The Rule 5 Draft was completed today and the Braves, who have been very quiet during these winter meetings, did make a few picks while losing a player in the process.
The player Atlanta lost was Joseph Odom, a five-year minor league vet who the Braves selected in the 13th round of the 2013 draft. He went to the Mariners in the minor league portion of the draft so he won’t have to be kept on the major league roster. Odom was slow to hit, but in 2016, he slashed .278/.327/.431 between Carolina and Mississippi and was a bit of a sleeper catching prospect heading into last season, but injuries limited him to just 28 games – mostly at Mississippi. He’s a decent catcher all-around but would have struggled to find at-bats with Alex Jackson, Kade Scivicque, and Brett Cumberland all likely to receive catching reps at Mississippi or Gwinnett. Odom is a good organizational guy, but a longshot to play any notable role in the majors.
Moving on to the more interesting part – what Atlanta received. Atlanta made three picks, including one in the major league phase. With the seventh pick, they selected right-hander Anyelo Gomez from the Yankees’ organization. New York, by the way, lost a total of six players during the Rule 5 draft.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic five years ago, Gomez broke out in 2017. A starter stalled by injuries and iffy play, Gomez moved to the pen full-time last season and climbed from Low-A all the way to Triple-A in one season. He finished the season with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings and just 21 walks. His FIP and xFIP were well below 3.00 during the season. Career-wise, he’s a 25% strikeout guy with higher totals coming out of the pen. Likewise, his 9.3% walk rate drops 1-2% in shorter bursts.
Gomez is a stuff guy. I’ve heard different reports on his fastball velocity, but the most common report is low-to-mid 90’s. However, it jumps on hitters with movement that makes it much harder to square up. Not sure if he throws a 2-seamer or 4-seamer or both, but a guy not really known for a true breaking ball who gives up just two homers must have some level of sinking movement on his heater. He controls it well and fools hitters despite knowing it’s coming – which is why his popup rate is so high. Gomez’s other pitch is a plus changeup with movement. When he can control the count, the changeup can rack up K’s. Possibly because he doesn’t rely on a breaking pitch, Gomez actually has reverse splits the last two seasons and has fared better against left-handed hitters.
Gomez joins a big group of relievers expected to compete for spots this spring. Atlanta is likely going with eight relievers, but Arodys Vizcaino, Sam Freeman, Jose Ramirez, and A.J. Minter can be penciled in to take up half of those spots. Dan Winkler, still Rule 5 eligible, impressed in September and probably will take up a fifth spot. That leaves three slots and a number of candidates, including Rex Brothers, Jason Hursh, Luke Jackson, Jacob Lindgren, Josh Ravin, and Chase Whitley. Starters who impress enough to stick around could also be in the mix. Atlanta has also been connected to free agent relievers this winter and signing just one could mean that more than a half-dozen pitchers could be vying for two spots. If Gomez impresses, his Rule 5 status may be a deciding factor.
With the selection of Gomez, the Braves now have 38 players on their 40-man roster.
Ewing, a sixth-rounder in ’14 out of Rice, has spent the last three years in Augusta of the South Atlantic League. Last year, the first baseman returned to catching part-time – something he did at Rice. He threw out 30% of baserunners despite not catching for a few years and might be better suited for catching. 6’1″ and 225 pounds, Ewing has some power, but was not making solid enough contact to take advantage of it until last year. He posted a .372 wOBA with 13 homers, a 10.2% walk rate, and a .209 ISO. Now, a third year in low-A ball makes those accomplishments a little less impressive. It’ll be interesting to see if the Braves see him as hybrid first base/catcher moving forward or commit him one way or the other. The Braves are deathly thin at first base in the minors for whatever that’s worth. Ewing has some raw power. He’s a longshot, but there’s enough here to take a flier.
Smith was picked in the 8th round in 2013 and made his major league debut last year with a 2-for-16 run in Seattle. Waived by the Mariners, Smith was picked up by the Rangers at the trading deadline and soon pushed off their 40-man roster. Long before that, Smith followed up a big rookie-league campaign in 2013 with another solid year between High-A and Double-A in 2014, posting a wOBA near .370. His numbers have declined from there to .342 in 2015 and .298 in 2016. As he’s climbed up the ladder, he’s hit for less power and hasn’t walked nearly as much. Such results give the impression of a player who may struggle with advanced breaking pitches. But Atlanta needs depth so here he is.
Theoretically, at this point, you have to include Smith in the discussion for a utility spot this spring. Atlanta wants to find a backup option that can play a competent shortstop. Chances are they find someone better than either Smith or the recently signed Christian Colon, but right now, Smith is at least in the discussion.
Before I go, a few former Braves were picked today. This includes Victor Reyes, who went to the Tigers with the first selection of the draft. Reyes went to the Diamondbacks right before the 2015 season got going for the #75th pick. That was later used to draft A.J. Minter, which makes this another blunder from the Dave Stewart-led front office. For his part, Reyes has continued to hit – something that was expected. He doesn’t provide much power and isn’t an accomplished base stealer, but should give the Tigers a fourth outfielder option this spring.
Righty Brandon Barker also was involved in a draft pick swap. A 16th rounder in 2014, Barker was moved to the Orioles two years later along with Trevor Belicek for Brian Matusz‘s contract and the 76th overall selection of the 2016 draft. That pick later turned into Brett Cumberland. Barker had a 4.48 ERA in 122.2 innings last season – mostly spent in Double-A. He was the final pick of the day, going to the Marlins, who selected four players in the minor league portion of the draft.
The last takeaway from the Rule 5 draft relates to the players the Braves didn’t lose – namely Dustin Peterson, Travis Demeritte, and Tyler Pike. All three had their pluses and negatives and it seems clear that the negatives outweighed the positives. That was the bet the Braves made when they chose to not protect him. Furthermore, these players – and others that were Rule 5 eligible – are now again available to move in trades.