For the second straight year, the Orioles used the annual Rule 5 draft Thursday to add pitching depth in selecting right-hander Mac Sceroler from the Cincinnati Reds and right-hander Tyler Wells from the Minnesota Twins.
“Both of these guys fit an attractive archetype as strike-throwing starting pitchers with a deep repertoire,” Orioles director of pro scouting Mike Snyder said.
“With both these guys, we’re excited for the chance just to acquire two starting pitchers who feature an impressive combination of bat-missing ability and a proclivity for throwing strikes.”
Sceroler, 25, the nephew of former Orioles pitcher and current broadcaster Ben McDonald, must remain on the major league roster for all of 2021 to remain in the organization.
A 2017 fifth-round pick of the Reds, Sceroler last pitched at High-A Daytona in 2019. There, he had a 3.69 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with 127 strikeouts in 117 innings.
“We were attracted to the four-pitch mix,” Snyder said. “It’s a good fastball, good traits, flashes of power. He leverages the curveball downhill, throws the slider for strikes and for chases, and he can get a lot of awkward swings on a plus splitter. So, he brings a lot to the table.”
Wells, a 15th-round pick in 2016, impressed on his climb through the Twins’ system but missed all of 2019 after Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. In 2018, pitching for High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga, Wells struck out 121 batters in 119⅓ innings with a combined 2.49 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP.
“Tyler Wells is an interesting case,” Snyder said. “There are some similarities to Sceroler in that we’re drawn to the full assortment of weapons he has in his bag, both for lefties and for righties. He’s a 6-[foot]-8 monster, he’s a starter who works all four quadrants of the zone with his fastball. He features two interesting breaking balls and a plus changeup. He executes them well and throws them for strikes.”
The Orioles also lost players in the major league phase for the first time since 2015, when they signed infielder Ji-Man Choi to a minor league free-agent deal and lost him later that offseason to the Los Angeles Angels.
Right-hander Zach Pop, an electric reliever who was acquired in 2018 as part of the Orioles’ return in the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the sixth pick and quickly traded to the Miami Marlins.
Later in the round, the Orioles lost right-hander Gray Fenter, who had a breakout year at Low-A Delmarva in 2019, to the Chicago Cubs.
Pop had Tommy John surgery early in 2019 and hadn’t pitched since, though the organization was still high on him. Fenter signed for a seven-figure bonus in 2015 and had Tommy John surgery early in his career. While he pitched well as a starter at age 23 for the Shorebirds in 2019, he is likely a reliever going forward.
“It’s unfortunate both those guys were taken,” Snyder said. “They both have good potential. We talked about both of them. We talked about others. This is really a testament to having a deep system. We added six prospects in the offseason, a seventh at the end of the regular season in Bruce Zimmermann. So, ultimately, you can’t protect them all.
“It’s a positive in that we’re making strides and this is a relevant topic of conversation right now. We’ll be rooting for them, but we’ll also cross our fingers and hope that the teams who selected them, that they’re not able to carry them all season and we can get them back at some point.”
Players eligible for the Rule 5 draft have at least four seasons of professional experience and were not protected on their original club’s 40-man roster ahead of the draft. For the selecting team to keep the player, he must remain on the active roster for the entire season or else be passed through waivers and returned to the original club.
In some instances, as with the Orioles’ 2017 Rule 5 selection Anthony Santander, injuries can keep a player from fulfilling the minimum required days in the major leagues. In those cases, the requisite days must be satisfied the following year.
The Orioles have quite a history making Rule 5 draft picks, and Santander has emerged as the greatest success story. Despite missing the last month of the 2020 season with an oblique injury, he was their most productive hitter and won Most Valuable Oriole honors.
Others who have stuck around to play roles on the major league team in recent years include Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, Joey Rickard and Richie Martin.
The Orioles took two pitchers — right-handers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker — in the Rule 5 draft a year ago. Both impressed in spring training, but were surprisingly returned to their original clubs midway through camp as the team’s roster forecast was such that carrying one or both on the roster the whole season would have been difficult.
A few days later, spring training was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The rules for restarting the season in July, which featured expanded rosters, could have made it easier to keep one or both.
The Rule 5 draft also features a minor league phase, where teams can purchase players not on another club’s Triple-A reserve roster with no restrictions as to what level he plays at going forward and no requirement to later return him.
No Orioles prospects were selected in this phase, but the club used its picks to take reliever Rickey Ramirez from the Twins, catcher Chris Hudgins from the Kansas City Royals and right-hander Ignacio Feliz from the San Diego Padres.
Orioles director of minor league operations Kent Qualls said the team was attracted to Ramirez’s fastball-slider mix and solid results, Hudgins’ defensive ability and plus arm and the well-rounded starter’s repertoire and potential in the 21-year-old Feliz.
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Qualls also noted that each of the players is under club control for the next three seasons, meaning they can further develop in the Orioles’ system.