Nationals Opening Day roster. While it's easier for a rebuilding team to hide a pitcher in their bullpen, there's no guarantee that they can keep Ward on the active roster all season. If he struggles with the transition to being a reliever, the best thing for his development would be for the Nationals to let him go so he can continue progressing as a starter in the Red Sox system.
The Philadelphia Phillies aimed to exploit a loophole in the Rule 5 draft by selecting Noah Song with the No. 20 pick. They could have stashed him on a reserve list if he were still serving his commitment to the Navy, but when his request to be transferred from active duty to selective reserves was granted, the Phillies brought Song to training camp to compete for a roster spot. He was considered a longshot considering he hasn't pitched professionally since 2019 when he was in A-ball. Song is expected to open the season on the injured list while dealing with back tightness but he'll need to spend at least 90 days on the active roster in order for the Phillies to keep him.
Red Sox fans have been monitoring the potential returns of the two higher-profile prospects but the season will be well underway by the time their fate is determined. In the meantime, at least they are getting Politi back, taking some of the sting out of a Rule 5 draft that cost them three pitching prospects.