In more ways than one, the dynamic for the Baltimore Orioles heading into this year’s Rule 5 Draft is different than in years past. The Orioles have a strong group of prospects to protect by Tuesday evening’s deadline, with four seemingly locks to receive a 40-man roster spot and several others making strong cases. This year’s class of Rule 5-eligible players is deep in pitching, particularly with hurlers who project as relievers and could be factors at the major-league level sooner rather than later.

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This year also marks the latest that the Orioles have picked in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft since 2016, when they had the 23rd selection. (Their first pick, outfielder Aneury Taverez, was technically the 12th player taken after several teams either passed on making a selection or entered the draft with a full 40-man roster.) That, combined with a strong crop of Rule 5-eligible players, may mean that the biggest story to come out this year’s draft is who the Orioles lose rather than who they select.

To size up this year’s class, I’m breaking it down into three groups: locks, in the mix, and worth noting—the latter for a group of players who seem less likely to be protected but could hold value to other teams, or might work their way onto the 40-man roster with strong 2023 seasons. The Orioles currently have six spots open on their 40-man roster, though that could change leading up Tuesday’s deadline.


Grayson Rodriguez, RHP

Rodriguez would have already reached the major leagues, had it not been for a lat injury in early June that sidelined him for several months. Rodriguez made a few starts at Triple-A Norfolk to end the season and remains arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball. He is a strong candidate to make next season’s Opening Day rotation as a 23-year-old, and could be a factor in whether the Orioles take a big step towards the playoffs next season.

Joey Ortiz, SS

With a strong second half, Ortiz took what looked like a below-the-borderline case to be protected into an absolute lock. Regarded as a plus defender since his college days, Ortiz got hot at the plate in July and never looked back, ultimately hitting .284/.349/.477 with 19 home runs over 137 games between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk. Ortiz looks at worst to be a very solid bench option in the majors and could raise his ceiling even higher if he sustains his success at the plate.

Drew Rom, LHP

While not in the same class potential wise as Rodriguez, Rom is the same age and has been consistent ever since his pro debut in 2018. Last season’s results were a bit mixed, though, especially after a spike in walks over his final outings at Norfolk. However, Rom separates himself from the other lefties the Orioles have protected in recent years (Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Kevin Smith) with a fastball and overall pitch mix that is better than what the three other hurlers have to offer. If Rom can get comfortable on the mound over a longer run at Triple-A, he could be an option for the Orioles down the stretch and cement his projection as a mid-to-back of the rotation starter in the majors.

Seth Johnson, RHP

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the three-team Trey Mancini deal, Johnson is expected to miss 2023 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Even after his injury, Johnson was considered one of the pitching prospects in a deep Tampa Bay farm system, thanks to a fastball that runs in the mid-to-upper 90s and high-spin breaking balls. It will obviously be a while before the Orioles know if they’ll reap the rewards of Johnson’s potential but leaving him unprotected over his injury would be shortsighted.

In The Mix

Noah Denoyer, RHP

Denoyer used his four-pitch mix to put together an excellent 2022, striking out 99 batters while walking just 17 in 71.2 innings. He carried that over to the Arizona Fall League, where he flashed impressive stuff and earned a Fall Stars Game selection. While he was used occasionally as a starter last year, Denoyer projects best a multi-inning reliever whose fastball should play well in those situations.

Easton Lucas, LHP

Acquired from the Miami Marlins during the 2019-20 offseason for Jonathan Villar, Lucas had a largely forgettable 2021 season. However, the left-handed reliever turned it around in 2022, striking out 65 batters in 56.2 innings while flashing a fastball that can hit 95 mph, a solid slider, and a changeup. He also turned heads in the Arizona Fall League, with MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo recently writing that “some scouts think he has back-end starter traits,” and that he was working on a curveball in Arizona. Lucas does have an issue with walks, posting a 4 BB/9 at Bowie this season, but Felix Bautista’s success at the majors last year leaves hope that the Orioles can iron this issue out at the higher levels.

Nolan Hoffman, RHP

Hoffman was chosen from the Seattle Mariners in the minor-league phase of last year’s Rule 5 Draft, and posted solid numbers at Bowie despite being limited to just 23.1 innings because of an injury. He made up for some lost time in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 17 batters in 12.1 innings pitched while walking just two. The submariner could be a factor in the major-league bullpen sometime next year, making him a dark horse candidate to be protected by the Orioles and a name that could be watched by other teams.

