On Friday, the Yankees made their Rule 5 protection decisions. Three eligible prospects were protected. Another, Vicente Campos, was added to the 40-man roster earlier in the offseason to keep him from becoming a minor league free agent (and by adding him, the Yankees effectively protected Campos from the Rule 5 draft as well).
It’s worth noting that several upper-level prospects including Aaron Judge, Brady Lail, Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade and Tyler Webb are not yet Rule 5 eligible, and so there was absolutely no reason to put them on the roster at this time.
Here’s a quick look at the prospects the Yankees chose to protect, as well as a few notable names left exposed.
PROTECTED FROM THE RULE 5
Why he was protected: In short, because he almost certainly would have been selected in the Rule 5 draft. He’s a relief pitcher who put up very good numbers in both Double-A and Triple-A this year. Probably would have been a September call-up if the Yankees weren’t already so overloaded with right-handed relievers.
Why it might have been unnecessary: Same reason the Yankees didn’t bring Barbato up in September: they have plenty of similar pitchers already in place. Even if Barbato were lost in the Rule 5 draft, the Yankees might not have missed him. Even with last year’s success, Barbato’s not a slam-dunk prospect. Plenty good enough to be prime Rule 5 fodder, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have a meaningful career. And the Yankees are overloaded with solid right-handed relief prospects.
Why he was protected: Heading into this season, Davis was kind of a sleeper prospect. He might have been most recognizable because of his 80-grade baseball name. This season, though, Davis pushed his stock significantly higher with improved strikeout and walk rates. He now looks like one of the better rotation prospects in the organization, and he seemed like the system’s best bet for Rule 5 protection.
Why it might have been unnecessary: Because he made just five Double-A starts last year and may very well open next season back in Double-A. In other words, he’s probably not quite ready to keep a spot on a big league roster. His upside made it hard for the Yankees to take that chance, but he’s more likely to be a big league option in 2017 than in 2016.
Why he was protected: Left-handed hitter with a little bit of speed, little bit of power, solid contact and on-base skills, an ability to play all three outfield spots and terrific Triple-A numbers? Gamel would have been a perfect Rule 5 candidate with a legitimate chance to stick as a fourth outfielder. He went unselected in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he showed himself to be a very different player this year. Surely some other team would have given him a chance if he were available this winter.
Why it might have been unnecessary: Two reasons: Gamel could regress to a level far below this year’s production, and even if the Yankees were lose him, they might not miss him given their left-handed outfield depth. Gamel looks like a more bat-first version of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. Do the Yankees really need another outfielder from that mold? Is Gamel really the guy who had a .830 OPS in Triple-A this year, or the guy who had a .648 OPS in Double-A last year?
LEFT EXPOSED TO THE RULE 5
Why he was left unprotected: He’s too young, too inexperienced and too limited to think he could really make a big league roster out of spring training. Andujar has upside, for sure, but he’s coming off a so-so season in High-A and he’s basically limited to third base. He made second-half strides, but that’s not enough to think he’s ready for the Majors.
Why it might have been a mistake: Talent matters, and Andujar has talent. His upside is that of an everyday third baseman, so if he were to actually stick as a Rule 5 pick, the Yankees would lose a legitimate, high-end prospect. Hard to picture that happening at this point, but if a team drafts him, the Yankees will holding their breath a little bit.
Why he was left unprotected: It wasn’t all that long ago that Austin cleared waivers, suggesting no team is interested in giving him a 40-man roster spot, much less a 25-man roster spot. At this time last year, the Yankees protected Austin from the Rule 5, but he had an underwhelming Triple-A season (so underwhelming that he was demoted to Double-A and taken off the 40-man roster). This year did little to suggest he’s a big league hitter at the moment.
Why it might have been a mistake: At his best, Austin has a pretty potent right-handed bat, and the Yankees could use a hitter like that. If a team wants to put him back at third base, he could have a shot to stick as a four-corners utility man. His numbers in Triple-A suggest it might be a reach to think he could stick in the big leagues, but his best stretches in past seasons suggest the potential for impact.
