Whether teams are ready to compete or still in rebuilding mode, every MLB team should be aware of the best Rule 5 players available in 2021.
The MLB Winter Meetings are one of the highlights of the offseason, and they always conclude with the Rule 5 draft. Of course, Rule 5 prospects are some of the most overlooked players switching teams during the offseason. However, the likes of Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, and others have all been selected during the Rule 5 Draft.
If you need the Rule 5 Draft explained, you’re probably not alone. But the eligibility of potential Rule 5 picks is rather simple. Depending on whether a player was older or younger than 19 when they signed, they have either four or five years to be added to a club’s 40-man roster. Otherwise, they are potential Rule 5 picks. Essentially, minor leaguers who haven’t gotten an opportunity in one organization can be drafted into another organization, although they have to spend the entire next season in the big leagues or else be returned to their original organization.
Best Rule 5 players available in 2021
Since space is limited on 40-man rosters, almost every MLB team has Rule 5 prospects that they worry about being taken away from them. At the same time, only teams with room on their 40-man roster are able to select players in the Rule 5 Draft. While that complicates matters a little, there is no shortage of potential Rule 5 picks in any given year. In preparation for this year’s Rule 5 Draft on December 9, let’s look at the best Rule 5 players available in 2021.
Leonel Valera, Dodgers
Leonel Valera is a serious prospect who could be an impact player in the majors one day. Thus far, he’s played shortstop, although he’s versatile enough to play at other infield positions. Most importantly, Valera has multiple tools that are plus or above-average, meaning he has both speed and power, not to mention the arm strength to stick at shortstop long term.
The only caveat is that he only hit .224, albeit with 16 home runs at high-A this past season, and so the Dodgers are banking that no team will keep him on the 26-man roster for a full season in 2022.
Delvin Perez, Cardinals
Nobody took Delvin Perez in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he’ll be one of the top prospects again in this year’s draft.
The shortstop was taken 23rd overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, so he’s always had plenty of tools and upside.
However, he’s still a glove-first player who only hit .265 with an OPS of .661 this past season at double-A. As a fielder, he’s ready to play in the big leagues and could be a Gold Glove candidate if he were to play every day. But his bat is still lagging behind, so it’s doubtful that he’d be anything more than a backup infielder for any team that selects him in the Rule 5 Draft.
Seth Corry, Giants
Seth Corry had one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the minors in 2019. He posted a 1.76 ERA, which helped to earn him South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year honors.
Of course, that was in low-A, and after not pitching at all during the 2020 season because of the pandemic, he failed to build off his success at high-A. Corry posted a 5.99 ERA and walked 63 batters in just 67.2 innings. Nevertheless, he has high-end stuff, which is what allowed him to strike out 100 batters in those 67.2 innings.
The upside is still there for Corry if a team wants to select him in the Rule 5 Draft and hide him in the back of their bullpen in 2022.
Tim Cate, Nationals
It was a little surprising to see a rebuilding team like the Nats leave Tim Cate unprotected. The southpaw was the club’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2019, enjoying a lot of success in A-ball.
But the move to double-A after not pitching in 2020 proved difficult for him, as Cate went 2-10 with a 5.31 ERA over 21 starts. But with an outstanding curveball, Cate still has a chance to become an effective big-league pitcher one day, which is why the Nationals could regret leaving him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft.
Tahnaj Thomas, Pirates
The Pirates have such a loaded farm system that they couldn’t possibly protect every talented player. That leaves Tahnaj Thomas, a native of the Bahamas, one of Pittsburgh’s unprotected prospects.
At 6’4’’, Thomas has the size of a big leaguer and can throw in the upper 90s, even hitting triple digits at times. His strikeout rate was high this past season, although Thomas also had an ERA of 5.19 and a WHIP of 1.58 in low-A ball. Clearly, he’s not ready to pitch in the majors, but his velocity could serve well as the last man in a big-league bullpen, which could entice a team to take him, knowing that his velocity gives him a ton of upside.
Korry Howell, Brewers
Korry Howell has speed and versatility, which is why he could be selected in the Rule 5 Draft, as he could be a useful bench piece on a major league club right now.
He’s primarily a center fielder, but he can play all three outfield spots and also saw time at shortstop and third base this past season. But there are lingering questions about his bat against high-level pitching, which could make teams think twice about taking a chance on him.
Gilberto Jimenez, Red Sox
Like everyone else, not playing in 2020 set Gilberto Jimenez back a year and caused him to not play above low-A before becoming Rule 5 eligible this year.
But the outfielder is a quality defensive player and brings plenty of speed to the table.
He’s also proven to be an excellent contact hitter, batting .324 in his minor league career, including .306 in low-A this past season. However, it’s tough to gauge whether that will translate to the majors right now if he’s taken in the Rule 5 Draft and has to make such a big leap.
Miles Mastrobuoni, Rays
While Miles Mastrobuoni doesn’t have a lot of upside in the future, he’s probably ready to be a utility man in the majors right now if someone plucks him from the Rays.
He played six different positions at triple-A this past season and is suitable defensively at all of them but shortstop. Also, while he’s not a standout hitter, he hit .296 in 2021 and won’t be overmatched against big-league pitching.
Samad Taylor, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have so many good young infielders that protecting Samad Taylor just wasn’t a priority. But after hitting .294 with an OPS of .888 at double-A this past season, he’s someone who could be lost in the Rule 5 Draft.
Of course, he wouldn’t be an everyday player, but he can play second base, third base, and left field without much trouble. He could fill a utility role on a team’s bench this season and potentially develop into an everyday player down the line if he continues to develop.
Griffin Conine, Marlins
His father, Jeff, won two World Series with the Marlins, so it’d be a shame to see the Marlins lose Griffin Conine in the Rule 5 Draft.
He mashed 36 home runs in 2021, although he hit just .176 after his promotion to double-A. The younger Conine also struck out 185 times in 108 games in 2021, so it’s clear that he’s not ready to face big-league pitchers.
Nevertheless, his raw power makes him an intriguing option in the Rule 5 Draft, as a team could hide him on their bench and hope that the rest of his game develops enough to utilize his power down the line.