Ranking the 2023 Rule 5 Draft Picks

Which Rule 5 picks will have the most fantasy impact?

Historically considered to be a spin of the roulette wheel, the Rule 5 Draft is where teams throw things at a wall to see what sticks. It’s half “stealing from the rich and giving to the poor” and half “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” There doesn’t seem to be a consistent strategy when it comes to having successful selections, but that can be blamed on the lack of hits in the chronicle of the draft.

For those unfamiliar, the Rule 5 Draft occurs every offseason at the Winter Meetings. It’s a chance for major league teams to poach talent from opposing organizations that are hoarding talent. Players become eligible for the draft following a four or five-year post-draft period (dependent on draft age) and must be placed on the 40-man roster prior to the selection process to remain protected. The caveat is that any player selected must remain on the club’s major league active roster for the entire season lest they be offered back to their former team. There is a major and a minor league portion of the draft, the latter of which isn’t subject to the same rules as the former, but here we’ll be focusing on the major league phase.

There was a dark period in the draft’s history when success stories were uncommon, but we’ve seen a resurgence in recent seasons. In the past decade we’ve seen Ryan Pressly (2014), Odúbel Herrera (2015), Anthony Santander (2017), Mark Canha (2015), and Brad Keller (2018) have instant success following their poaching. Even in the past couple of seasons, Garrett Whitlock (2021) and Akil Baddoo (2021) have made immediate impacts on their new organizations. In the annals of the draft, the most notable Rule 5 selections include Johan Santana (2000), Josh Hamilton (2007), and Dan Uggla (2006). I’ve listed all of these names to show what kind of players are possible to find when digging for a needle in the haystack in December.

The Rule 5 Draft occurred once again, as it always does, at the 2022 Winter Meetings and a few intriguing names popped up. The theme this year was high-upside relievers, but there were some deviations from the norm. It’s almost impossible to tell at this moment who might be a household name by the end of the 2023 campaign. To aid you in your fantasy analysis, I figured it’d be a helpful and entertaining exercise to attempt to sus out the fantasy viable names from the most recent iteration of the draft.

It’d be easy enough to just rank the players in the order they were picked, but that would not be fun and it also wouldn’t be accurate in a fantasy sense. These teams were drafting based on roster needs and real baseball impact. We’re attempting to rank these players in order of their prospective fantasy value. A reliever on a bullpen-needy team is more valuable in real life than in fantasy – unless he factors into the closer situation. Conversely, a high-upside slugger with little defensive value on a non-contending team is more valuable in fantasy than in real life.

With that out of the way, let’s rank the 15 selections from the 2023 Rule 5 Draft.


15. Chris Clarke


The 13th selection of the draft taken from the Cubs by the Mariners, Clarke has been a starter and a reliever during his time in the minors. What he lacks in strikeout ability, he makes up for by limiting the free pass. The 6’7″ right-hander pitched to a 4.64 ERA (120.1 IP) across two levels (A+ and AA) in 2022, striking out 110 batters against just 25 walks.

While his stuff would likely play up in a bullpen role for Seattle, it’s difficult to see them finding room for him among a stacked relief corps. Now the Mariners’ #23 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, he seems like an injury contingent, meaning he’d only make the Opening Day roster if a disaster occurred. Even if he did wind up with the big league club to start the year, the path to becoming the closer or a setup man is treacherous and would likely prove unattainable for the 25-year-old making the leap from Double-A.



14. Gus Varland


A former Dodgers prospect that has pitched in Double-A in each of the past two campaigns, Varland was snagged by the Brewers with the 10th selection in the draft. Now the 27th-ranked prospect in the Brewers’ farm system according to MLB Pipeline, the 26-year-old will attempt to have an impact on a light Milwaukee arm barn in 2023. The right-hander didn’t find much success across seven starts and 34 relief appearances in 2022, posting a 6.11 ERA (70.2 IP) and a 1.64 WHIP, but the Brewers seem to be intrigued by his low-to-mid-90s fastball and two secondaries.

The scouting reports aren’t very promising, but considering the state of the Brewers’ pitching staff, there’s a shot Varland starts the year as a swingman and works himself into higher leverage situations. It’ll take some tweaks and coaching from the Brew Crew’s staff, but don’t count out their pitching development just yet.



