The minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft is the less flashy part of the already not-very-flashy Rule 5 draft, but it’s where teams typically make the most moves during the annual event.
It’s the same idea as the major-league portion of the draft — team A picks a player from team B that is not on their 40-man roster — but without the requirement that their selection be placed on their own 26-man roster for the regular season, only that they pay up to $24,000 to the former team. The age requirements for the minor-league portion of the draft are the same as its major-league counterpart, but eligible players must be at Double-A or below.
Put all of this together, and you usually end up with older prospects at lower levels of the minor leagues taken. This could be guys who have stumbled due to injury, something not clicking with their current team’s development system, or any number of reasons they haven’t reached Triple-A into their mid-20s. That sounds antithetical to the Guardians’ typical approach of trying to pluck players who play at an advanced age relative to their level, but hey — a (mostly) free prospect is a (mostly) free prospect. If you see something potentially fixable in some 27-year-old pitcher in Double-A, you might as well shoot your shot.
In yesterday’s Rule 5 draft, the Guards opted not to select anyone in the major-league portion, but they did make three interesting picks in the minor-league rounds. Here is who they took, along with their position, age, final level of 2021, and former major-league organization.
Michael Berglund: C, 25, Double-A, Rays
An eighth-round pick of the Rays 2018, Berglund reached Double-A last season, but just barely, registering four plate appearances with the Montgomery Biscuits in two games. Most of his season was spent between Single-A and High-A, slashing .254/.420/.333 at the former and .224/.358/.366 at the latter. He missed all of 2019 after reaching Low-A in 2018 and stalled at Single-A in 2021 with a .196/.328/.253 slash in 50 games.
He only has five home runs in his career, but this one was pretty nice.
Michael Berglund HR #3 #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/AblohkeQTF— Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Updates (@raysfarmreport) September 10, 2022
Berglund played college at Texas Tech and Cisco Junior College, transferring prior to his sophomore year due to “personal issues” at Tech. He’ll join a crowded crop of Double-A catchers in the Guardians organization vying for a spot alongside Meibrys Viloria in Columbus next season.
Bradley Hanner: RHP, 23, High-A, Twins
Bradley Hanner is the youngest of the three Guards selections yesterday, having just turned 23 in February. A former 21st-round pick out of Patrick & Henry Community College, he started last season on fire out of the bullpen, with 22 strikeouts, seven walks, and just one earned run over his first 20 innings. The wheels then began to fall off, then continued to fall off though, and he finished with a 26% strikeout rate, 10.8% walk rate, and 4.60 ERA over 58.2 innings.
His 2021 season was a total disaster, statistically (7.13 ERA, 7.2% K-BB%, 5.60 xFIP), but he finished it by pitching an inning in a combined no-hitter.
Justin Lewis: RHP, 27, Double-A, Diamondbacks
At 6-foot-7, 205 pounds, Justin Lewis is like a slightly beefier Triston McKenzie, at least in stature. FanGraphs described him as “built like a construction crane,” in their brief mention of him in the Diamondbacks’ top prospect list in 2021.
Lewis is the oldest of the Guardians’ three selections yesterday, having been selected in the 12th round of the 2018 draft by the Diamondbacks. He briefly pitched in Triple-A last season but was sent back down to Double-A after a handful of relief appearances. While his stint was short, he made some impressive pitches that were captured by the Reno Aces Twitter account.
2️⃣ K's in 1️⃣.2️⃣ Innings in the Greater Nevada Field debut for Justin Lewis ❌@jlew21_ | #Aceball pic.twitter.com/4mUeopXeOQ— Reno Aces (@Aces) June 5, 2022
Ok, this is officially getting crazy...— Reno Aces (@Aces) May 28, 2022
This pitching highlight is brought to you by Justin Lewis, who followed up this K (his first in Triple-A) with two more to wipe out the side @jlew21_ | #Aceball pic.twitter.com/rAqMHtmKEa
Like the 6-foot-5 McKenzie, Lewis is likely able to leverage some of his lanky arms for added extension on the mound and some perceived velocity coming at batters. If the Guardians found something that worked to translate McKenzie’s unique form into a top-of-the-rotation starter in the majors, perhaps they can apply some of those same things to turning Lewis into a serviceable reliever.