In the final hours of the Winter Meetings, executives of major league teams gathered to take part in the Rule 5 Draft, an event usually overshadowed by other par-takings going on around baseball, such as the big three team trade that took place just moments ago.
Anticipation for the Rule 5 Draft this year was strong among those deeper Royals fans, as this is the first year in awhile that I can remember the Royals showing aggressiveness in the draft before it even started (it was long rumored that the Royals were going to be active). I 100% expected at least one arm heading into today, and was pretty confident that they were going to find a way to get two players. And like last year, two was the number, with the Royals drafting Rays prospect RHP Sam McWilliams number two overall and late acquiring Cardinals prospect RHP Chris Ellis from the Rangers.
Getting two players and giving up essentially is always fun and positive. But there was another side to this year’s Rule 5 Draft, as the organization lost 18-year-old RHP Elvis Luciano to the Blue Jays. One of the better pitching prospects in all of the organization and the main return piece in the Jon Jay trade, Luciano getting picked up came as a surprise to many, including myself. But anyway, let’s dive in and see what players were involved with the Royals in this year’s Rule 5 Draft.
Sam McWilliams, RHP
Drafted: 2014 MLB Draft, 8th Round
2018 Stats (A+/AA): 27 G, 4.38 ERA, 137.2 IP, 111 H, 74 R, 67 ER, 49 BB, 133 SO
Round 1, Pick 2, Royals: Sam McWilliams, RHP, Rays
Sam McWilliams, drafted in 2014, will now be with his fourth organization (Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rays before). An interesting mold of frame standing at 6’7″ 190 lbs, only 10 pitchers that appeared in a major league game last year were taller than him.
Drafted out of high school by the Phillies, McWilliams only appeared in 16 games in his first two professional seasons before being traded to the Diamondbacks. He found a bit more consistency there, starting 15 games at the Low-A level in 2016, posting a 3.98 ERA, 5.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9. Repeating Low-A in 2017, he finally pitched in his first full pro-season, putting up a 2.84 ERA in 133 innings across 25 starts.
McWilliams started the 2018 season in High-A, making eight starts at that level between the Diamondbacks and Rays affiliates. It was there when he started to dominate his competition, striking out 32 and walking only six in his 25.2 frames there. After being promoted to Double-A, struggles arose once again, owning a 5.02 ERA in 19 appearances. He did still manage to strikeout 94 in 100.1 innings, but that was coupled with 40 walks.
McWilliams sits low-mid 90s most of the time with his four-seamer, but the primary area is 94-96. Working from a higher point (and a 3/4 arm slot), it’ll show some good downward movement, the culprit for his above-average ground ball rates in the minors.
He adds three secondaries all with little variance in velocity. His slider can be his calling-card, getting good sweeping action on it out of the zone, supplying his whiffs. It seems pretty raw to me and could be fantastic with some fine-tuning, but consistent control of it sounds like an issue. He also adds a mid-80s curveball and changeup to the mix.
Here’s a good look at the arm slot/delivery.
McWilliams seems more destined for a relief role, which he’ll have in 2019, so getting to see how he’ll fair out of the bullpen for really the first time will be interesting. He’ll put heavy reliance in his fastball/slider combo, but if he can gain more consistency in command/control with the pair, he could profile as a very above-average relief arm.
Chris Ellis, RHP
Drafted: 2014 MLB Draft, 3rd Round
2018 Stats: 31 G, 3.93 ERA, 132.2 IP, 118 H, 63 R, 58 ER, 37 BB, 124 SO
Round 1, Pick 7, Rangers: Chris Ellis, RHP, Cardinals
Traded to the Royals
Like McWilliams, Ellis has had his fair share of travels through his professional career. Drafted out of Ole Miss in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Angels, Ellis saw time with the Braves and most recently the Cardinals organizations through trades. Ellis made a quick climb up the minor league ladder, reaching Double-A by the end of his second pro-season.
