While many fans identify baseball’s Winter Meetings as a hotbed for trades and potential free agent signings, few realize that the event also features the annual Rule 5 Draft, which is held on the final day of the gathering.
Heading into the meetings next month, the Dodgers need to add two players to the big league 40-man roster or else risk losing them to rival clubs in the draft. Both are right-handed pitchers—sinkerballer Trevor Oaks and the hard-throwing Dennis Santana.
Oaks is heading into his fifth season in the Dodgers’ system after being selected in the seventh round of the 2014 first-year player draft. Santana is also embarking on his sixth official year in the organization after being signed as a free agent shortstop out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16 in 2013.
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
In 2017 at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Oaks posted a 4-3 record with a 3.64 ERA in an even 84 innings over 15 starts before his season was ended abruptly with an oblique injury in July. Across three levels of the farm in 2016, he registered a 14-3 record with a 2.73 ERA with 108 strikeouts in 151 innings of work.
In regards to his pitching repertoire, Oaks, who turned 24 last March, features a sinker, an occasional four-seamer, a cutter, a slider, a changeup and periodically a curve ball.
“My four seam and sinker usually come out the same speed,” Oaks told us in an interview during 2016 spring training. “I try to live around the 91 to 93 range. If I’m feeling fresh might get it up to a five. I added the cutter this offseason for a different look off of my sinker—I primarily use it against lefties. I worked on my slider a lot with pitching coach Dom Johnson. It’s been much sharper this season and I’m hoping it continues to be a pitch I can rely on down the road.”
Santana recorded an 8-7 record with a 4.11 ERA with 129 punchouts over 118-1/3 innings between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa last season. On center stage in the Texas League’s North Division Championship series finale against NW Arkansas in September, Santana threw perhaps the best game of his career, delivering seven brilliant innings of three-hit, shutout ball while striking out a season-high 11 opposing batters.
Santana’s arsenal is also very impressive, and is highlighted by a fastball that has the potential of topping out in the triple digits.
“I think my two best offerings are my slider and my fastball,” the 21-year-old righty told us in a conversation towards the end of last season. “I throw both a four-seam and a two-seam that sinks. I also use a changeup and a bending curve ball. Plus, I’m currently working on a splitter. My fastball normally sits at 96-98 MPH, but was clocked as high as 100 MPH at Rancho earlier in the season.”
Another player eligible for the draft is outfielder Jacob Scavuzzo, who is heading into his sixth year in the organization. It is unlikely that the Dodgers protect Scavuzzo, though, as he went unclaimed in last year’s draft. The 23-year-old native of Orange, CA has a career .258/.310/,433 minor league slash line with 65 long balls, 247 RBI and 43 stolen bases in 513 games.
Other players like slugger O’Koyea Dickson and righty pitcher Scott Barlow had the right to file for first-time free agency at the end of the 2017 campaign. Minor league players become eligible for free agency after seven seasons on the farm.
At the moment, the big league 40-man roster is full, so it remains to be seen how the Los Angeles management crew will make room for Oaks and Santana. A few potential DFA/non-tender candidates include right-handed flamethrower Josh Ravin as well as versatile outfielder Trayce Thompson.
In addition, if the Dodgers decide to do any selecting of their own, management will need to create even more space on the 40-man.
All MLB teams must tender 2018 contracts for everyone on their current 40-man rosters by December 2.
The Winter Meetings commence on Sunday, December 10 in Orlando.
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