Here’s one of the awkward things about the Yankees farm system. Lately, we’ve heard a lot about its weaknesses — lack of upper-level impact players, too many questions about its biggest names — but there’s also an of odd strength that’s built up over the years:
The Yankees have a lot of good-not-great prospects — many of them pitchers — who are pretty close to the big leagues and have enough tools to suggest they could play a Major League role fairly soon, but none of whom standout as future elite players. They’re good, and over time, some of them could be really good, but none of them is overwhelming at the moment.
The Yankees have enough of those prospects that they had to leave several exposed to this year’s Rule 5 draft. In protecting guys like Jose Campos and Bryan Mitchell, the Yankees clearly prioritized potential over polish in their Rule 5 protection decisions.
I challenged myself to come up with 10 players the Yankees could lose in tomorrow morning’s draft. Granted, coming up with that many requires quite a few stretches of the imagination, but the Rule 5 itself often requires that kind of thinking. A few of these names overlap with Baseball America’s Rule 5 preview. And it goes without saying that when it comes to something like this, surprises can happen. Some team out there might have a scout who positively loves a Yankees prospect who’s a little bit off the radar. Here are some of the names to keep in mind tomorrow.
LHP Jeremy Bleich — Supplemental first-round pick in 2o08, but labrum surgery cost him all of 2011 (also cost him most of his prospect status). The fact he’s a lefty coming off a solid Double-A season, though, might lead a team to give him a look. Probably a reach. That should issue took its toll.
RHP Danny Burawa — Hard-throwing reliever. Like a lot of young hard-throwers, control is a question. He also missed the 2012 season with an oblique injury. Teams often use the Rule 5, though, to take a shot on big fastballs like this one, which puts him on a lot of lists of potential Rule 5 selections.
2B Corban Joseph — I don’t really expect Joseph to be picked, largely because he’s coming off shoulder surgery and didn’t play a ton last season. But he was on the Yankees 40-man all last year, and he’s a left-handed second baseman with some power. Could be intriguing to a team desperate for infield help.
RHP Tommy Kahnle — Basically the exact same idea as Burawa. Big fastball, but walks a lot of guys. The Yankees were said to be trying to trade Kahnle last season, probably with the Rule 5 in mind. Struck out 74 in 60 innings last year. Also walked 45.
LHP Fred Lewis — There’s a trend here. Lewis also throws hard, except he does it from the left side. The Yankees sent Lewis to the Arizona Fall League where he pitched fairly well, but they still elected to leave him unprotected. Wasn’t really on the radar until recently.
LHP Omar Luis — Eligible only because of his unusual signing situation. Luis is only 21 and he’s never pitched above Rookie Ball. The chances of him being ready for the big leagues are incredibly slim, but a team might give him a look because of long-term upside.
UT Addison Maruszak — Can play literally an position except catcher, and he’s spent most of his time at shortstop. He’s also coming off a solid Triple-A season in which he hit .254/.329/.371. Went unselected in last year’s Rule 5, but utility types are sometimes targeted, and Maruszak brings extreme versatility.
RHP Zach Nuding — Guess what. He throws hard. Another reason to leave some of these guys unprotected is that they’re fairly interchangeable (if one’s going to break out, it’s hard to say which). Nuding has been a starter most of his career. Burawa and Kahnle seem more likely to be picked.
UT Jose Pirela — Fell off the prospect radar a few years ago, and he was re-signed as a minor league free agent this winter. Included because he’s versatile in the field, and he’s hitting .309/.411/.463 in Venezuela after a solid Double-A season. Probably a stretch to think he’ll be picked.
RHP Chase Whitley — I honestly thought Whitley was a lock to be protected after two strong seasons in Triple-A, but he’s not really a hard thrower and seems more of a long reliever than future setup man. Polished enough to think he could stick if picked.
It’s important to remember that each of these guys would have to stick on a Major League roster all season to actually be lost, and that’s far from a sure thing in each case. If even one of these guys actually sticks on a big league roster, he’ll be defying the odds.
The Yankees have a full 40-man roster, which means they won’t be making a pick. The Rule 5 draft begins at 9 a.m.
Associated Press photo of Whitley, headshots of Bleich, Kahnle and Maruszak