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2019 Rule 5 draft: Oakland A’s lose one prospect, gain another

The A’s didn’t technically make a pick, but they acquired someone else’s pick.

OF Mark Payton is headed to the Reds.
Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

The Rule 5 draft was held on Thursday, and the Oakland A’s were involved in multiple picks. In the MLB section of the draft they lost one prospect but gained another, and they also picked up a few names in the minor league portion.

As a quick refresher, any prospect taken in the major league phase of the draft must be kept on his new team’s 26-man roster all season long (including at least 90 days not on the IL) or else be waived and then offered back to his original club.

Out: Mark Payton, OF

Heading out of Oakland’s organization is outfielder Mark Payton, who was selected by the Reds. Payton was a Rule 5 pick last year as well (from the Yankees to the A’s), but in the minor league portion of the proceedings, meaning he didn’t need to be on the MLB roster. He suited up for Triple-A Las Vegas in 2019 and enjoyed a monster breakout, albeit in an extremely hitter-friendly environment.

Payton, 2019 AAA: .334/.400/.653, 148 wRC+, 30 HR, 10.1% BB, 17.0% Ks

For context, the lefty had never even hit double-digit homers in a season before exploding for 30 in Vegas. He followed that up by representing Team USA in an international tournament last month, and his overall body of work had earned him a non-roster invite to Oakland’s spring training next year.

Analysis: This is fine. Payton had a great year, but it wasn’t enough for him to break through and force his way up to Oakland’s extremely crowded outfield. It was hard to see that changing in 2020, as the A’s are fully stocked with the likes of Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, Stephen Piscotty, Robbie Grossman, and Chad Pinder, plus 40-man roster prospect depth like Seth Brown, Dustin Fowler, Skye Bolt, and Luis Barrera, not to mention Arizona Fall League standout Greg Deichmann who could find himself in Triple-A.

Even if a couple of those names are traded later this winter, there was virtually no path to the majors in Oakland for Payton, and even getting at-bats for Las Vegas might have been tough. This is one of those moments where I’m actually happy he got picked, because he’s age 28 and he deserves a chance in MLB and it wasn’t happening here. This is exactly the point of the Rule 5 draft, so that the Paytons of the world don’t get stuck waiting forever for a well-deserved opportunity that never comes. And if he pans out, at least it’ll be for an NL team.

The bigger news here is who didn’t get picked. Much of the Athletics Nation community was worried that fireballing reliever Wandisson Charles might draw interest in Rule 5, after he brought his triple-digit velocity up to Double-A for a successful audition. After all, the A’s previously lost pitchers Dylan Covey (2016) and Brett Graves (2017) to this draft after each threw just a couple dozen innings in Double-A, so the lack of upper-minors experience didn’t have to be a dealbreaker. But fortunately, Charles remains, as does fellow sleeper pitcher Jhenderson Hurtado after he put himself on the map with a successful stint in the AFL.

In: Vimael Machin, IF

A couple picks after Cincinnati took Payton, the Phillies selected 26-year-old infielder Vimael Machin (from the Cubs) and then traded him to the A’s for cash considerations. The left-handed batter spent most of 2019 in Double-A and showed top-notch plate discipline, walking more often than he struck out. His 5.6% swinging-strike rate was among the five or six best marks in all of Double-A, and his strikeout rate ranked similarly well.

Machin, 2019 AA: .294/.386/.403, 129 wRC+, 6 HR, 12.7% BB, 11.4% Ks

He also found his way into a dozen games at Triple-A throughout the year, and hit even better in that small sample.

On defense, Machin’s calling card is versatility. This year he started at least 20 games at each of shortstop (45 games), second base (43), and third base (23), with a handful at first base as well (6), and his past seasons similarly show him bouncing around the field. That nomadism came to a head this summer, when on Aug. 30 he did his best Bert Campaneris impression by playing all eight non-pitcher positions in one game. He didn’t get to complete the publicity stunt by pitching, presumably because the game was tied entering the 9th inning, but he still got to show the full range of his skills with the glove.