Ignacio Feliz, RHP

A converted shortstop, Feliz finished third among Orioles minor leaguer pitchers last season with 135 strikeouts but often struggled with his command. He pitched at High-A Aberdeen in both starter and reliever roles, but his arsenal of pitches will likely to better serve him in a short-outing relief role as he moves up. A 23-year-old with no experience above High-A is typically not someone who comes up in the conversation with the Rule 5 Draft, but Feliz has undeniable upside that could payoff if he refines his raw stuff.

Nick Richmond, RHP

At first glance, there is not much notable about Richmond, who will be 25 at the start of next season and has yet to pitch above High-A. However, after being released by the Detroit Tigers following the 2021 season, Richmond put work to his delivery that led to velocity spike with the Orioles and carried over to the Arizona Fall League—even if his numbers there weren’t great. With a fastball that runs 94-95 mph and a good slider, Richmond carries an interesting reliever’s skillset. He has developed considerably since making his debut in the Orioles system in June and could be a fast riser if those improvements continue.

Worth Noting

Maverick Handley, Catcher

Handley has been praised for his defense since his college days at Stanford but carried over offseason work at Driveline to post his offensive season at Bowie in 2022.  The offensive improvements boost his prospect stock, but catchers are not often chosen in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If the Orioles do protect him, it could be a sign that they see him becoming Adley Rutchsman’s backup in the near future, perhaps after spending part of next season at Norfolk.

Garrett Stallings, RHP

Stallings had one of the more bizarre seasons in recent memory at Bowie. It started with two solid months, before an awful June (28.50 ERA over five starts), a dominant July (1.46 ERA, 31:2 K:B ratio in 24.2 innings), and then okay numbers over August and September. When at his best, Stallings flashes pinpoint command and the stuff of a solid mid-to-back-end starter. However, he often gets in trouble when he struggles to locate his fastball, a homer-prone pitch that causes him problems when it’s left out over the plate. Getting out of home run-friendly Bowie could help Stallings a bit next season, but there are things that he needs to work on before being anywhere close to major-league ready. 

Other Relief Arms

Aberdeen’s bullpen was bolstered last year by the success of Xavier Moore, who struck 58 batters in 33 innings pitched while pairing a hard fastball with a strong changeup. Walks can be an issue at times for Moore—who will be 24 next season and has yet to pitch above High-A—but he has the raw stuff to project as a big-league reliever. Similarly, Kade Strowd had success with a high-90s fastball and excellent secondaries. While he was limited to just 15 innings because of injuries, the 25-year-old could be a fast riser with a healthy 2023. (For more on Strowd, see this story from Jon Meoli in his newsletter, Maximizing Playoff Odds.)

Tommy John-Recovering Pitchers

Both acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade, Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich have the raw talent for a 40-man roster spot. However, both are recovering from Tommy John surgery, albeit in different stages—Brnovich had his surgery after just two starts at Norfolk, with Peek’s coming in the second half of what had been a solid season at Bowie. The Orioles could hardly be blamed for thinking that either or both pitchers are worthy of 40-man roster spots, but—with Seth Johnson likely to be protected—it is hard to see them giving spots to multiple players who will miss part or all of 2023 while rehabbing from Tommy John.

Young International Position Players

Believe it or not, infielder Isaac De Leon and outfielder Mishael Deson are both Rule 5-eligible for the first time this offseason despite their young ages (De Leon just turned 21, and Deson will be 21 next July). De Leon did the most to boost his stock in 2022—getting hot after a slow start at Delmarva and earning a promotion to Aberdeen. However, he is still raw at this point and has unanswered questions about his defense, while Deson struggled in his first full season in Delmarva. It would be a huge upset if either of them is protected, but they could be firmly in the conversation next year with strong 2023 campaigns. Luis Valdez, who will be 23 next season, flashes impressive speed but will probably need to show more with the bat before he entrenches himself in the conversation of players of who could contribute at the big-league level.

Zach Spedden
Zach Spedden

Orioles Analyst

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues. Co-Host of The Verge: