Tomorrow is the deadline to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft. That means adding some prospects to the 40-man roster. As a general rule, the eligible players are college draftees from 2008 and anyone from the 2007 draft or earlier. High school picks from 2007 are eligible for the first time. International players are more complicated (and confusing).
The Yankees took care of two spots late in the regular season when they added Austin Romine and George Kontos for September call-ups. Those two would have been eligible, and would have been easy choices for protection.
My own prediction: These four stand out as players the Yankees will choose to protect this winter:
Part of that long list of upper-level rotation prospects, Phelps was a 14th-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008. He’s been productive throughout the minors and just won the Arizona Fall League’s Pitcher of the Week award. Real chance he could stick on another team’s big league roster out of spring training, and a real chance he would play a role for the Yankees next season. Should be an easy decision to protect him. The Yankees might have tipped their hand when they invited Phelps to observe the big league club late in the season. Probably wouldn’t do that if they were going to risk losing him in the Rule 5.
A ground ball pitcher, Mitchell was a 10th-round pick out of Clemson in 2008. He was arguably the most consistent starter in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, and he could play a role as either a starter or long reliever next season. Just like Phelps, there’s a very real chance that he could stick on another team’s big league roster out of spring training, and he’s certainly in that mix of young pitchers who could help the Yankees immediately. Looks like another easy decision to me. He’s one of the pitchers consistently named as a young candidate for a back-of-the-rotation spot should the Yankees have an opening.
Joseph is an exception to the rule. A good rule of thumb says high school kids from the 2008 draft are not yet eligible, but the rule is really based on age, and Joseph was old for a high school draft pick when the Yankees took him in the fourth round. Because of his age, Joseph is eligible, and that means he’s likely to be protected. He’s kind of a Kevin Russo-type in that he’s been a steady hitter through the minors with most of his experience coming at second and third (my guess is he could learn the outfield quickly and could play shortstop in an absolute pinch). Could be a helpful utility man.
After a bit of a breakout season, Almonte looks like this winter’s Melky Mesa: He’s finally had the kind of success the Yankees wanted to see, and now it’s time to protect him despite limited upper-level success. With limited outfield depth — largely because a lot of the 40-man outfielders are out of options — Almonte could fills a need at a thin position. He also has some upside as a corner outfielder who’s starting to show some power (he has some center field experience as well). The Yankees would have to hope he doesn’t follow Mesa’s footsteps with a lackluster first season on the 40-man.
Four notable players exposed
David Adams – Injury cost him most of the past two seasons. Second baseman was a third-round pick in 2008 and could easily put himself back on the map with a strong season, but for now he’s got to earn a spot.
Abe Almonte – Hard to be certain about international guys, but Almonte seems to be eligible at this point. He had a strong second half last season, but that was in High-A, and his track record doesn’t suggest a big-league-ready outfielder.
Brad Suttle – Third baseman out of Texas came into the system with a promising bat, but injuries have slowed his progress and the numbers have not impressed.
Pat Venditte – The Yankees switch-pitcher has posted consistent results but still hasn’t pitched above Double-A.
Jorge Vazquez, Manny Banuelos and Adam Warren are among the Yankees top prospects who are not yet eligible for the Rule 5 despite being upper-level players.