The Orioles have five openings on their 40-man roster that can be used to protect prospects from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft, though it’s been rare that they’ve lost players to other teams.
Since 1999, only six Orioles farmhands have been selected in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, with two of the players being returned and two having just signed minor league contracts as free agents.
To be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, which takes place Dec. 12, a player not on his team’s 40-man roster must have been signed either at age 18 or younger at least five seasons prior or at age 19 or older at least four seasons prior. Teams can pay $100,000 to draft a player but must keep him on their active roster the whole year or offer him back to his previous franchise for $50,000.
Among the Orioles’ Rule 5 eligible players this year are first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle; left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin; right-handers Dean Kremer, Cody Sedlock and Gray Fenter; outfielder Ryan McKenna; and catcher Brett Cumberland. Mountcastle, Akin, Kremer and McKenna are the likeliest additions.
In the past 20 years, the only true prospect the Orioles have lost in the major league phase Rule 5 draft was Pedro Beato, a right-handed pitcher they took 32nd overall in the 2006 amateur draft. The New York Mets took Beato in the 2010 Rule 5 draft after he posted a 2.11 ERA with Double-A Bowie in his first season as a full-time reliever. Beato, considered a fringe top 100 prospect in baseball before the 2007 season, pitched in 60 games for New York in 2011, staying in the majors the whole season to meet his Rule 5 requirements. He appeared in only 25 games over the rest of his major league career.
The last Orioles minor leaguer taken in the Rule 5 draft was first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who signed a minor league contract with Baltimore in November 2015 before the Los Angeles Angels took him in the Rule 5 draft a month later. Josh Phelps went through a similar experience in 2006, joining the Orioles on a minor league contract before the New York Yankees took him in the Rule 5 draft. Unlike Choi, Phelps did not last all year with his new club; the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed him on waivers and assumed his Rule 5 rights, preventing him from returning to the Orioles.
Two players, however, rejoined the Orioles’ organization before even playing a regular season for the franchise that plucked them. In 2010, pitcher Pat Egan, a former 36th-round pick, got selected by the Milwaukee Brewers, but they returned him to the Orioles a week before the season started. The San Francisco Giants took Steve Johnson, the son of former Orioles starter and current broadcaster Dave Johnson, in the 2009 Rule 5 draft, but he rejoined Baltimore in mid-March. He pitched in parts of three seasons for the Orioles from 2012-15.
The only other Oriole selected in the Rule 5 draft in the past 20 years was reliever Rocky Cherry, who pitched in 32 games for the Orioles from 2007-2008. The Mets took Cherry in the 2008 draft after Baltimore took him off its 40-man roster, but New York released him after it offered him back to the Orioles and they declined.
The long-term hope for the Orioles is to have prospects that other teams want and to have enough talented minor leaguers that every 40-man roster decision this time of year is a difficult one. For now, in talent-acquisition mode, Baltimore executive vice president/general Mike Elias will strive to protect as many players as is logical. Last season, the Orioles found themselves with a congested 40-man roster that at times left little wiggle room for major league reinforcements. It’s likely that even if five players join the 40-man roster Wednesday and fill it up, others could come off down the line to enable the Orioles to make some 40-man selections of their own.
Until Wednesday’s 8 p.m. deadline, the Orioles will sort out their decisions, with the Rule 5 draft having not cost them much of anything in the past two decades.