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Milwaukee Brewers potential Rule 5 Draft targets

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It’s been awhile since they’ve made a pick, but several open spots and the upcoming 26-man roster could mean this is the year.

Cherry Creek High School pitcher, Griffin Jax, against Cherokee Trail at Cherokee Trail Saturday afternoon. Cherry Creek defeated Cherokee Trail in 9 innings, 7-1. Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Griffin Jax.
Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Baseball’s annual Rule 5 Draft is scheduled to take place on Thursday morning during the Winter Meetings in San Diego, California. This is the third winter under the new Rule 5 Draft rules in the most recent CBA; remember, the Double-A phase of the minor league portion of the draft has been eliminated and the cost for a pick in the MLB phase of the draft is now $100,000. Here is a refresher on how a player becomes eligible to be selected in the MLB portion of the draft:

  • Players who signed at age 18 or younger (as of June 5th of the year they signed) are eligible for the draft after five years.
  • Players who signed when 19 or older are eligible after four years.
  • Player is not on the 40 man roster.
  • In order for a team to retain a drafted player’s rights, that player must stick on the 25 man roster or the MLB disabled list for the entire season, spending a minimum of 90 days as an active player.

The Milwaukee Brewers haven’t selected a player in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 Draft since 2017, when they picked Caleb Smith and immediately traded his rights to the Cubs (Smith has since gone to experience big league success with the Marlins). They did make two selections in the minor league phase last year, though — shortstop Julio Garcia (who posted an ugly .364 OPS in Carolina) and catcher Alexander Alvarez, who posted a solid season as the backup catcher in Biloxi (.245/.321/.324 for an 89 wRC+ in 45 games).

As things stand right now, the Brewers have five spots available (assuming the Josh Lindblom deal becomes official) on the 40-man roster with which to make a selection. Their pick in the draft is all the way down at #20, however, so they’d likely have to work out a trade with a team ahead of them in the draft order if there is a particular player that they want to select.

The Brewers have a preponderance of unaddressed needs remaining around the roster, and with reports of a payroll slash coming in 2020, the Rule 5 Draft could provide an opportunity to add one or more candidates to at least compete for a spot in Spring Training at a low acquisition price. The new 26-man rosters (which is limited to 13 pitchers) could make it easier for the team to carry a Rule 5 player for the entire season, too. There hasn’t really been any chatter in regards to whether or not Slingin’ David Stearns and company will make a selection, but if the Brewers do decide to pick a player, here are a few of the more compelling options:

IF Jose Rojas || Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Rojas has done nothing but overachieve since he was selected in the 36th-round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He is a career .292/.350/.502 hitter in nearly 1,800 minor league plate appearances covering 411 games, with 64 home runs and 27 stolen bases. He may have played with the juiced ball in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last year, but his .293/.362/.577 slash line in 126 games was impressive nonetheless. That added up to a 120 wRC+, and he also launched 31 home runs.

Rojas has started to draw a good amount of walks in the last two years (10%+ both seasons) and he doesn’t strike out excessively — a 22.7% K-rate in 2019. The majority of his games have come at third base, and he’s also got experience at second, first, and the outfield corners. He is below-average defensively at all those positions, though, so the best bet if he’s chosen might be to stick him at the cold corner and let his bat do the talking. According to Baseball America, scouts like “his high-quality at-bats, knack for barreling the ball in the zone and hitter’s instincts from the left side...there is a lot of conviction in his ability to hit.” Heading into his age-27 season, Rojas’ left-handed bat could play up at Miller Park.

1B Connor Joe || Los Angeles Dodgers

Joe was selected in the Rule 5 Draft last year by the Reds, then was traded to the Giants shortly before the season. He only last two weeks on the active roster, however, recording one base hit in eight games and 16 plate appearances before getting returned to the Los Angeles org. But the former first round pick once again tore through Triple-A, hitting .300/.426/.503 with 15 home runs in 446 plate appearances for a 132 wRC+. The 27 year old has displayed terrific bat control, punching out only 18.2% of the time last season while drawing nearly as many walks (16.1% BB rate). He is pretty well limited to first base, but has appeared at third and in the outfield corners in a pinch.

3B Cristian Santana || Los Angeles Dodgers

Santana could help fill Milwaukee’s vacancy on the other side of the infield, as he’s displayed a strong arm while playing primarily at the hot corner during his minor league career. He’ll play all of next season at the age of 23 and has shown a knack for finding holes — he’s batted over .300 in each of the last three season and hit .301/.320/.436 in Double-A in 2019. He obviously doesn’t walk very much — just a 3.9% BB rate as a pro — and his aggressive approach takes him out of the strike zone at times (career 22% K rate). He does have some power, though, launching 10 home runs in 54 games in 2017, followed by 24 in high-A ball in 2018, then 10 dingers and 22 doubles in 413 plate appearances this past season. Santana is also capable of playing over at first base.

RHP Griffin Jax || Minnesota Twins

Jax isn’t the flamethrower-type that typically gets picked in the Rule 5 Draft, but he is exactly the kind of pitcher that Milwaukee has had success with during the David Stearns regime. The 2016 3rd-round pick turned 25 a few weeks ago and is coming off a terrific season in Double-A that saw him post a 2.67 ERA in 20 starts and 111.1 frames before finishing up with a 4.50 earned run average in three starts at the Triple-A level. Jax doesn’t miss a ton of bats (6.6 K/9 career) but he routinely fills up the strike zone and has walked only 50 batters in 254.2 minor league innings (1.8 BB/9). Per Baseball America, he possesses “plus control and command” of his average fastball, and Fangraphs rates him as having a 50-grade slider and an eventual 55-grade changeup. He’s got a starter’s build and repertoire and is a relatively polished product after starring at the Air Force Academy. BA writes that he could get picked “as a long reliever/spot starter with a chance to develop one day into something a little more.”

C Patrick Mazeika || New York Mets

Mazeika has been an excellent hitter in the minors since New York made him their 8th-round pick in 2015 — he owns a .278/.371/.424 slash line across 1,801 plate appearances. His power potential has begun to show through during the last two seasons at the Double-A level — he launched 9 long balls in 87 games in 2018 before popping 16 dingers over the fence in 462 plate appearances this past season while batting .245/.312/.426 for a 116 wRC+. The 26 year old is also a solid defender who has thrown out 32% of would-be base stealers in his career. Mazeika has some experience at first base, as well. With the defensively-challenged Omar Narvaez slated to be the regular backstop for Milwaukee, carrying three catchers on the roster could allow Craig Counsell to be more liberal in his usage of Manny Pina as a late-inning replacement. If not Jacob Nottingham (who the org hasn’t seem motivated to give many MLB chances to), Mazeika could fit the bill.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference