The MLB Rule 5 Draft took place on Thursday. Here’s a quick primer on how it works. The short version: If you’ve had a prospect in the minors for several years then another team can give him a chance, but they have to keep him in the bigs all year. This is how the A’s got Mark Canha a couple years ago.
The A’s did not make a pick in the 2016 edition, because they didn’t have an open space on their roster. However, they did lose one player, as the Chicago White Sox selected RHP Dylan Covey from Oakland. Let’s take a closer look at both sides of this draft.
Covey is a right-hander who has been a starter to this point. His fastball reached as high as 95 mph in the Arizona Fall League last month, and he has an overall five-pitch arsenal (via Kimberly Contreras, Oakland Clubhouse). If everything goes right then he profiles as an efficient pitch-to-groundball-contact innings eater. He’s gone through adversity in his career (often health-related but not arm-related), and Contreras also notes his toughness and resilience.
However, what Covey is missing is a track record. He’s only thrown six games in the upper minors, all in Double-A at the beginning of 2016 before missing the rest of the year to an oblique strain. He came back for the Arizona Fall League, and despite tossing a couple high-profile gems (no-hitter, and AFL championship) his overall numbers were pedestrian (4.25 ERA, too many baserunners). And again, that was still just seven more games (including AFL postseason), so he’s now got a total of 13 appearances above High-A ball and he’ll be age 25 next season.
As someone who closely follows the A’s minor leagues, you’d think I’d be bummed about losing a prospect. However, I’m not even batting an eye at this one right now — if anything, I’m relieved that they didn’t lose RHPs Tucker Healy or Sam Bragg, who are both better prospects and closer to the bigs.
It’s not that Covey isn’t a worthwhile prospect, but rather a matter of practicality and timing. I simply can’t imagine a scenario in which he lasts on an MLB roster for all of 2017, especially in a homer-happy park like Guaranteed Rate Field (lol seriously that’s its name now ... the irony would be delicious if they offered dynamic ticket pricing that constantly changes and is thus rarely if ever a “guaranteed rate”).
If the now-rebuilding White Sox find a way to get value out of Covey this year, or even commit to stashing him at the back of their pen just to add a fringe prospect to the system, then a tip of the cap to them. Nothing is impossible. But even then, I currently have him as the A’s No. 36 prospect on my personal list, below 16 other starters, so the damage is minimal. If you look at it in terms of depth chart rather than total prospect value, he’s probably around 18th in line to start games in Oakland this year (but really lower, because they would pick up a Surkamp or a Detwiler like last year if things actually got that far again in 2017).
I think the most likely scenario is that Covey gets hammered by MLB hitting in his first trial and he’s back in Oakland’s system by June. The next-most likely is that he doesn’t even break camp with Chicago and ends up back here after spring training. None of that precludes him being better in the future! Just not yet. I was more bummed about losing the actually MLB-ready 2B/OF Colin Walsh last winter, but he didn’t even make it to the end of June with the rebuilding Brewers before being sent back.
So, to be clear, I don’t think Covey is a worthless prospect. I just think that he’s so far from being MLB-ready right now that there is nearly a zero percent chance that he sticks in 2017, which means nothing will come of this. The biggest result could be that the A’s will have a bit more breathing room for the first couple months in their already-packed Double-A rotation, while Covey gets some free MLB experience from another club. Thanks, White Sox! (Note: I’m not kidding. The rotation overflow in Nashville/Midland is an actual concern right now, and someone good will lose playing time because of it if space isn’t cleared by trades.)
The final question is whether the A’s should have protected Covey by adding him to the 40-man roster in November. At the time my stance was that he wasn’t worth protecting, and I still feel that way even though he got picked. Even if you would happily DFA a fringe guy like Max Muncy or Brett Eibner to make room, the fact remains that Covey would begin burning option years right away. Unless you see him as a specific fast-track candidate (and nothing about his career so far has gone quickly) then he might be on his last option year before even making his MLB debut. You’d also be burning a 40-man spot on something even less imminently useful than a Muncy/Eibner, since Covey would still have been in a long line waiting for an MLB spot — or even worse, he’d leapfrog a better option like Tucker Healy simply because he was already on the roster.
It is imperfect that the A’s lost a player in the Rule 5 Draft, but that doesn’t make it a mistake on the their part nor even necessarily a bad thing in the long run. I wouldn’t lose sleep over this one, though as long as we’re here, congrats to Dylan on the chance for an MLB debut in April!
A’s don’t make a pick
I would have liked to see the A’s make a Rule 5 pick this year, but I don’t think it’s a big deal that they didn’t. It would make sense to grab a free lotto ticket in what might prove to be a rebuilding season, but I also didn’t have my eye on any particular player so there’s no one I’m mad about missing out on. Besides, the A’s already have quite a few lotto tickets coming up from Nashville and there is only so much space for everyone -- furthermore, roster flexibility will be a crucial element, and Rule 5 guys don’t help that.
What should the A’s have added? They have bullpen depth already and there’s probably no room on the Opening Day roster for a Rule 5 reliever anyway. As for outfielders, if we want to gamble on a fringe guy as a starter rather than making an actual MLB addition (like Jarrod Dyson or bigger), then give Brett Eibner another shot, or let loose Jaycob Brugman and see what happens, or stick Matt Olson in RF. At least those guys can be taxied up and down between Nashville when flexibility is needed, and they’re no worse bets than most Rule 5 guys.
Sure, there are success stories in the history of the Rule 5 Draft, most recently Hector Rondon and Odubel Herrera in the last four years. But those are extremely rare, maybe once every few years at most, and more likely your best-case scenario is finding a solid middle reliever (Josh Fields, Ryan Pressly, Deolis Guerra) or bench guy (Delino DeShields Jr). And even those are uncommon — the majority of picks are promptly sent back to their original teams.
If the A’s thought they saw a keeper, like Mark Canha in 2014, then I’m sure they would have made the effort. That they didn’t tells me there wasn’t anything out there that was obviously better than what they already have — no, not even better than Max Muncy, an emergency sub with MLB experience and, again, the ability to taxi up and down to Nashville.
And so we close the book on a Rule 5 Draft that was disappointing but mostly inconsequential. You may now return to your regularly scheduled hot stove season.