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Yankees spring training: Checking in on Rule 5 Draft picks

Bloggers from around the SB Nation network talk about some Yankees prospects

MLB: San Diego Padres-Media Day Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is in full swing, and we’re seeing just what kind of talent is hidden at the minor league level. Despite all the promise seen so far, you can’t help but wonder who else might be there if it wasn’t for the Rule 5 Draft. Over the winter, the Yankees farm system was raided and the organization lost eight players to other teams. Four of them were taken outright while Tyler Webb, Luis Torrens, Caleb Smith, and Tyler Jones must make their new team and remain on the 40-man roster all season or be offered back to the Yankees. Can they do it?

Tyler Webb | Pittsburgh Pirates

Left-handed reliever Tyler Webb was once thought to be a future backend arm but ineffectiveness made the Yankees try him out as a starter. Despite a need for middle relievers, they left him off their 40-man roster, which should tell you how they feel about him at this point. He was taken by the Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft and now it’s all up to how he performs.

As Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout laid out for me, Pittsburgh already has more than a healthy heaping of left-handed relievers in camp. “Assuming everyone's healthy,” he explained, “the Pirates probably have six relievers assured of spots (Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo and Jared Hughes), leaving one spot for Wade LeBlanc, A.J. Schugel or Webb.” For those of you trying to keep track at home, that’s three righties and three lefties. Adding Webb might be overkill here.

It’s possible Webb wouldn’t even be the seventh-best pitcher in that bunch. Wilmoth reasons that Schugel is the best choice because he has the stats and is that fourth right-hander that the Pirates probably want. There’s also the matter of Wade LeBlanc and the (questionable) contract extension he signed. Wilmoth says LeBlanc will probably get the job “but his deal was cheap enough that I could see the Pirates picking Webb if they like what they see this spring.”

There’s also the chance that someone could get traded by Opening Day, which would substantially help Webb’s chances. Whatever happens from here, his fate is at least partially in his own hands. So far he has struck out two in four innings of work, but it will be a few more weeks before we get a sense of where he ends up.

Luis Torrens | San Diego Padres

An extremely promising international talent, Luis Torrens is loved by scouts but was slowed by injury. He was given a shot in A-ball at the age of 18 before missing the entire 2015 season with a shoulder injury. He struggled in 2016, and with the ascension of Gary Sanchez this past year, the Yankees likely didn’t want to fill the 40-man roster with another catcher who wasn’t going to be MLB ready for some time.

Now 20 years old, Torrens was taken by the Reds in the draft before making his way to the Padres in a trade. It’s easy to think that a backstop so young and inexperienced is likely getting sent back to his team, but there is reason to believe he could actually make the cut with San Diego.

“Carrying a catcher with no experience beyond single-A on an MLB roster is a risky proposition,” says Roy Thomasson of Gaslamp Ball, “but they may be able to insulate Torrens by making him the third catcher on the roster behind Austin Hedges and Christian Bethancourt.” Using a third catcher is extremely rare and often considered a waste of roster space, however, the Padres are in a unique situation here.

Catcher Christian Bethancourt has played the outfield and is actually preparing to pitch in relief during the season. If the organization decides to use him in this capacity, San Diego would be in need of another catcher. As Thomasson explains “his positional versatility lends the kind of roster flexibility that could allow a rebuilding team to retain a promising yet inexperienced player like Torrens.”

If the Padres can simply stash him on the active roster all season without having to rely on him too much, they would have a legitimate prospect on their hands and in their system. The team traded a real live prospect to Cincinnati in order to get their hands on Torrens, so you would have to imagine they have some intention to retain him long-term.

Caleb Smith | Chicago Cubs

For a few years Caleb Smith was looking like a solid left-handed starting pitcher. He was never a highly coveted prospect, but he threw 130.2 innings and made 24 starts in Trenton during the 2015 season. In 2016, Smith was transitioned to the bullpen where his peripherals improved, but the results just weren’t the same. The Yankees likely hoped he would fly under the radar before the Cubs scooped him up.

Right now it looks like the Cubs are dealing with a full house and the numbers are going against him. According to Al Yellon at Bleed Cubbie Blue, “the Cubs' bullpen is pretty well set for their first seven guys (Wade Davis, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Koji Uehara and Brian Duensing).” He believes that if the team decides to take eight relievers with them to start the season, Smith could have a chance then.

What he has going for him right now is his sinker ball, which Chicago loves to see. “Wrigley's a good place for a sinkerballing lefty,” Yellon points out, “so Smith does have a chance.” He also postulates that the Cubs could even make a deal with the Yankees to keep Smith in Triple-A. He will have to do better than six hits and three home runs in three innings of work, though.

Tyler Jones | Arizona Diamondbacks

Tyler Jones is probably a guy most people know nothing about. He was an 11th round draft pick by the Twins in 2011 and spend time with the Braves organization before signing with the Yankees as a free agent. He’s now 27 and on his third team without ever making the majors, but despite that, the numbers are there. The Diamondbacks likely saw that and wanted to give him a chance, because they can.

Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit believes a few things could work in his favor this spring. The D-Backs bullpen was actually one of the worst in the league last year, so you know they are looking anywhere, and at anyone for help. “There are plenty of open slots. Going into spring training, we only had three apparent relievers assured of a job—Rodney, Randall Delgado and Jake Barrett. So there are a lot of vacancies to be filled.” According to McLennan, Jones wouldn’t even really have to be that good to be an improvement over last year.

Going against Jones is also the fact that Arizona invited 26 relief pitchers to camp this year, many with major league experience. His one hope could be that the Diamondbacks have a history of stashing Rule 5 players on the roster. “They've successfully kept Oscar Hernandez and Joe Paterson as Rule 5 picks in the last 6 years,” says Charlie Gebow of AZ Snake Pit. “If he impresses in Spring, I think that'll help boost him. I'd put it at about 50-50.” As with any Rule 5 Draftee, his chances are slim, but this team could use any help they can get.