Ellis stalled in Double-A though, pitching in 309.1 innings at that level. He received a few looks in Triple-A, but his severe struggles there had him ending back up in Double-A to start his age 25 season. One could argue that this was the season Ellis finally put it all together, as in 132.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, he posted a 3.93 ERA with 124 strikeouts to 37 walks.
Another big-framed pitcher standing a 6’4″ 195 lbs, Ellis seems to mainly work with an over-the-top delivery. After watching some brief video, he does seem to vary up his arm angles a bit on different offerings.
The fastball sits closer to low-90s. He adds a changeup and a slider, both of which seem to be average-ish.
Elvis Luciano, RHP
2018 Stats (Rookie): 13 G, 3.90 ERA, 67 IP, 61 H, 31 R, 29 ER, 23 BB, 70 SO
Round 1, Pick 9, Blue Jays: Elvis Luciano, RHP, Royals
If you remember Elvis Luciano’s name, it’s probably because he was the main piece acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Jon Jay trade. Currently 18-years-old, he’s coming off a somewhat impressive season with Burlington for his age (4.66 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 9.0 K/9). In what was an ETA that was a half-decade away, Luciano now has a chance to pitch in the big leagues with the Blue Jays this year.
We here at Royals Farm Report rated Luciano the #21 prospect in the organization. Easily one of the better and more high-ceiling pitching prospects in the organization, his momentary loss is a huge bummer.
Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Luciano’s ceiling is very promising. He’s currently working through his mechanics, as you could imagine an 18-year old in Burlington might be, and I think there’s more in the tank than what we’ve seen from Luciano so far, but my oh my is he promising. The fastball already flashes in the mid-90’s and his slider needs work, but when he gets on top of it, it’s a sharp downward breaker.
My guess is Luciano does find a way to stick with Toronto. The Blue Jays were fully aware of what they could be getting into with this outside-the-box pick. It could pay off, as Luciano may have a higher ceiling than anyone selected today. If they can hide him for a year, he gets to go back down to the lower-minors and further work on his development. We’ve seen the Padres successfully employ this strategy with names like Allen Cordoba, Luis Torrens, and Miguel Diaz.
Luis Lugo, LHP
2018 Stats (AA): 8 G, 4.18 ERA, 23.2 IP, 25 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 11 BB, 21 SO
Triple-A Phase, Round 1, Pick 20, Cubs: Luis Lugo, LHP, Royals
Who? Ah yes, the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft where 100% of the players taken from the Royals are players you probably never knew existed. And now I’m talking about it for reasons I’m not so sure of. Anyway, Luis Lugo used to be a legit pitching prospect a few seasons ago, but not with the Royals. After some relative success across each level of the minors, Lugo popped up on some Indians prospects list around three years ago. But after posting mediocre after mediocre performances in the upper-minors, he was released by the Indians at the end of the 2017 season. The Royals inked him to a minor league deal last July solely for the purpose of eating up some innings in Northwest Arkansas, where he was still pretty underwhelming (23.2 IP, 4.18 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 8.0 K/9). For what it’s worth though, he has pitched pretty well in winter ball this offseason (22.2 IP, 0.79 ERA).
The Cubs are probably bringing in Lugo for the same reasons the Royals did. Organizational depth.
Chris Rabago, C
Drafted: 2014 MLB Draft, 13th Round
2018 Stats: 73 G, .196/.273/.326, 45 H, 14 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 9 SB
Triple-A Phase, Round 1, Pick 2, Royals: Chris Rabago, C, Yankees
Traded to the Rockies
With the second pick of the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the Royals selected catcher Chris Rabago and then traded him to the Rockies. A 13th round pick by the Rockies in 2014, Rabago has worked his way up the minor league ladder as catching depth. He hit .196/.273/.326 with four home runs and nine stolen bases in 73 games in Double-A. Like the Lugo pick, not much to see here.