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Early in the 2021 season, Oriole fans were complaining about the loss of right-handed reliever Zach Pop in the Rule 5 draft. Pop was one of five players the Orioles obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Manny Machado in July 2018. Infielder Rylan Bannon, outfielder Yusniel Diaz and starter Dean Kremer remain in the organization while infielder Breyvic Valera has gone.
Pop, who had Tommy John surgery in 2019, and right-hander Gray Fenter were taken in December 2020 draft. Fenter, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs, was returned to the Orioles late in spring training while Pop made the Miami Marlins.
The Arizona Diamondbacks chose Pop, then dealt him to the Marlins.
Pop was 1-0 with a 4.12 ERA in 50 games for the Marlins. Now that he has stayed with Miami for the entire season, he can be optioned to the minor leagues.
In hindsight, maybe the Orioles wish they had kept Pop, but it appears they got an even better Rule 5 draft pick: Tyler Wells.
Wells was the Orioles’ second selection in the Rule 5 draft. Right-hander Mac Sceroler was picked fifth overall, one slot behind reliever Garrett Whitlock, who was taken by the Boston Red Sox from the New York Yankees, and just ahead of Pop.
Whitlock was a true find. He was 8-4 with a 1.96 ERA and two saves. Whitlock pitched 73 1/3 innings in 46 games and could get some consideration in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Detroit picked outfielder Akil Baddoo just before Whitlock, and the Silver Spring native hit .250 with 13 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .755 OPS in 124 games for the Tigers.
Wells was 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA and four saves in 57 innings in 44 games. He had two stints on the 10-day injured list, a right wrist injury in July and right shoulder discomfort in late September, which ended his season.
When the Orioles gather for spring training on February 15th in Sarasota, Florida, Wells should have a shot at being the team’s closer for the 2022 season.
He pitched in the ninth inning more than in any other inning and, although his 4.02 ERA wasn’t spectacular, he held opponents to a .190 batting average. Wells allowed just one home run and three walks in 62 plate appearances in the ninth. His best inning was the seventh when opponents batted just .116 (5-for-43) against him.
Wells finished April with a 6.52 ERA. After a scoreless ninth inning in an 11-3 win at Fenway Park on April 4th, Wells was scored upon in his next five outings, and he finished May allowing runs in three straight games.
It wasn’t until June that Wells, who entered the month with a 5.48 ERA, began to earn the trust of manager Brandon Hyde. After his debut, Wells appeared in 12 straight losses. But. on June 2nd, the game after the Orioles broke their 14-game losing streak, he got to pitch meaningful innings.
Wells threw three shutout innings against Minnesota, his longest stint of the year, allowing just one hit, and picked up the win.
In June, Wells gave up just two runs on nine hits in 14 1/3 innings. Both of those runs came on June 19th against Toronto.
Wells went 24 days without an appearance-from July 19th-August 12th and picked up his first two saves in September. His worst outing came in the first game of a doubleheader against Toronto on September 11th when he allowed four runs in 1 1/3 innings in an ugly 11-10 loss.
He showed Hyde enough that he felt confident in using him, something few other relievers did. Although there was some speculation early in the season about using Wells as a starter, that stopped when he began getting late-inning opportunities.
Sceroler, the Orioles’ other Rule 5 choice, was returned to Cincinnati on June 26th after five appearances. He allowed 12 earned runs on 15 hits for a 14.09 ERA and missed nearly two months because of right shoulder tendinitis.
The Orioles have had success in the Rule 5 draft, taking outfielder Anthony Santander in December 2017 even though he’d never played above High-A.
Infielder Richie Martin, who was the first choice of the 2018 Rule 5, stayed with the Orioles through the 2019 season, though he has played just 37 games since then because of a pair of wrist injuries.
On December 8th, the Orioles will again have the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. In each of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ first three drafts, he has taken two players. Martin and Wells are the only two still with the club.
The Orioles have taken at least one player in the Rule 5 draft in each year since 2005. It’s a given they’ll make at least one selection, and the guess here is that they’ll again choose two.
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