This morning we looked at the Yankees minor leaguers who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time. This afternoon, we’ll look at the guys were were eligible last season and will be eligible again. This list does not include players like Eric Duncan who would have to be added to the 40-man to avoid free agency. Unlike last year — when Eric Hacker and Wilkin de La Rosa were added for just that reason — I’m not sure the Yankees have any first-time minor league free agents who are especially strong candidates for 40-man spots this time around.
The Yankees do, however, have a lot of repeat Rule 5 eligible players who have significantly boosted their stock in the past 12 months. All of these players were eligible for the Rule 5 last year and remain in the organization.
Pitchers: J.B. Cox, Grant Duff, Alan Horne, Zack Kroenke, Ivan Nova, Jonathan Ortiz, Romulo Sanchez, Josh Schmidt, Brett Smith, Kevin Whelan, Eric Wordekemper
Catchers: Kyle Anson, P.J. Pilittere
Infielders: Reegie Corona, Chris Malec
Outfielders: James Cooper
There are a lot of things to like about the position players on this list, but the only one that stands out as a real Rule 5 candidate is Reegie Corona. He was one of four Yankees taken in last year’s Rule 5, but Seattle ultimately decided not to keep him as a utility infielder. He can play second, third and short — his best position is second base — and he has good speed, but Triple-A gave him some very real problems this season. To me, Corona ranks behind Kevin Russo and Eduardo Nunez in the race for infield 40-man spots, but there are plenty who disagree with me. Corona might be the most versatile and possibly the fastest of the bunch. He could be protected, and if not, he could be drafted.
The best returning candidates, though, are pitchers. Especially Ivan Nova, Romulo Sanchez, Grant Duff, Zach Kroenke and Kevin Whelan.
I believe Nova will be added. That’s strictly a guess, but he really came into his own out of the Triple-A rotation this year. Nova has long been touted for his raw stuff, but he wasn’t ready for the big leagues when the Padres took him in last year’s Rule 5. He works down in the zone with his fastball and can go to both his changeup and curveball to generate ground balls. He has continued to pitch well in winter ball. The Yankees got him back after last year’s Rule 5 draft, but I don’t think they would be as lucky this time around.
Sanchez is an interesting case. The Yankees got him mid-season from Pittsburgh, where he had some major league time out of the bullpen. The Yankees began using him out of the Triple-A rotation and he was able to throw 97 mph into the fifth inning. To go with that fastball, he also has a nice changeup and a slider. Sanchez would have been an easy choice to leave unprotected, but he was so good in the last month or so that I wonder if the Yankees figured out some things with him and now see him as potential help in New York.
Duff, Kroenke and Whelan are relievers. Kroenke is a lefty who wasn’t given much of a chance in big league camp after the Marlins took him in last year’s Rule 5, but he was outstanding with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. None of his pitches is overwhelming, but he mixes a fastball, splitfinger and slider and put up great Triple-A numbers. He pitched well enough to earn a 40-man spot, but I wonder if the Yankees might take a chance on him getting through the Rule 5 because they already have Phil Coke, Damaso Marte and Mike Dunn as left-handed relievers on the 40-man. I believe Kroenke will be drafted if left exposed, I just wonder if it’s a risk the Yankees might be willing to take.
Duff and Whelan both throw hard from the right side (Duff probably maxes out a little higher). I knew next to nothing about Duff until he climbed from High-A to Triple-A this season, getting his fastball into the upper 90s. He burst onto the map and the Yankees responded by sending him to the Arizona Fall League, where he’s continued to pitch well. My guess is there was no consideration to putting him on the 40-man last year, but there will be strong consideration this year. Whelan is one of the players added from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield trade. He’s long had a reputation for not throwing strikes, but he did a good job of it after a promotion to Triple-A this season. One bad outing throws his total walk total out of proportion, but most nights he was able to throw strikes. He was Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer in the playoffs.
Even if you only casually follow the minor league system, you might know the names J.B. Cox and Alan Horne as once highly touted prospects who have been slowed by injury. Cox has fallen far off the map — possibly to the verge of retirement — while Horne has taken some steps forward after a series of injuries. I’ve been a huge believer in Horne since I saw him in the spring of 2008, but I don’t believe he’ll be protected or taken in the Rule 5. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get to New York, though.
The total number of players protected depends on how many roster spots the Yankees can open. Two came open with Freddy Guzman and Josh Towers being outrighted. There are other non-tender candidates who could open spots as well.
Personally, I would put Austin Jackson, Ivan Nova, Eduardo Nunez and Kevin Russo at the top of the list of players to protect. As for the other candidates, I might put Grant Duff and Romulo Sanchez next in line because of their fastballs, but those two, Zach Kroenke, Kevin Whelan and Kanekoa Texeira are pretty close in my mind. Depends on the Yankees internal preferences. There’s no way they’ll have room to protect them all. Something will have to give, one way or another.