For the most part, roster decisions don’t get much more marginal than Rule 5 draft protection. The prospects involved are often a year or two from the big leagues, and many of the other names are bench and bullpen role players at best. That said…
I love the Rule 5 draft, and I’m a nerd for Rule 5 protection. That comes from the years spent covering minor league baseball, I guess. This stuff is not for everyone, but I think those edge-of-the-roster, barely-on-the-radar guys are interesting in their own way. It’s interesting to see who’s protected, who’s put at risk, and who might capitalize on an opportunity.
Last week, the Yankees protected six players from the Rule 5 draft. One is a starting pitcher who could legitimately play a role next season. One is an injured prospect who would have been an obvious Rule 5 pick for someone. Three are legitimate prospects who aren’t likely to reach the big leagues this year, but might have been incredibly regrettable had some other team taken a shot on them. And one is a middle reliever who’s name might not be familiar to even a closer follower of the minor league system.
These are the six players protected from the Rule 5 draft and why you should care — at least a little bit — about each of them.
Who he is: Considered the Yankees top pitching prospect before an elbow injury limited him to just six Triple-A starts this year. Now the 21-year-old is recovering from Tommy John surgery and expected to miss all of next season.
Why you care: Because Banuelos is still awfully talented, and it would have been all-too-easy for a team to take him in the Rule 5 and stash him on the 60-man disabled list all year. Instead, the Yankees will — of course — protect him and almost certainly put him on their own 60-day.
Who he is: A 20-year-old who hit .302/.370/.420 in High-A Tampa this year, then got to Double-A for one regular-season game. He’s not a prospect on par with Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott, but Flores absolutely belongs on the radar.
Why you care: Because he gets on base, steals some bags and has experience at all three outfield positions. At the very least there’s potential for a high-OBP fourth outfielder, and at best there’s potential for a left-handed leadoff hitter and left fielder. A strong season in Double-A could have him knocking on the door next year.
Who he is: The Yankees top upper-level pitching prospect. The 22-year-old sinkerballer spent this season in Double-A and went 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA and a team-leading 120 strikeouts.
Why you care: Because Banuelos is hurt and Dellin Betances has taken a step back and next year’s Triple-A rotation will be headlined by Adam Warren and this guy. Marshall could legitimately find himself making a spot start or pitching in long relief for the Yankees as early as April or May. Of all the guys on this list, he’s the one most on the verge.
Who he is: A hard-throwing 22-year-old who went 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA in High-A Tampa this year. Always regarded for his potential, the numbers showed a significant step forward in the second half.
Why you care: Because this is one of those guys who, if things come together just right, could jump into the top 10, maybe even top five, of Yankees prospects next season. There’s also a chance you’ll never hear his name again. There’s enough in his right arm that some team might have taken a shot on Ramirez being able to hold his own as a big league long man next year.
Who he is: On this list, he’s the player you’re least likely to know. I’ve literally never once had a conversation with anyone in the organization about him. Rondon is already 24 and originally signed way back in 2006, but he’d never pitched above Low-A before getting to Triple-A this season.
Why you care: Because it’s easy to see why the Yankees might be interested. Rondon pitched most of this year in Double-A and held lefties to a .235/.300/.309 slash line with four extra-base hits and 25 strikeouts in 81 at-bats. He could be a left-handed relief option more or less immediately, and the Yankees seem to be stocking up on lefties with Boone Logan in his last year of arbitration.
Who he is: A 23 year old who spent the majority of this season with High-A Tampa and had a 2.89 ERA and 116 strikeouts through 23 games. He was a 50th-round draft pick, who fell so far because of signability issues.
Why you care: Because he doesn’t have the recognition of Banuelos, but he’s also not limited to the bullpen like Rondon. Turley will be a Double-A starter this season, and although he’s always operated on the fringes of the prospect radar, he’s on the 40-man because he’s pitched well enough to suggest he could be in the big leagues in a year or two.
Associated Press photo