The last Rule 5 selection for the Mets that stuck was Sean Gilmartin, all the way back in 2014. Since then, they’ve elected to pass more often than not, or alternatively made picks only to immediately trade the player for cash. Zach Greene will look to change that trend after being selected 27th overall in this offseason’s iteration of the Rule 5 draft, and it seems like he actually has a good chance to do so.
A 27-year-old right handed reliever, Greene checks all the boxes you want from a Rule 5 pick. He comes from an organization—the Yankees—with a track record of producing good players in this vein and a roster logjam that explains why he was left exposed. His projected role is an important but non-critical one, with middle relief being a spot where teams can often stash Rule 5 selections and ride things out for a time. Finally, he’s had upper minors success, posting impressive strikeout rates and solid ERAs, albeit with too many walks and home runs, at Double- and Triple-A over the past two seasons.
Historical criteria aside, Greene also has the sort of analytically-friendly arsenal that’s come into favor with both the Mets and the majority of the league in recent years. As you’d expect, the Yankees have taught him a sweeping slider, and he’s flashed a solid changeup as well. The real carrying card here though is his fastball, which despite middling velocity consistently flummoxes hitters. This, in large part, is due to his funky delivery, which simultaneously deceives hitters into expecting a lower arm slot than he actually has and allows him to achieve tremendous ride on his fastball. It’s the sort of flat VAA (vertical attack angle) pitch that has allowed other fairly pedestrian fastballs to succeed in recent years (for instance, Paul Sewald), and I’d expect it will translate fairly well to major league hitters.
With both historical trends and scouting plaudits on his side, Greene seemed like a near lock to stick when the Mets selected him back in December. Since then, they’ve added both David Robertson and Adam Ottavino, which makes the picture a bit murkier. The top-5 options in the bullpen - Edwin Diaz, Brooks Raley, Drew Smith, Robertson, and Ottavino - are locked in. For the moment, the front office seems intent on keeping all of David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, Tylor Megill, and Elieser Hernandez stretched out as starters. That leaves some combination of John Curtiss, Jeff Brigham, Stephen Nogosek, Sam Coonrod, Bryce Montes de Oca, Stephen Ridings, and Greene (along with the usual heap of NRIs and minor league signings) competing for the final three spots.
That’s a lot of competition, but Greene does have something else going for him; everyone he’s competing against, save Nogosek, has minor league options remaining. Even if he’s not clearly the best performer in spring training, the Mets could very well justify keeping him on the roster to get a longer look at him in the majors while sending other players down to Triple-A. Given Greene’s encouraging traits and the fact that the Mets thought highly enough of him to select him in the first place, it seems more likely than not that he’ll head north with the team barring a disastrous performance over the next few weeks.
Presuming that’s how this plays out, Greene will be in line to serve as one of the last members in the bullpen. There’s a bit of upside for more beyond that role, and any slight developmental gains the Mets can impart could turn him into a legitimate 7th inning option. He could be anything from a option-able bullpen piece in future years to a legitimate late inning option. That’s a nice player to have acquired for free to fill a non-critical role.
Of course, Greene could also come out and have an ERA over 10 in spring training, then find himself pitching for the Rail Riders again by May. So it goes with Rule 5 picks. The good news is that the Mets are not relying on this bet to hit, meaning fans get to daydream about the new relief ace the team poached from the Yankees with no real downside risk. The likely result lies somewhere in the middle, and we’ll have a better idea of how long Greene sticks in the organization in a few weeks’ time.