So much time and energy is spent discussing Rule 5 draft picks. Many don’t even survive spring training. Others, who begin the season with a team, are given back to the teams from which they were drafted.
The Orioles have taken at least one player in each Rule 5 draft since 2006. In the last decade, the Orioles chose 15 players in the Rule 5 draft.
Infielder Ryan Flaherty (2011) spent six seasons with the Orioles. Left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland (2012) was effective in 2014 and was still in the majors with the Oakland Athletics in 2020.
Outfielder Joey Rickard (2015) got off to a hot start in 2016 and was featured in Royal Farms fried chicken commercials. Then Rickard suffered a thumb injury in July trying to field a ball at Yankee Stadium. He stayed with the team until June 2019.
Many of the choices were forgettable. Infielder Michael Almanzar (2013) never made the major leagues and returned to Boston. Pitcher Jason Garcia (2014) appeared in 21 games with a 4.25 ERA and was never heard from again.
Pitchers Pedro Araujo, Nelson Cortes and Jose Mesa Jr. were taken in the 2017 draft. None made an impact, and Mesa didn’t make it out of spring training.
Last year, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias selected two right-handed pitchers, Brandon Bailey from the Houston Astros and Michael Rucker from the Chicago Cubs. Both were sent back to their original teams six days before spring training ended on March 12th.
Shortstop Richie Martin, who was the top pick in the Rule 5 draft in December 2018, showed promise in 2019 but missed all of last season because of a broken right wrist. He’ll try to make the team again next spring.
While many of the players contributed little or nothing, the Orioles did make an outstanding selection in 2016. After drafting outfielder Aneury Tavárez from Boston with the 12th pick, the Orioles chose another outfielder, Anthony Santander, from Cleveland with the 18th and final pick.
Santander had never played above High-A, and while Tavárez was sent back to Boston near the end of spring training in 2017, the Orioles decided to hold on to Santander.
An elbow injury kept Santander on the 60-day injured list for most of the season and prevented him from accumulating the 90 days on the active roster needed to fulfill Rule 5 requirements.
He played in 13 games in 2017 and stayed with the club through mid-May. Once he reached 90 days, the Orioles sent Santander to Double-A Bowie.
In 2017, Santander hit .267 in the 13 games and, in 2018, just .198 in 33 games, but the Orioles thought there was something there.
Under a new regime, Santander had a strong spring training but began 2019 with Triple-A Norfolk. After hitting .259 with five home runs and 24 RBIs, he was summoned to Baltimore in early June.
Santander surprised many by hitting 20 home runs and driving in 59 runs while batting .261 in 93 games.
Last year’s 60-game season was even better. Santander was a finalist for the American League Gold Glove in right field and hit .261 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs in 37 games before suffering an oblique injury on September 4th that ended his season.
That was good enough for Santander to win the Most Valuable Oriole award, something that seemed improbable two years before.
It took patience from Dan Duquette, who drafted him, and Elias, who inherited him, to keep Santander.
Other outfielders, including Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart, needed playing time, but Santander has become a rarity, the valuable Rule 5 draft pick.
The Orioles have the fifth pick in Thursday’s draft, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t extend their streak.
With a bevy of young outfielders, it would be a surprise if they picked another one, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they went for an infielder.
A long-shot candidate for the starting rotation can’t be ruled out, but it would be hard to keep a reliever on the staff, particularly if rosters are limited to 26 players, which was the plan last year.
Had Elias known that there would be rosters of 30 players to begin the 2020 season and 28 after the first two weeks, he might have kept Bailey or Rucker. But it’s difficult to keep a reliever who can’t be optioned in the rugged American League East.
For the moment, there are only two catchers on the 40-man roster, which has two vacancies. Austin Wynns was outrighted to Norfolk on Monday. It’s rare to find a catcher in the Rule 5 draft, but perhaps the Orioles will target one.