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Orioles Rule 5 Primer

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The Baltimore Orioles are in a spot that appears to be less than ideal. The major league roster is a last-place one. The talent in the minor leagues is obvious and starting to need space to grow. How exactly do they transition the youth into the levels where they belong and make room to do it? Cheap and controllable talent that can be utilized is the answer.

The rule 5 draft gives teams like Baltimore the chance to gamble a bit on players other clubs see as risky. Recently, reliever Tyler Wells and OF Anthony Santander have worked to varying degrees. The shrewd strategy to maneuver their own roster and protect players from ending up elsewhere is at play as they build a talent base. This year they should prioritize stashing some of these future Birds while letting underachievers exit. The guys who have inhabited the Camden Yards clubhouse have proven what they can do. It’s finally time to clear space for the young guys and see what they can bring.


There is no more biased writer than me when it comes to Orioles prospects, I recognize that. Preferences aside, the players being replaced only best the youngsters in recent experience. That’s valuable but not as much as talent and upside. It’s an extremely different set of factors to balance, and the decisions can be second-guessed for years. The time for talking about the youth movement is done. The movement part is on, after some tough waiting. Here’s my list of players to protect and why:

LHP DL HALL

You could make an argument that even with no 1 overall prospect/2019 no 1 MLB Draft pick Adley Rutschman and elite RHP Grayson Rodriguez that a healthy Hall is the team’s player with the highest ceiling. His limited innings before injury in 2021 showed improvements in all aspects of pitching. Mound presence, stuff, conditioning, pace, and location all moved in a positive direction. He can 10k/9 in his sleep and changes planes more often than an international traveler. Easiest keep.

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INF ADAM HALL

A much tougher Hall call than the pitcher. It’s been said that you can get a true picture of a player’s profile after 1000 minor league ABs. The speedy Hall has 988 and has shown he can hit (.285 avg) and get to 1st (.368 on-base)to use his speed successfully (82-97 on career steals). Also, his approx 2000 innings have been split heavily towards SS where he’s a .936 career fielder as opposed to 2B where I think his movements fit better and he’s a .980 fielder. The problem with Hall’s gradual improvement is that it may have peaked.

Under normal circumstances, I’m inclined to give him a shot to see if he can save some runs/make some plays in the dirt to help pitchers. The circumstances are not normal. The major league club is desperate for dependable gloves and they just drafted a high ceiling 2B in Connor Norby who’s expected to rise quickly through the system. Also, it’s fair to wonder how rosy the view is outside of Baltimore on a player drafted 60 overall way back in 2017. I think there’s a shrewd scout who likes his acceleration skills out there making a case for using a roster spot on Hall. Don’t know if they’ll win that argument today, yet it only takes one. It’s smart to keep a hold on this Hall too, after some internal debate. Why not?™️

OF ROBERT NEUSTROM

He showed an outstanding arm in different drills way back in his 1st minor league camp in 2019. Physical development and dedicated swing work showed what his strength can do today. The ceiling is high enough and the intangibles make for a positive opportunity for maximizing development. The Orioles also happen to be just as desperate for cost-controlled skilled outfielders. That’s exactly what Neustrom is. The .628 OPS vs same-handed LHP’s is going to be tough to work on as the pitchers rise in class. But I see more good than bad in lots of Important areas. Defense, baseball IQ, leadership, handling adversity stand out. The 476 foot dinger in Hartford also does.Easy keep. Neus is loose and not stopping.

RHP KYLE BRADISH

The only reason to not keep him is if you’re convinced that his best innings are behind him. At 25 he’s only thrown 200 total as a pro so that stance isn’t ringing true. In fact, I’ll take the 11.2 k/9 and try to find a way to insert the tall righty into the Orioles starting rotation or at least part of the competition. He throws pitches like a QB drops touch passes over linebackers. Natural spin and a powerful downward release help his 12-6 curve dive and bend hitters knees. It’s always brought back memories of former Oriole Chris Tillman in terms of shape and angle. It’s reasonable to think he can handle some innings, it’s smart to keep him and see how he prepares for and works through starts if he gets the chance.

NF TERRIN VAVRA

Every single look in person or on milb.tv, the impression is ‘confident strike zone judgement mixed with above average hit tool’. This guy can square up a pitcher’s pitch as well as any hitter in the organization. The pro baseball bloodlines are evident in all aspects of his offense and defense. The rebuilding Orioles were lucky to get him in a deal with Colorado years ago and fully intend to see his development through except for one little thing. His health and ability to play through injury are slightly in question after only 149 ABs this year. Again, the team drafted Norby and he’s going to rise. Vavra at 24 has yet to reach that 1000 AB threshold, he’s at 721. His average is high at .304, OPS even crisper at .880, but the on-base of .405 is why he’ll be given the chance to a)prove health and b)compete for a chance to be a big league infielder in Baltimore. Relatively easy call.

RHP BLAINE KNIGHT

Has faced and passed some serious adversity on the farm. Stuff snapped back a bit in 2021 but there’s not enough rates in his numbers or juice on the pitches. Despite showing slight improvements in velocity, ability to defend his position and hit spots, I’d still find a way to keep him even though he turns 26 in June. However there’s one factor that I don’t think he can overcome and it’s physical. He’s extremely slender and doesn’t have the whip action of a longer limbed hurler like Chris Sale or Alex Wood. Gaining weight has always been an issue with Knight and it’s lowered his ceiling. Other clubs checking on him isn’t out of the question but would require an explanation. I can’t see a lot of rationale or need behind protecting Knight. Or even less to pluck him away. He doesn’t need the protection, it should be utilized on more potential.