13. Jose Lopez


Poaching a pitcher from the Rays organization is usually good practice. The Padres did so with Lopez, taking him as the 12th selection in the draft. The 24-year-old is actually a fascinating left-handed pitching prospect that could be a key member of the Padres’ bullpen.

He climbed three levels (A+, AA, and AAA) in 2022, experiencing success at all of them, accruing a 2.43 ERA (59.1 IP) with a 95/38 K/BB ratio. Already the team’s #18 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Lopez features a power fastball and a slider that is equally effective against both right-handed and left-handed batters. The only thing standing in his way from contributing to a playoff-bound bullpen is the depth that it contains. Even if Lopez is able to climb a couple of rungs on the reliever ladder, he’ll have to overcome some intense adversity to displace stalwarts like Robert Suarez and Josh Hader at the back end of the bullpen.



12. Nick Avila


While Avila just reached Double-A for the first time in 2022, his success across two levels made him a target of the White Sox, as they nabbed him from the Giants with the eighth selection in the draft. The 25-year-old right-hander found plenty of success in the San Francisco system, shutting down offenses to the tune of a 1.14 ERA (55.1 IP) with a 0.98 WHIP. The four-pitch mix he features is more suitable for a starting role, but he’s cemented himself as a reliever at this point in his career.

A big jump from Double-A to the majors at his age will be difficult for the White Sox’ #20 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, but there’s a slight window of opportunity. With the unfortunate cancer diagnosis received by Liam Hendriks this offseason, the closer role on the South Side is up in the air. The uncertainty and turmoil in the arm barn could create the perfect storm for Avila to sneak his way into high-leverage innings. To top things off, he has familiarity with current White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz due to his being in the minors during Katz’s tenure as the Giants’ pitching coordinator. It’s a shot in the dark, but so is every Rule 5 pick.



11. Andrew Politi


It’s a long road to big innings for any Rule 5 reliever, but Politi has a shot at providing important outings for the Orioles. A former member of the Red Sox farm system, the O’s grabbed the 27-year-old right-hander with the ninth selection in the draft. At Politi’s advanced age, it’s unclear what the future holds for him, but Baltimore saw promise in his strikeout numbers across two levels (AA and AAA) in 2022. A 2.60 ERA (69.1 IP) was more than appealing, but he combined that with 83 whiffs against just 22 free passes, utilizing his deceptive delivery to help his pitches play up.

The Orioles proved last year that they’re adept at developing relievers and with closer Félix Bautista already dealing with injuries this offseason, there’s an opening for Politi to slide his way into a high-leverage role while continuing to improve his skill set.



10. Kevin Kelly


A right-handed reliever taken from the Guardians by the Rockies with the sixth selection in the draft, Kelly’s appeal resides in his wacky, sidearm delivery. The weird arm angle produced a 2.04 ERA (57.1 IP) with a 75/22 K/BB ratio across the two highest levels of the minors in 2022. Considering factors like ballpark and veteran affinity, Kelly would have ranked lower on this list had he remained with the Rockies, but he was traded to the Rays during the draft and now has a brighter outlook.

I don’t see the 25-year-old right-hander becoming the ace of a loaded Tampa Bay bullpen, but I could see the Rays working their magic on a young reliever with a funky delivery, ultimately helping him carry over his minor league success to the majors. The team is rarely shy to use anyone and everyone in the ninth, so there’s a non-zero chance that Kelly nabs a couple of saves in 2023.



9. Nic Enright


With so much uncertainty in a less-than-stacked Miami bullpen, Enright could prove to factor into key innings if everything goes right for him in 2023. Following his selection as the seventh player taken in the draft, Enright finds himself ranked as the 23rd-best prospect in the Marlins farm system according to MLB Pipeline, and for good reason.

Across two levels (AA and AAA) pitching in the minors for the Guardians, the 26-year-old right-hander was an elite strikeout arm that produced enticing results. After posting a 3.14 ERA (28.2 IP) with a 32.7% K% in Double-A, Enright took his game to another level at Triple-A, pitching to a 2.68 ERA (37 IP) with a 34.5% K%. Those are elite numbers and they obviously made an impression on the Marlins’ front office. With little competition standing in his way, Enright has a pretty legitimate shot at not only making the Opening Day roster but also being one of the most reliable arms doing his work in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.