Why he was left unprotected: A combination of performance, redundancy and a tight roster. Cave stands out as the kind of guy who might have been protected if the 40-man weren’t so crowded (the Yankees have protected lesser prospects in the past). As it is, Cave’s solid-not-great Double-A numbers suggest he’s not a big leaguer right now. Even if a team takes a shot on him, the Yankees might not miss him because of their left-handed outfield depth.
Why it might have been a mistake: Even though his Double-A numbers weren’t great, Cave can still do a little bit of everything, which profiles pretty well for a possible fourth outfielder. Because of his current skill set and potential, it’s not at all difficult to imagine a team giving Cave a look in spring training. He’s a legitimate Rule 5 candidate, just a question of whether he can actually stick and whether the Yankees would actually miss him.
Why he was left unprotected: Injury threw his development off track a little bit, and he’s coming off a year in which he pitched just 58.2 innings, none of them above High-A. The Yankees currently have at least six left-handed relievers ahead of him in the big league pecking order — Miller, Wilson, Shreve, Lindgren, Pazos, Webb — so even if Enns were to to stick with another team, the Yankees might not regret leaving him off the roster.
Why it might have been a mistake: Even with the Yankees’ bullpen depth, it’s not a good thing to lose a young pitcher with the potential for a legitimate big league career. And if Enns can stay healthy and build off this season — even though it was at a low level, he really was terrific this year — he could stick around as a big league lefty. He’s worked as both a starter and a reliever, so there’s some versatility that could be appealing.
Why he was left unprotected: Not to dismiss him, but at the moment Hebert’s just not an organizational standout. He quietly had a nice year in High-A (with a few spot starts in Triple-A), and the Yankees rewarded him with a spot in the Arizona Fall League, but Hebert still needs a bigger breakout season to really push himself onto the big league radar.
Why it might have been a mistake: This is a left-handed starting pitcher who just had a nice year, and he’s shown enough to warrant a spot in the Fall League, which suggests the Yankees were at least considering him as a possibility for a roster spot. Even if Hebert’s not a big name, it’s not like the Yankees are overcrowded with left-handed rotation prospects. Could be a decent Rule 5 candidate as a long-man who could serve as a second bullpen lefty.
Why he was left unprotected: Could be a versatility issue above all else. Renda is a pretty decent infield prospect — the Yankees got him from the Nationals in the mid-season David Carpenter trae — but he has very little experience at any position other than second base, which probably limits his ability to actually stick as a Rule 5 pick. He’s also coming off a good-but-not-great year in Double-A.
Why it might have been a mistake: With Jose Pirela gone and Eric Jagielo coming back from injury, the Yankees don’t have a ton of upper-level infield prospects. If the Yankees lose Renda, they’ll be even thinner in the infield. On-base skills make him a decent prospect, especially at a position like second base where a team could show some interest in a low-risk Rule 5 possibility. Renda’s not a huge prospect, but he has some potential, and he gives the Yankees depth where they’re otherwise thin.
Cito Culver/Dante Bichette Jr.
Why they were left unprotected: Because they just haven’t been very good. These were the Yankees’ top draft picks in 2010 and 211, but Culver’s been absolutely nothing but a defender while Bichette’s bat has shown up in infrequent bursts. Culver lost his everyday shortstop job in Double-A this year, while Bichette was demoted from Double-A to High-A. These are notable omissions only because they were such high picks, not because they were strong candidates for protection.
Why it might have been a mistake: Most likely, this won’t be a mistake. It really would have been stunning to see the Yankees protect either of these players. They’re worth mentioning, though, because they were such high draft picks, and if some team actually roles the dice and gets legitimate production — taking a chance on Culver’s glove, for example — the Yankees could watch one of their top picks finally come to life elsewhere. Again, though, the chances of a team actually taking Culver or Bichette in the Rule 5 seems very low, which says a lot about their underwhelming numbers.
Photo from the Scranton Times-Tribune