The Indians had one of their busiest Rule 5 Drafts in recent memories earlier today, losing two players as well as drafting a player in the major league portion. They also took an outfielder in the minor-league portion of the draft.
Gone are outfielder Ka’ai Tom and right-handed pitcher Luis Oviedo, who were taken by the Oakland Athletics and New York Mets (and subsequently traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates), respectively. Tom and Oviedo could both be returned if they don’t stick at the MLB level for the full 2021 season.
Newly welcomed to the Tribe is pitcher Trevor Stephan, who was selected from the New York Yankees system in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 Draft, and outfielder Chris Roller, who was selected from the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system in the minor league portion of the draft.
Stephan, 25, was a third-round pick out of the University of Arkansas in the 2017 MLB draft. He was an absolute stud his first two years in the Yankees’ farm system, rising as high as the No. 7 in the organization’s prospect rankings back in 2018, according to MLB Pipeline.
Here’s his slider in action (against the Akron RubberDucks):
Another look at a slider. Uses to start the AB here with a whiff pic.twitter.com/Bdg4MpmWl1— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) December 9, 2020
With a dynamite two-pitch mix of a fastball in the mid to upper 90s and a slider thrown from a cross-body arm angle (he also has a changeup but it isn’t nearly as highly-regarded), the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder had 17 starts at Double-A in 2018 and was primed to possibly make the jump to the majors, but his 2019 was a disaster. Stephan lost his command after repeating the year in Double-A, then was demoted to High-A.
He finished 2019 strong, allowing just two runs over 26.2 innings in his final five starts of the season, earning a promotion back to Double-A. That was the last time he pitched in a professional setting.
Stephan’s two-pitch mix of a fastball and slider appears to set up him for an opportunity in the Indians’ bullpen. Even as a starter, he already threw exclusively from the stretch. He posted stellar strikeout rates throughout his three years in the minors, although his walk rate at Double-A is alarming (3.13 BB/9 in 2018, 4.19 BB/9 in 2019).
If the Indians can get him to command his pitches better, Stephan will be a dangerous weapon out of the ‘pen.
Roller, 24, was a 30th-round pick out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas in the 2017 MLB draft.
He has yet to progress past the full-season Single-A level, but he put up solid numbers with the Great Lakes Loons in 2019, slashing .274/.359./455 with seven home runs, eight triples, 21 doubles, and 10 stolen bases, good enough for a 134 wRC+ in his first full season.
It’s a shot in the dark, but stranger things have happened.