Normally, we would be mid-week of the Winter Meetings this week. All that really has meant over the last half decade-plus, especially in 2020, is just a week of rumors and wishing for action to happen. Years ago, the Winter Meetings culminated in signings and trades all week GMs gathered at hotels and resorts. Now, it’s more just conversation that leads to deals in the weeks ahead. 

But even the disappointing version of the Winter Meetings of the last 10 years sounds more appealing than our current reality where baseball’s off-season is frozen more than Lake Erie with the owners “locking out” the players. Negotiations, in earnest, since the lockout was voted for by owners, haven’t even started back up and probably won’t until the new year.

Today would be the end of the Winter Meetings, which normally would be capped off by the real main attraction for prospect enthusiasts of the most obscure niche, the Rule 5 Draft. Alas, the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft, because it would take non-union players, currently, and add them to the union if drafted (the audacity!), the event is “suspended indefinitely” and likely will happen at a later date after the new CBA is ratified. 

Even the iciest conditions of baseball’s Siberian off-season is no match for the pureness of Rule 5 fever. The minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft still commenced, via conference call, on Wednesday, and you shouldn’t be shocked to learn that the Cleveland Guardians roster was once again, pretty pressed for space. 

If you’re not familiar with the minor league Rule 5 draft, teams can protect up to 38 players, in addition to their 40 man roster, from this portion. Players simply need to be assigned to Triple-A or protected on a list that typically isn’t made public. Unlike the major league Rule 5 draft, once players are take in this half, they are with their new teams permanently, essentially. They don’t need to be on any specific roster next year to stick with their new organization. Some cash changes hands for the picks.

Before the draft, the moderators announce to confirm how many players each team has on its “reserve” roster, so every team knows how many spots it can add. Cleveland protected 36 players. We don’t have the full list, but players that went unprotected from the major league Rule 5 draft like Aaron Bracho, Alexfri Planez, Joey Cantillo, Adam Scott, Aaron Pinto, etc. were all on this list. 

Cleveland had room and did select two players in the minor league Rule 5 draft, so let’s take a look at them.

LHP Erik Sabrowski

Age: 24
Height: 6’4; Weight: 235
Picked: Round 1, Pick 15 
Previous team: San Diego – 2018 Draft, Round 14, Pick 7

Sabrowski was mid-tier pick from Cloud County Community College in 2018 by the Padres back when the draft was still 40 rounds. He has had elbow trouble since he was drafted and had Tommy John surgery soon after. He’s only pitched 29 innings, all in 2021 with High-A Fort Wayne. Then he had a second Tommy John surgery this past October, and he’s probably not going to pitch most of 2022.

Cleveland must really see something in Sabrowski to draft him after his second Tommy John surgery and only having 29 pro innings by the time he turns 25.

Here’s a sampling of what Cleveland might like in the left hander who hails from Canada.

Sabrowski throws in the low-to-mid 90s (90-94 this past year in his 24 innings of work) with plus spin on it. He has the north/south pitching profile the Guardians like and have loaded up on in the last several years. He throws from a high arm slot and gets a very rare, good amount of induced vertical break on his fastball, meaning it doesn’t drop as much as a normal pitch due to gravity, so it has that ‘rise’ effect. 

He pairs that with a big, over the top, downer curve that has near double-plus  break on it. Both the fastball and curveball got plenty of swings and misses in his brief work in 2021. The third pitch is a changeup with good velocity separation from his fastball, but not on par with his fastball and curveball. 

It’s going to take some time, but it’s easy to see Sabrowski fitting into a bullpen at his advanced prospect age, but those two pitches should give him a good set of tools to work with. Watching what his velocity, command and shape of his pitches when he comes back from the second elbow surgery will be the key to see if this low risk pick pays off long term for the Guardians.

RHP Brett Daniels

Age: 25
Height: 6’0; Weight: 194
Picked: Round 2, Pick 15
Previous team: Houston – 2018 Draft, Room 17, Pick 28

Daniels has four years of pro experience and reached as high as Double-A with the Houston Astros after being drafted out of North Carolina. He has mostly been a starter with the Astros organization.

He’s an undersized arm but throws 91-94 with above average spin and above average induced vertical break, so he also has a very vertical fastball, which Cleveland likes, as we’ve said. He also releases the fastball and a low point, a little like Logan T. Allen, so his high arm slot creates the ‘rise’ and a good angle to work it north and south in the zone as he drives it down from the release.

Daniels pairs that fastball with a big, downer curve that gets near double-plus vertical break, so it works well off of his fastball and spins well. His changeup gets good armside movement and modest fade. It’s his third best pitch behind the fastball and curveball.

He has a slider and cutter, and the cutter is his third most used pitch, but both weren’t as effective or have as good of characteristics. The slider does have good horizontal movement. 

Daniels is 25 and the team says he’ll look to compete for a bullpen spot in the upper levels where you might see the fastball velocity to take another step forward and focus on his two breaking balls and changeup that all have promise. He could be a solid, multi inning middle reliever. He only has fringe average control as a starter but missed enough bats as a starter, you could see the stuff get better as a reliever.

Nationals select RHP Dakody Clemmer

RHP Dakody Clemmer

Age: 25
Height: 6’3; Weight: 220
PIcked: Round 4, Picks 5
Previous team: Cleveland – 2016 Draft, Round 19, Pick 16

Finally getting to Double-A at age 25, Clemmer had a 27.9 K% and a 14.9 BB% in 50.1 innings in 2021. Clemmer has a low arm angle from the right side, a low 3/4 that puts a lot of armside run on his sinker. He throws it between 94-97 and it gets double-plus horizontal movement. It can get in on right handers for groundouts and uncomfortable swings, and it runs away from lefties. 

Clemmer pitches off of that with a slider that has good spin and horizontal movement the opposite way, which can be effective given the angles and opposite spin direction. His fastball induces more grounders than it does miss bats, but it misses enough bats for its pitch. The slider doesn’t miss bats at as good of a rate for the pitch type but it does miss bats well enough. 

Control and command has eluded Clemmer throughout his career but the combination of the two opposite moving pitches and his velocity makes him an interesting relief candidate for Washington.

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