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Marlins Select Rays’ Paul Campbell in Rule 5 Draft, Acquire Orioles’ Pop in Trade

The 25-year-old righty brings unique feel to spin and could be a dark horse contributor to the 2021 bullpen.

2020 Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 draft, usually one of the first active days of the offseason, was held earlier Thursday. Eligible players include prospects not on their parent club’s 40-man roster who have been playing professionally for four or five years, depending on their age at signing. Stronger clubs tend to get hit hardest in the Rule 5 as they have less room for prospects on the 40-man, but occasionally rebuilding and middle-of-the-pack teams can get caught in roster crunch as well, as we saw today with the Tigers and Orioles losing players.

The Marlins, despite being a playoff team, had ample room to protect eligible players and were able to escape the proceedings unscathed, while also selecting a player. Their pick during the draft’s major league phase was Rays right-hander Paul Campbell, a 2017 21st-round pick who has always stood out for one reason: his astronomical spin rates. In the 2020 FanGraphs Rays top prospects list, Eric Longenhagen noted that Campbell, who missed the list despite it stretching to 56 names, would’ve had the highest fastball spin rate of any ranked prospect had he qualified at 2700+ RPM, while also praising his curveball spin.

Spin rate does not immediately translate to success, but it’s certainly a great asset in any pitcher’s toolbox, and Campbell has been a pretty solid performer in the Rays’ system as well. He has pitched as both a starter and reliever, but primarily in longer stints as a professional. Another strong aspect of his game is his strike-throwing ability—his walk rates have floated between 4.0% and 8.3% at his various minor league stops, and he’s managed to achieve that while also keeping the ball in the yard (he has only allowed 14 home runs in his three minor league seasons). That’s an enviable combination.

Watching Campbell throw, the spin rate figures show up pretty immediately. His fastball has hard, bending life onto the hands of righties, and when he uncorks a curveball it has extremely tight break. The curve unfortunately doesn’t tunnel especially well off of the heater, and hitters seem to pick it up out of his hand. However, his changeup is also a pretty solid pitch. It doesn’t have the same raw movement of the other offerings, but he throws it with good arm speed and gets solid drop on the pitch. The weakness in his profile thus far is that he hasn’t missed all that many bats, which is something of a surprise given his raw stuff. He did manage a 28.2% K rate in short season ball back in 2018, but since then has been mostly in the mid to high teens, which is on the low end.

Given the amount of raw movement Campbell is able to get on his stuff, it feels like he should be able to eke out more whiffs than he does at present, and the Marlins might want to explore toying with his arsenal or approach to pitching a bit in an effort to help him do that. He might be able to toy with the shape on his breaking ball to add to his deception, or he might want to throw fewer strikes and try to induce a few more bad swings on his offspeed. Even with little change to his profile, it’s entirely possible for him to succeed at the big league level in a middle relief role, and there’s some upside potential beyond that.

This is a quality Rule 5 pick in that offers a high floor to go with a bit of ceiling, as Campbell looks to have the command to handle himself at the highest level, as well as some rare traits to get excited about. He should have every opportunity to compete for one of the last right handed roles in the Marlins bullpen this offseason, barring further acquisitions pushing him to the edge of the mix.

Orioles RHP Zach Pop, drafted by the Diamondbacks in the Rule 5, was re-routed to the Marlins in exchange for a player to be named later. Miami also made three pick-ups during the Triple-A phase: LHP Jake Fishman (from the Blue Jays), RHP Dylan Bice (Rangers) and INF Marcus Chiu (Dodgers).

As his status as a Major League phase selection suggests, Pop carries the most upside of this group of players. A pure relief prospect, Pop has an extreme ground ball profile that is unique for his role. After steadily climbing the minor league ladder for a couple of years after being selected in the 2017 draft, he looked to have truly harnessed his stuff after his trade from the Dodgers organization to Baltimore in 2018. The Orioles pushed him immediately by promoting him to Double-A, where he was very good to finish the 2018 with a 2.53 ERA and 69.1% ground ball rate, and built on that success with a 0.84 ERA and 25% K rate to open 2019 before being shut down with a blown UCL. As a result, the public hasn’t seen him throw since, and his current status is relatively unknown.

Despite a startery 6’4” frame, Pop has always been seen as a reliever in the pro game. The primary reason for this is his sidearm delivery, which creates a lot of deception but also some scattershot control. His unique arm angle pairs well with his stuff profile- he’s a two pitch guy, specifically employing a sinker and slider. The former can touch 97, and has incredibly heavy life for such a firm offering. The slider has great bite at its best, giving him a swing and miss offering to play off of his ground ball inducing heater. The crossfire action and heavy life seem to make him very difficult to square up, something his minor league numbers also suggest.

Pitchers who are able to generate both grounders and strikeouts in bunches are always coveted, and Pop has done that, mostly consistently, at the minor league level. The biggest question mark around him is his health, and it’s not a great sign that the rebuilding Orioles chose not to protect him as they are more familiar with his medical situation than anyone. With that said, it’s always possible that they simply had better uses for the roster spot given their current situation. If Pop is healthy, he’s a high upside addition to the bullpen mix, and has the upside of a true setup man if he’s back in peak form. We’ll likely have to wait until spring to find out whether or not that’s the case.

As a result of these transactions, the Marlins 40-man roster is now full.