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Mets lose five players in Rule 5 Draft

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The San Fransisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and Cincinnati Reds all selected Mets minor league players.

2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings
Rob Manfred
Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

As is customary to wrap up the annual Winter Meetings, the Rule 5 Draft took place this afternoon. While it was atypical in that it was a virtual event, the rules and process were otherwise the same. Clubs without full 40-man rosters selected players who met certain criteria from other teams. It costs $100,000 for a team to make a selection in the Major League phase of the Draft, and that player has to stick on the roster all year or be offered back to the player’s original team for $50,000. It costs $24,000 for a team to make a selection in the Triple-A phase of the Draft, and that player can be placed on any roster in the Minor Leagues and does not have to be offered back to the original club.

In the major league portion of the draft, the San Francisco Giants selected RHP Dedniel Nunez. Ranked the Mets’ 21st top prospect in 2020 by Amazin’ Avenue, the right-hander last pitched in 2019, where he combined to post a 4.39 ERA in 80.0 innings for the Columbia Fireflies and St. Lucie Mets, allowing 73 hits, walking 23, and striking out 94. A native of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, Nunez was signed by the Mets in October 2016, at the age of 20. Because of his advanced age, he was immediately sent stateside, making his professional debut for the GCL Mets in 2017. He was promoted to Kingsport in 2018, and then split his season between Columbia and St. Lucie in 2019.

Nunez throws from a low-three-quarters arm slot with a whippy arm action. His fastball sits in the low-90s, topping out at 94 MPH or so with some late arm-side life thanks to its elite spin rate. He complements it with a slurvy slider that sits in the low-80s and a changeup. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch, as his changeup is still raw and in development. Nunez is aggressive and goes after hitters but sometimes struggles to put away hitters because of a lack of a true strikeout pitch and occasional bouts of wildness due to an inability to repeat his release point.

In the Triple-A portion of the draft, the Toronto Blue Jays selected SS Sebastian Espino, the Cincinnati Reds selected C Wilfred Astudillo, the Tampa Bay Rays selected RHP Ezequiel Zabaleta, and the Giants selected 2B Mitchell Tolman.

Sebastian Espino received the largest bonus that the Mets handed out to an international rookie during the 2016-2017 international signing period, receiving $300,000. The Mets put the 17-year-old shortstop on an advanced developmental path, promoting him stateside by the end of the 2017 season after a season in the Dominican Summer League. In 2018, he repeated his time with the GCL Mets and in 2019 was promoted to the Kingsport Mets, where he appeared in 52 games, hitting .251/.303/.332 with 12 walks and 61 strikeouts.

Espino currently projects as a defensive-oriented shortstop, showing soft hands, good actions, and plenty of range. With the bat, the Dominican youngster is nowhere near as advanced. He is currently a contact-oriented fastball hitter, spraying line drives around the field with the occasional double. There may be some additional power potential in his 6’2”, 175-pound frame, but were he to grow into more power, he needs to develop his eye better, as he struggles against breaking balls.

The younger brother of Minnesota Twins catcher Willians Astudillo, Wilfred originally was linked to the Boston Red Sox, but when the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball banned Boston from signing international free agents during the 2016-2017 signing period, the Mets were able to pounce, inking the young backstop to a $150,000 signing bonus. He spent the entire 2017 season in the Dominican Republic and began the 2018 season there as well before being promoted to the GCL Mets midway through the year. Promoted to Kingsport in 2019, the 19-year-old backstop split catching duties with the other highly talented catchers on that team, appearing in 36 games and hitting .267/.323/.408 with 8 walks and 19 strikeouts.

A switch-hitter, Astudillo has a hit-over-power profile, making a lot of contact and spraying line drives around the field. Standing at the plate with his hands held extremely high and swinging with a slight leg kick, Astudillo has a compact swing. In 2018, he showed a better hit tool from the left-side, but in 2019, those platoon splits reversed themselves and he showed a better hit tool from the right-side. Consistently, he has shown more power as a right-handed hitter. He is an aggressive swinger, but generally does not strike out much. Behind the plate, he makes for a big target for his pitchers. He moves surprisingly well for a guy his size behind the dish, and like his brother, is an effective pitch framer.

Signed as international free agent by the Mets on May 4, 2015, at the advanced age of 19, Ezequiel Zabaleta barely pitched that year and instead cut his teeth as a professional in 2016, pitching for the DSL and GCL Mets. In 2017, the right-hander pitched with the Kingsport Mets; in 2018, he pitched for the Brooklyn Cyclones and the St. Lucie Mets; in 2019, he pitched for the Columbia Fireflies and the St. Lucie Mets.

Zabaleta throws from a high-three-quarters arm slot, with a high-effort delivery. His fastball sits in the sits in the low-to-mid-90s, and he complements the pitch with a low-80s slider and a low-to-mid-80s changeup.

Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 7th round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of Oregon, the Mets only recently acquired the services of Mitchell Tolman, signing him to a minor league contract in early November. Since making his professional debut, the infielder is a career .266/.364/.378 hitter, having reached as high as Triple-A.

Tolman was an exceptional hitter in college, and the skill has carried on as a professional to a degree, as his smooth left-handed stroke and strong eye has resulted in a solid batting average and strong on-base percentage at virtually every stop of the minors in his professional career. He does not offer beyond the ability to hit and get on-base, as he does not possess much in-game power nor does he have much speed. Defensively, Tolman has extensive experience playing every infield position except shortstop. His arm is slightly above-average and he generally exhibits smooth hands, but his reaction times, first-step quickness, and range are all generally below average, making second base his best fit.