The Puerto Rican native was a 10th-round pick by the Cubs back in 2015. The plate discipline he showed this year was par for the course (career: 12.1% BB, 14.6% Ks), and helped earn him both an All-Star berth and a Player of the Month award (May) in the Double-A Southern League. The available defensive metrics suggest he’s been roughly neutral, never straying too far above or below zero.

While the A’s didn’t directly pick Machin in the draft, he will still be subject to the same rules, meaning he needs to stay on the 26-man roster all year in order to keep him. We’ve seen this situation before, when Oakland acquired Mark Canha ahead of the 2015 season — the Rockies drafted him from the Marlins and then traded him here, where he stuck around all season and still remains to this day.

Analysis: I simultaneously get it, and don’t get it. Machin is an obvious fit for Oakland, as a lefty-hitting middle infielder who can play multiple positions, put the ball into play, and get on base. That checks virtually every box they’re looking for right now.

However, what the A’s need most is a reliable, everyday second baseman in 2020 while they contend for a title. Is Machin that guy, as an untested youngster who hasn’t even debuted in the bigs yet? Presumably they’ll still be on the lookout for an established, starting-caliber MLB player to fill the keystone, right? In that case, Machin is just the utility guy on the bench, but is that something Oakland needed? They already have two big-name infield prospects in Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo who are both out of options, and if either of them survives the offseason without being traded then they’ll need a roster spot. I’m not sure there will be space for one of them and Machin.

So, he’s (hopefully) not the new everyday 2B, and the A’s already had some serious talents to choose from for a utility spot. Machin would be a perfect player to stash in Triple-A, but that’s exactly the thing they aren’t allowed to do with him.

The truth is, none of those questions above have probably been answered yet, and they don’t have to be. The stakes are low here, and if it turns out that Machin doesn’t fit into the picture then the A’s lost nothing by briefly adding him to the mix. But if they strike out on the 2B market, or find great trade returns for Barreto and Mateo, etc., then there is now one more intriguing prospect on hand who can address areas of need. Having too many good players is the good problem to have.

Minor league phase

The A’s also took three players in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. These players tend to be just org filler, but Oakland did quite well here last winter. Out of three picks, Payton did enough to put himself on the map, and infielder Corban Joseph managed to hit enough to force his way up to the majors — in fact, he played for three different MLB teams last season (OAK, SF, PIT). Here are the latest selections:

  • Jason Krizan, OF/IF (from NYM)
  • Jose Colina, C (from CLE)
  • Deivy Mendez, RHP (from SD)

The precise rules aren’t important; all that matters is these players don’t have to be on the 26-man roster like the MLB Rule 5 guys.

Krizan is a 30-year-old lefty hitter whose top skill is plate discipline. He doesn’t hit for much power, and his batting averages are only decent, but he often walks more than he strikes out and he rarely swings and misses. He’s spent the last six years in the upper minors, including over 1,000 plate appearances in Triple-A, and for his overall pro career he has exactly 436 walks and Ks, working out to a 10.8% rate for both. On defense he’s played mostly the corner outfield, where the metrics suggest he’s around neutral, but he’s also dabbled at 1B and 2B. In other words, he sounds a lot like Machin, but on the wrong side of 30 and more skewed toward the outfield.

Colina is a 21-year-old from Venezuela who is yet to appear above Rookie Ball. The switch-hitter performed well in the Arizona Rookie League this summer, for what that’s worth against relatively younger competition.

Mendez is a 24-year-old reliever who has topped out at High-A so far. He racks up big strikeout totals, and keeps the ball in the park, but also walks way too many batters. In 148 innings at various levels of A-Ball (over the last four seasons), he’s recorded 199 strikeouts (12.1 K/9), 105 walks (6.4 BB/9), and just nine homers (0.5 HR/9). Entering 2018 he got a mention on a FanGraphs org prospect list (then in the Rays org), where his fastball received a 60-grade, his curve got a 55/60, and his change got a 50/55. That report called him a “potentially special bullpen piece” due to that strong pitch mix, but with the caveat that his control and command must improve substantially.

Don’t look to this trio for any top prospects, but at least now you know they exist. Of the three, Mendez is easily the most interesting, but doesn’t appear to be anywhere near the majors.