June 23, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

First two picks of Rule 5 draft are Angels, Dodgers pitchers

The Angels and Dodgers lost promising young pitching prospects in the major league portion of the MLB Rule 5 draft Thursday. Right-hander Jose Soriano of the Angels was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dodgers right-hander Brett de Geus was chosen by the Texas Rangers with the second pick and teammate Jordan Sheffield went to the Colorado Rockies with the seventh selection.

The Dodgers also lost six players in the minor-league portion of the draft, which is designed to provide players a clearer path to the major leagues. They declined to add a player in the major-league segment of the draft but took two in the minor-league selection process.

The Angels, meanwhile, replaced Soriano by taking the equally intriguing Jose Alberto Rivera from the Houston Astros with the ninth overall pick.

Rivera, 23, was ranked by Baseball America as the Astros’ 19th-best minor league pitcher at the start of the 2020 season. A flamethrower whose fastball has hit 102 mph, Rivera took one of the six openings on the Angels’ 40-man roster. He will compete in spring training for an opening day roster spot.

Players taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft must remain on the 26-man roster all season or be offered back to their previous team for $50,000. The caveat applies to de Geus, a 37th-round pick of the Dodgers in 2017 who spent last season at the Dodgers’ alternate training site, and Sheffield, the 36th overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2016.

Rivera, a native of the Dominican Republic who signed with the Astros for $10,000 at age 19, hasn’t pitched above Class-A. But a jump in velocity and improvement in command in recent years caused his stock to rise.

“There are some things to really like, and we feel like the arrow’s pointing up,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said in a conference call. “And at the end of the day, to acquire an arm like this [with] where it’s at, give it a chance. I think it was warranted with what he’s been able to do up until this point.”

When he first reached United States rookie league in 2018, Rivera threw in the low 90s according to MLB Pipeline. By the time he was promoted to Class-A in 2019, his fastball was on the verge of bumping up to 102 mph. He spent the summer with the Astros’ low-A affiliate, racking up 95 strikeouts and posting a 3.81 ERA over 75⅔ innings. His most impressive performance was a late August 2019 start in which he threw five one-hit innings while striking out nine and issuing two walks.

Rivera has complied a 3.63 earned-run average with 185 strikeouts and 74 walks across 161⅓ innings since his professional debut in 2017.

Although the Astros groomed him as a swing-man, Rivera is believed to best suited to a bullpen role. Minasian said the Angels, who are retooling their relief corps, will let Rivera’s spring audition determine his duties.

Soriano, 22, likely wouldn’t have pitched for the Angels any time soon because he underwent Tommy John surgery in February. But the injury didn’t dissuade the Pirates. Soriano signed with the Angels in March 2016 for a bargain $70,000. Before the elbow injury in spring training, Soriano was coming off a 2019 season in which his fastball reached 100 mph and his hard curveball improved. He finished the year with a 2.51 ERA over 20 appearances (18 starts). He has a 2.76 ERA over 238 innings in the minor leagues.

The Angels added infielder Brendon Davis from the Texas Rangers and catcher Gustavo Campero from the New York Yankees in the minor league portion of the draft. The Dodgers selected catcher Ryan January from the Arizona Diamondbacks and outfielder Roimer Bolivar from the Tampa Bay Rays.