8. Zach Greene


Greene would likely have placed lower on this list had this article been written prior to the beginning of the World Baseball Classic, but with Edwin Diaz suffering a season-ending injury, who knows how the Mets’ bullpen will shake out in 2023? The 26-year-old right-hander was the final player taken in the draft as the Mets swooped in to take him from their in-state rivals. While he’s clearly not the most talented reliever drafted, he does have upside and somewhat of a clear path to high-leverage innings.

He’ll hope to build off a 2022 campaign that saw him record a 3.42 ERA (68.1 IP) while striking out a third of the batters he faced at Triple-A. With so many unproven newcomers and aging veterans in the bullpen in Queens, Greene could be the breath of fresh air that this arm barn needs to withstand the loss of one of its most important arms.



7. Jose Hernandez


The third selection of the draft taken from the Dodgers by the Pirates, Hernandez fits the mold of a high-upside reliever in a bullpen without much competition. The 25-year-old left-hander appeared in two levels (A+ and AA) for the LA farm system in 2022 where he pitched to a 3.32 ERA (59.2 IP) with 69 punchouts. It’s nothing eye-popping and being on the older end of the minor league spectrum as one of the pitchers with the least upper-level experience in the draft, it’s hard to see what convinced the Pirates to use such an early selection on the southpaw.

The biggest draw was the fact he increased his fastball velocity, as it now sits in the upper-90s and can reach 101, an uncommon ability among lefties. His fantasy outlook is positive because he has an apparent sky-high upside, pitching for a poor team with nothing but opportunities to provide for a young reliever hoping to gain traction in the majors.



6. Mason Englert


The first non-reliever in these rankings, Englert was taken from the Rangers by the Tigers with the fifth selection in the draft. His status as a starting pitcher immediately placed him well inside the Top 10 and with plenty of opportunity in the Tigers rotation, he climbed ever closer to the Top Five. The 23-year-old right-hander was one of the youngest players taken in the draft and will have lots to prove during his Spring Training stint.

Across two levels (A+ and AA) in 2022, the Tigers’ #27 prospect according to MLB Pipeline recorded a 3.64 ERA (118.2 IP) with a 0.99 WHIP and a whopping 136 strikeouts. It would be an extensive jump for the young starter to make, but the Tigers could definitely use the stuff he featured last year, especially with all of the injuries they’re dealing with in the rotation. This is one of the most unlikely Rule 5 draftees to make the Opening Day roster, but as a starter, he holds one of the highest ceilings among his peers.



5. Wilking Rodriguez


This has got to be the weirdest pick in the draft. The Cardinals took Rodriguez from the Yankees organization with the second-to-last selection in the draft and he looks like someone that could immediately slot into the bullpen. What made this pick stand out is not only because the right-hander is 33 years old, but also because he’s been pitching in Mexico and Venezuela since 2015.

In 2022, he found a lot of success with a 1.78 ERA (50.2 IP) and 76 strikeouts, but it’s tough to gauge his abilities when considering the talent level with which he was competing. Most notably, he has increased his fastball velocity so that it now sits in the upper-90s, giving him an elite offering with which to attack major league hitters. To be completely honest, I think his age gives him a leg up.

It feels as if the Cardinals should just take a shot and see what he’s got and move on quickly if it doesn’t pan out because he likely doesn’t have a higher gear to reach. The bullpen is pretty crowded, but if they treat Rodriguez as a veteran because of his age and experience relieving in all kinds of environments, he could be a pitcher that sees action in the later innings of games if he can carry his success overseas.



4. Noah Song


From the weirdest Rule 5 pick to the most surprising and exciting pick, the Phillies shocked everyone by snagging Song from the Red Sox with the 11th selection in the draft. Song had been serving in the Navy since being drafted in 2019, but we haven’t seen him pitch since he began his military commitment. Prior to climbing aboard the ship he lived on for the past few years, the 25-year-old right-hander was featuring an upper-90s fastball with plus secondary offerings. He slipped to the fourth round in 2019, due only to the concern that he’d fulfill his military commitment.

This is the biggest dart throw in the draft for many reasons. We’re not sure if Song can even build up quickly enough to be an impact pitcher by Opening Day. We have no idea if he’s been pitching since 2019 and are not sure what it would take for him to return to his pre-Navy form. We’re not even sure if the Phillies have any room for him on their pitching staff at this point. However, if everything does turn out right and Song looks like he did when he was dominating college ball a few years ago, this pick could provide the biggest reward, as he has ace-level upside on a competitive team.



3. Blake Sabol


After covering 12 pitchers, we finally reach the first of two position players drafted. Sabol was the fourth selection in the draft, taken from the Pirates by the Reds before being subsequently traded to the Giants, and there are many avenues he could take to contribute to this roster. Originally a catching prospect, the left-handed hitter has transformed into a player that can catch and play the outfield.

With Joey Bart struggling to cement himself and a spot in the outfield opening up with the injury to Mitch Haniger, Sabol’s inclusion on the Opening Day roster seems more likely by the day. It’s not just his position eligibility that makes him a fit for the San Francisco roster. Across two levels (AA and AAA) in 2022, the 25-year-old batted .284/.363/.497 with 19 homers and 10 steals, displaying an enticing power-speed combination with great plate discipline.

The Giants are very fond of positional flexibility and could very clearly make great use of Sabol in many different roles. If he does become a fourth outfielder/backup catcher and plays himself into a bigger role, he could be a valuable addition in fantasy leagues that require two catchers per roster.



2. Thad Ward


The number one pick in the entire draft, Ward was snatched from the Red Sox by the Nationals following a successful return from Tommy John surgery. While he’s tossed just 216.2 innings in the minors since being drafted in 2018, Ward has shown elite abilities in the rotation that have transferred well into a bullpen role since the surgical procedure he underwent on his right arm.

Entering his age-26 campaign, it’s likely Ward remains entrenched in a bullpen role, but he could expand his workload at some point in the future. For 2023, the Nationals’ #12 prospect according to MLB Pipeline could be a key member of one of the shallowest arm barns in baseball. Ward climbed four levels (CPX, A, A+, and AA) while he ramped up in his return to the mound, pitching to a 2.28 ERA (51.1 IP) before continuing his success in the Arizona Fall League. Even after TJ surgery, he still features a mid-90s heater with two appealing breaking balls that have been difficult for batters to square up.

It’s likely Ward is used as a swingman in his first big league campaign, but with only a couple of arms standing in his way, it’s not without question that he’ll be competing for the closer role by the end of the season. He’s almost guaranteed to make the big league roster and has the upside to be a shutdown reliever on a team in need of one.



1. Ryan Noda


The most fantasy-viable Rule 5 Draft pick is clearly Noda. He was taken as the second selection in the draft from the Dodgers by the A’s and could be a force in the middle of a lineup sorely lacking thump. The 27-year-old has been blocked in LA for a couple of years since being acquired from Toronto but will have plenty of opportunities to accrue playing time at first base and in the corner outfield in Oakland.

At Triple-A in 2022, Noda quietly had a very impressive season, slashing .259/.395/.474 (120 wRC+) with 25 dingers and 20 swipes while walking at a 16% clip. The only gripe with his game is his issues with strikeouts, as he whiffed more than 28% of the time last year. The A’s have long been enamored with on-base machines, and Noda provides that, and then some.

If Oakland makes room for Noda to get his fair share of at-bats in the outfield, at first base, and as the DH, he could have a monster season despite the perceived lack of run support in that lineup. While he’s not someone you should be drafting in almost any fantasy league, he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. Don’t let his 2023 breakout catch you by surprise and make sure to be the first to buy in when he starts crushing bombs, committing base thefts, and racking up bases on balls.



Image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Jake Crumpler

A Bay Area sports fan and lover of baseball, Jake is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in English Literature. He currently writes fantasy articles for Pitcher List, is the lead baseball writer at The Athletes Hub, and does playing time analysis at BaseballHQ. Some consider his knowledge of the sport to be encyclopedic.

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