OF LAMAR SPARKS

We’ve seen the elite long speed at play on the bases. That alone helps the 23 year old stand out. He’s been injured a lot of his time in Orioles Orange and it has no doubt held back his development and affected his standing on the depth chart. Lamar deserves credit for staying in great shape throughout his rehab and surprised lots of folks with his size and muscle to start 2021. He started to get some power and speed out of that athleticism with 15 combined HR and SB in 264 AB. There’s a long way to go to see his game fully formed and while he was rehabbing his position went from a deficiency to a serious strength. It’s up to the front office to decide if they’ve waited too long or if they’re inclined to see it all the way through. He can and probably will still get better. They can be confident that he won’t be scooped up if unprotected. His skills make scouts pens hit the page when he moves and that’s worth a look but a 40-Man roster spot in 2022 isn’t a probability anywhere. Protecting him to prevent that makes some sense, but it’s a long shot that he gets selected simply because of his lack of development to this point. I keep him unrostered and my fingers crossed. Can you tell I’m perplexed?

LHP KEVIN SMITH

Acquired at the pushed back trade deadline in 2020 for Miguel Castro from the Mets, Smith has passed each and every AA hurdle. Norfolk and AAA hitters proved a taller task. The O’s are far from flush with guys in his age tier that could be ready to contribute and log innings as they get nearer to playing important games. Smith hasn’t shown any reason to not be part of that group that includes holdovers/minor league vets like Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Michael Baumann. The ceiling isn’t sky high but getting better with experience is what he should be doing and on several levels he has. Smith is part of the Orioles competition so he gets protected.

INF CADYN GRENIER

Perhaps the single most polarizing player on the Orioles farm. His defensive acumen is and has been big league caliber since his mid teens. Like most hitters get into a groove and go on streaks, his glove does the same thing. When he’s hot his transfers and footwork are absolutely electric. The timing and quickness belie a player who has been drilling with pro game speed for ages. He’s not error-proof however. The problems are that defense is under appreciated and his offense as a whole hasn’t kept up. To Cadyn’s credit he has developed strength and it’s translated to better batted ball data. He’s been an extra on the big league roster in Spring Training. It’d be a shame if that’s as close as he gets to helping the O’s. A defensive specialist never goes out of style but in today’s game is less valued. It’s a moderate risk to not protect the 25 yr old (bday on Halloween/2021) but I have a feeling that the O’s see him as valuable depth where other clubs don’t. I’d take the chance and leave him unprotected.

CORNER PATRICK DORRIAN

With a huge 2021 his profile is fresh off a positive update. 22 dingers, and an .815 OPS can cover up all his k’s but better pitchers will be looking to exploit those tendencies. It’s up to Pat the bat to adjust back- I’m confident he will. At 25 and nearing that 1000 AB threshold, Dorrian looks to be rounding into his final form. Pitch selection and recognition are the areas he needs to work on to stay consistent. I think he both can and will and other teams have to see him as a near-ready contributor that could work as a good value or more. This one’s risky for lots of reasons, mostly due to the lack of depth at 3rd base overall. The toughest call of the entire group, protecting Dorrian is only a waste if he has zero chance of being an Oriole. His chance is greater than zero so he gets the protection this time around.

2020 Non-Protected Players:

C-Brett CumberlandINF-Mason McCoyP-Cameron Bishop, Ofelky Peralta, Cody Sedlock, Ignacio Feliz, Felix Bautista, Nick Vespi

Of this list, I only put the lock on Vespi. I’m confident he’d be picked up. He’s 26 which makes him old-ish in developmental years but it doesn’t mean a thing in terms of how he can help a team today. His body has improved, his stuff has always been better than good and his performance has never been subpar. Nick can give righties and lefties fits and has the guile to work out of jams. We don’t have to squint to see him in the Camden Yards pen. He’s also putting up solid numbers in the Arizona Fall League and has 2 wins already.

The other players weren’t picked in 2021 but I’d understand if there were those in (and maybe out of)the warehouse that see Bautista as a closer and move to protect him. Mostly, this list didn’t change their respective profiles in the past season. Despite that, due to the team’s rebuilding state a reasonable case can be made for each name. Now the team should be interested in going a bit younger and having some of these names competing for spots at the highest level as soon as Spring Training in March.

To add it all up, that’s 1 holdover (Vespi) and 7 2022 eligible Players (D Hall, A Hall, K Smith, Bradish, Vavra, Dorrian and Neustrom) for a total of 8 retained players for the Orioles. Sparks getting plucked away would bother me slightly more than Grenier. Frankly, either would sting. I like the depth plus the relationship factor of being in the organization for several seasons and would hate to waste what’s been built.

Lots of work and roster machinations are required but the foundation is laid for talented, highly skilled performers to step up towards contention. This is no longer just the beginning of a lengthy uphill climb but the time to sample some of the fruit that’s been ripening on the farm.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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