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Looking Back at the 2015 Rule 5 Draft

Scout’s Jeff Ellis takes a look at how the players selected in the Rule 5 draft fared this year after being selected. He takes a long look at Joe Biagini, Matt Bowman, Deolis Guerra, and Jabari Blash in particular

One of the first articles I ever wrote was a Rule 5 Draft piece in 2008. I wanted to show how it has changed and developed over the years as well as a breakdown of each draft to try and find the trends in the draft.

I am going to switch things up from last year, as we are now entering our twelfth year of data. Since many of you have read this article before, I am going to cut out all the past years. If you want to see them, they can be found here in an older article.

As I move from being an Indians writer to a general scouting writer, this article will be focused on the draft in general. The previous articles had an Indians bent to them.

2015
The 2015 Rule 5 draft was, frankly, a bust. This should be no surprise, but the previous drafts had seen some very good players emerge once selected by new organizations. Over the past three years, Hector Rondon and Odubel Herrera, in particular, stood out as top talent for their new teams. The 2015 Rule 5 draft saw most of the selected players end up with a negative bWAR value last year. The draft had 16 players selected and eight were returned to their teams. So 50% of players were kept by their new team. This is a very high percentage, though the number of players being kept has been going up over the past few years. Three of the eight selected players became regulars or useful members of their new teams, though it should be noted that not one player achieved a bWAR of 1 or better. I think the best way to summarize how unimportant this draft was is by pointing out that the whole draft produced a negative bWAR last year. If you were wondering, the total value of the nine players selected last year was -2.6 for the teams who took them.

The breakdown of players selected in the draft are as follows:
Starting pitchers: 3 (36%)
Middle relievers: 7(27%)
Catchers:  0 (0%)
First basemen: 1(0%)
Second basemen: 1 (7%)
Shortstops: 0 (0%)
Third basemen: 0 (0%)
Utility: 0 (0%)
Outfielders: 4 (14%)

Now for the information on levels:
MLB 1 (%)
AAA: 7(29%)
AA: 7 (50%)
A+: 0 (0%)
A: 1 (%)

This draft was a departure from 2014 and the success that multiple teams found. The 2014 draft had seen teams looking for, and finding, success with bats. This was more a traditional Rule 5 draft, where teams were looking for relief help and pitchers from the upper levels to try and fill out bullpens.

The highest bWAR generated by any player was Joe Biagini, who was taken with the 26th pick in the Rule 5 draft. The Toronto Blue Jays grabbed him from the San Francisco Giants. He had been almost exclusively a starter in the Giants system. Biagini is 6’5” and weighs 238 pounds, which is about as close to a prototypical starting pitcher build as you will find. He has always been a ground ball guy, which limited his strikeout totals as he moved up the ladder in the minors. The pick was a bit of a surprise, as Biagini was 25 years old, a late round pick (26th round), and had just one year in AA, with low strikeout totals.

There is a logic here for Biagini going to the Blue Jays. I learned a lot about Mark Shapiro’s preferences during the time he ran the Indians. One such lesson I learned was that he loves ground ball pitchers. He seemed to acquire at least one such pitcher every year.

All three pitches that Biagini relied on as a starter are groundball inducing pitches. I think it would be easy to see a pitcher with the size of Biagini and think that he might add velocity with a move to the pen and, judging by the data I found, he did. His fastball went from a low 90s pitch to an average speed of 95 this year, and even hit 97. He mostly used his slider and fastball, but found success with that combination.

The question, of course, for the Blue Jays is whether they will keep Biagini in the pen or try to make him a starter again, thanks to his size, control, and potential three pitch mix. I typically say to always try and make a player a starter, but with the way Biagini’s stuff played up in the pen, I would keep him there.

The only other two players to post a positive value were Matt Bowman and Deolis Guerra. Bowman went from the Mets to the Cardinals. Bowman (who was the next player selected after Biagini) has a similar story as a starter who, after struggles, found success this year in the pen for a major league team. Both Bowman and Biagini are also groundball pitchers whose successes are tied to the ability to keep the ball down.

Bowman posted the second best bWAR of this group, at .5, though the numbers make me a little leery. I know the ERA+ and FIP were good, but I wonder about those across limited innings. Bowman, as a more traditional groundball pitcher, has not put up high strikeout totals. My concern here is that his BABIP as a pitcher was about 30 points below typical pitcher average. Bowman is going to live and die with his hit rate so, if it goes up, there could be issues going forward.
 
Deolis Guerra was taken right before Biagini, which means the only players with positive values went in a row, though there were multiple teams passing between them. A former top prospect, this was his second chance in the majors after pitching for the Pirates just a year ago.

Guerra appeared in 44 games, showing excellent control, but not missing enough bats to make him all that effective. He posted a bWAR of .4 and is the pitcher in this group I would most expect to fall apart. He has one plus skill with his control, but posted a high home run rate, a high hit rate, and a low strikeout rate, which all show me a player who is likely going to struggle.

I know there were bigger names among the hitters, with Tyler Goeddel being the first pick and Joey Rickard seeing significant time with the Orioles. Yet it was the player taken with the sixth overall pick, Jabari Blash, who had the best bWAR of any hitter, with a value of zero. He was exactly a replacement level player and the only non-negative hitter selected last year, when ranked by bWAR.

Blash is a big, 6’5”, outfielder who was taken by the Athletics, from the Mariners, then traded to the Padres. Blash is the kind of player who, as a baseball fan, I’m really happy to see selected. He was a 26 year old kid who put up good numbers in the minors, including hitting 32 home runs across AA/AAA in 2015. In addition, as an 8th round pick from a JUCO, Blash has never made much money during his career. The fact that he was selected and put on the 40 man was a life changing moment for a kid from the Virgin Islands.

Blash appeared in 38 games, making 84 plate appearances. His bWAR value was almost entirely derived from his defense. His offensive production was pretty abysmal. He did walk at a decent rate, which is something he had shown in the minors as well. It is such a limited sample size that it is hard to really take much from Blash. I warned that this was a bad class and Blash, having a bWAR value of zero over such a limited sample size, really helps to demonstrate how weak this group was in terms of production.

Later this week, we will have a look at the last 13 years of drafts and the breakdown of players selected.

San Diego Padres Jabari Blash Deolis Guerra Matt Bowman St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Angels Toronto Blue Jays

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