The annual Rule 5 Draft takes place tomorrow, bringing the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings to a close. The Yankees added seven minor league prospects to their 40 man roster at the November 20th deadline to protect eligible players from the draft. Even with that crop of talent secured, the Yankees risk losing several prospects for only a $100,000 payment as long as they can stick on another team’s big-league roster for the entire 2020 season.
While only 14 players were selected last season in all of baseball, this season has the potential to see more action as rosters expand to 26 players for the upcoming season. Let’s take a look at some of the players that the Yankees risk losing.
Chris Gittens is coming off an Eastern League MVP season where he produced a 164 wRC+ for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. He led the league in home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, and slugging. He was also rated as the best defensive first baseman in a poll conducted by Baseball America.
First base is a position that is not heavily drafted in the Rule 5 Draft. Over the previous two years, only Mike Ford has been selected with a strict first base or designated hitter profile. Luckily for the Yankees Ford was unable to stick with the Seattle Mariners, and a season and a half later was able to give them valuable production when called upon.
Steadily rising through the system since being selected in the 39th round of the 2015 draft, right-handed pitcher Brian Keller was able to reach Triple-A Scranton this year. After a late start to his season due to injuries, he was quite effective at the Double-A level, pitching to a 2.32 ERA and an 0.94 WHIP in seven starts. His time with Trenton culminated with a no-hitter in early August. Keller’s 6.91 ERA with Triple-A Scranton can largely be attributed to an 11-run outing; in his remaining four starts, he logged an ERA of 3.97. Keller has a four-pitch mix with a fastball that tops out around 93 mph, and he has logged over 125 innings twice as he climbed through the minors.
One of Keller’s teammates from his time with Trenton this season is another candidate to be selected, Rony Garcia. Garcia started the season with High-A Tampa, but quickly earned a promotion to Double-A. He struggled early at that level, but came on strong finishing the year with five no-hit innings in the Eastern League Championship clinching game. Garcia can sit 95-96 mph through a start, and drew high praise from Trenton manager Pat Osborn and pitching coach Tim Norton for the cutter he has developed over the last year. His high velocity fastball makes him a strong candidate, as there is likely a team out there that might want a look at him as a reliever.
Double-A Trenton was loaded with a strong bullpen this season. The Yankees rewarded Brooks Kriske with a roster spot for his performance, but several other members of that bullpen could find themselves picked up during the Rule 5 Draft.
Daniel Alvarez served as Trenton’s closer this season, including throwing the last pitch of their championship season. Alvarez had an 11.7 K/9 rate and a 1.10 WHIP on the season, numbers comparable to Kriske’s 11.8 K/9 and 1.09 WHIP. He has a mid-90’s fastball and fits the bill of a power-armed reliever who generates interest in the Rule 5 Draft.
James Reeves does not have the mid-90s fastball, but his incredible performance over the second half of the season could garner some attention. Reeves only allowed one earned run over his last 33 innings pitched, including the playoffs. The 26-year-old southpaw originally drafted in the 10th round was far from a specialist, as he routinely pitched three innings at a stretch and even recorded 4.2 innings of no-hit ball in his longest outing of the season.
A few other names in the Yankees’ system are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Former first-round pick Kyle Holder, long viewed as an outstanding defensive shortstop saw his bat come alive for the second half of the season for Double-A Trenton. Dermis Garcia has one of the single best tools in the system with his power, but it would be a leap for any team to think his contact issues will be solved by skipping two levels on the way to the majors. Other players like Hoy Jun Park and Trey Amburgey had fine seasons, but it is unlikely that either will be chosen, as they have not yet shown themselves to have the untapped tools worthy of a roster spot.
Organizations rarely mourn the loss of players in the Rule 5 Draft. Roughly 75% of them end up back with their original teams, many before the spring training wraps up, the notable exceptions being Roberto Clemente and Johan Santana. The Yankees would love to keep their prospects in house, but the Rule 5 Draft is designed to open the door for prospects who may be blocked in their current organization.