Coming out of Texas Christian University at 6-2 and 200 pounds, Riley Ferrell projected as the husky power right-handed pitcher that scouts drool over. Pairing his physical frame with an upper-90s fastball and power slider that have each consistently graded as above-average offerings, that excitement was justified. The Houston Astros invested an above-slot $1 million into their 79th overall pick in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
Fast-forward four years and Ferrell is getting a major league opportunity in Miami that never came from his previous employer.
How did he get here? Selected by Marlins with No. 4 pick of the 2018 Rule 5 Draft.
2018 MiLB Stats: 4.53 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 1.59 WHIP, 67 K in 51.2 IP
2019 ZiPS Projection: 4.50 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 1.58 WHIP, 53 K in 52.0 IP
After a stellar career at TCU in which Ferrell set a school-record with 32 saves, the Astros continued to use him as a reliever in the pros with the hope that he’d one day be their eventual closer.
Despite showing off his nasty stuff, the command wasn’t quite as polished for Ferrell in his four minor league seasons. And after a particularly alarming disparity between his Double-A and Triple-A numbers in 2018 the Astros made the decision to leave Ferrell off their 40-man roster.
Riley Ferrell 2018 season splits
This left Ferrell eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. It was the second consecutive year that the Marlins selected a right-hander from the Astros in the Rule 5 after going with Elieser Hernández in 2017. Aside from Hernández, Ferrell has familiarity with outfielder Austin Dean and right-hander Robert Dugger—they were all regulars at Houston’s Dynamic Sports Training during the offseason.
Once again, the Marlins will try to manage two Rule 5 picks. These players must remain on the drafting club’s active roster when healthy (at least 90 total days) or otherwise be returned to their previous organization. The Marlins satisfied the requirements in 2018 with both Hernández and Brett Graves, opening the year with them on the disabled list before using them as long relievers. Ferrell’s teammate Julian Fernández is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, creating the flexibility to pull this off in 2019.
While 25 years old isn’t conventional “prospect” age, Ferrell ranks as the Marlins No. 24 prospect by Baseball America. After acquiring Sergio Romo as the lone veteran addition to the bullpen, there ought to be plenty of bullpen spots up for grabs at Spring Training this year. Ferrell will attempt to fend off Austin Brice, Nick Anderson, and Merandy González, just to name a few. His history as a reliever and Rule 5 status should give him the upper hand in the competition.
Ferrell made a solid first impression on Monday against the Rays with two strikeouts in a clean inning.
Marlins shouldn’t have Dan Uggla-type expectations out of Riley Ferrell just because of the Rule 5 connection. But for a bullpen that has desperately needed some consistency for years, the club will look to Ferrell as a potential solution to those woes.