The Rule 5 Draft always causes roster crunch for all teams. Teams need to decide who they’ll protect from potentially getting selected, who to leave unprotected, and who to remove from the 40-man roster to make room for other players. The Arizona Diamondbacks are no different, and while the Rule 5 Draft is still months, I still want to take an early look at who they’ll need to protect and notable names who they may look to protect.
Blake Waltson is a former first-round pick who likely has an inside track on the 40-man roster. Waltson pitched to a quality 4.52 ERA, 5.39 FIP, and 1.57 WHIP. Those might not seem like impressive numbers, but keep in mind the league average ERA and WHIP in the Pacific Coast League was 5.70 and 1.62. Among the 26 pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched in the PCL, Waltson had the 2nd-best ERA, the 7th-best FIP, and was 13th in WHIP. Waltson did have a 14% walk rate and just a 15.4% strikeout rate, which, even though it is the PCL, were both poor. But he had just a 0.54 HR/9.
A tall 6’5”, 175-LBS southpaw, Waltson sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and also throws a curveball, slider, and a change-up. Both his slider and change-up have above-average potential, with his curveball also serving as a fourth pitch with average potential. Waltson struggled with command, but this was only his age-22 season. Given his decent numbers in the PCL, I think the D-Backs will opt to protect him.
Another potential Triple-A player who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft and could be protected is first baseman/outfielder Tristin English. English is unranked by FanGraphs and only comes in at #30 on MLB Pipeline’s list. But he had a good season regardless, batting .300/.390/.548 with a .408 wOBA and 128 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A. English struck out at a 22.9% pace while carrying an 11.6% walk rate. He also hit for good power with a .248 ISO and 23 dingers.
Now granted, keep in mind he spent most of his season in the PCL. Even though he nearly batted .300 with an OPS approaching .900 and wOBA just a few ticks shy of .400, English still had a league/ballpark-adjusted wRC+ of 114. Still, he ranked 15th or better in each of the three triple-slash numbers, as well as wOBA and wRC+ among the 60 players with at least 350 plate appearances.
English already passed through the Rule 5 draft once and went unclaimed. He is a first baseman who is going into his age-27 season, which is another thing to keep note of. MLB Pipeline praises English for his good swing mechanics, as well as the potential to smack 15-20 home runs. A relief pitcher in college, English was throwing in the low 90s off the mound, which will help him make strong throws from the outfield when he plays it.
One reliever who pitched in the PCL who deserves recognition and could be protected is Austin Pope. Pope started the year out at Double-A but was prompted to Triple-A. He threw 22 innings in the PCL, holding a 2.45 ERA, 3.09 FIP, but a 1.55 WHIP. That’s mainly because he had a .424 batting average on balls in play, which, in a larger sample size, likely would have normalized. Pope’s strikeout rate was just a shade under 30% at 29.2% while carrying an 8.3% walk rate and 0.41 HR/9.
Pope is a two-pitch pitcher with a slider and fastball. Unlike many relievers, he isn’t a flamethrower, only averaging out in the low 90s. But given that Blake Waltson was one of the best pitchers in the PCL with an ERA over 4.50, and Pope managed to keep an ERA under 3.00, he deserves to be acknowledged for a potential 40-man roster spot.
One of the only Double-A players who may get protected is catcher J.J. D’Orazio. D’Orazio started the year at High-A, where he batted .308/.380/.488 with a .390 wOBA, and 134 wRC+. D’Orazio struck out in less than 20% of his plate appearances (18.9%) while carrying a solid 10.5% walk rate. He also had a respectable .181 ISO. He was then promoted to Double-A, where he struggled to the tune of a .217/.236/.297 triple-slash, .240 wOBA, and 36 wRC+. His K% jumped to 22.8%, but more worrisome was the massive drop in walk rate to just 2.8%.
D’Orazio is a solid defensive catcher, but his offensive ceiling is relatively low due to a lack of raw power. He is athletic, however, and moves well behind the plate. D’Orazio was already passed on the Rule 5 draft last year. He is still only 21 and won’t turn 22 until December. He might not be a prime candidate for a 40-man roster spot, but one to keep in mind.
The other Double-A player I want to bring up is Deyvison De Los Santos. The 20-year-old third baseman had a poor showing at Double-A. He batted just .254/.297/.431 with a .324 wOBA, and horrendous 88 wRC+. He struck out in over a quarter of his plate appearances with a 26% K-rate while having a 5.2% walk rate. The only thing of value he brought was power, as he hit 20 home runs and had a .177 ISO.
So why mention a young guy who struggled at Double-A? Well, first, De Los Santos had a strong second half of the season. After returning from the All-Star break, De Los Santos slashed .312/.333/.580 with a .394 wOBA, and 132 wRC+. Sure, he had a horrible 2.8% walk rate and 25.8% strikeout rate, but he also had a .268 ISO and wRC+ above 130.
De Los Santos is also one of the Diamondbacks’ best prospects, ranking 9th on FanGraphs’ top D-Backs prospect list and 5th on MLB Pipeline’s. There’s a lot of potential but a lot of raw talent that is far from refined. He strikes out more often than you’d like to see, and he projects more as a designated hitter/first baseman than a third baseman. His defense at the hot corner has not gotten many good reviews. That may turn a team away from him, but I also don’t see the D-Backs too enthused about leaving a guy with 30+ homer potential exposed to the Rule 5 Draft and letting him go for free. If worst comes to worst, they could trade him prior to the draft to reinforce the roster.
After that, there are not too many guys in Double-A worth mentioning. Then it’s doubtful a guy gets selected from High-A or A-Ball because they are so young and not worth using a Rule 5 pick on. We shall see how the D-Backs approach these prospects, especially with De Los Santos, who will be one of the more interesting stories to follow.