With the completion of the 2020 season, a new batch of players have reached the point where they have to be added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster or left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Players entering free agency have opened slots on the 40-man, but after a year with no minor league season, it won’t be easy to decide who needs to be protected. So, which Yankees prospects might be worth shielding in the Rule 5 Draft?.
First-time eligible players this season will be anyone who joined the organization at age 18 or younger in 2016, or who was at least 19 when they joined the organization in 2017. For example, 2017 draftee Clarke Schmidt would have needed to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason if the Yankees had not added him to their roster in early September. Last season, the Yankees saw Rony Garcia — a 2015 international signee — taken with the first pick of the draft by the Detroit Tigers.
The Yankees currently have four open spots on the 40-man roster to protect their young prospects. Pitchers are a frequent Rule 5 Draft target, and the Yankees have several eligible for the first time this season. Despite previous spending excesses limiting them to signing bonuses of $300,000 or less during the 2016 international signing period, the team found a trio of quality arms that have blossomed into the ranks of the organizations top prospects.
Alexander Vizcaino signed with the Yankees a few days before his 19th birthday in May 2016. With most of the best international prospects signing at age 16, it is rare for teams to find top prospects in the market at his age. Built and using mechanics similar to Domingo German on the mound, he has developed into a serious prospect currently ranked eighth in the Yankees’ system by MLB.com. Vizcaino is widely considered by scouts to have the best changeup in the organization and was invited to the Yankees’ alternate training site this summer.
A large spike in velocity prior to the 2019 season saw Yoendrys Gomez go from a decent prospect to one of the best in the Yankees’ system. Touching 98 mph with a fastball that he can locate at the top of the zone made his sharp curveball even more effective. He is the type of live arm who the Yankees are not going to want to leave exposed.
Roansy Contreras is currently MLB.com’s No. 19 Yankees prospect and pitched the entire 2019 season at Low-A Charleston while just 19. Considered more polished than some of his peers at that level, he excelled down the stretch for the RiverDogs. He was last seen pitching to a 1.80 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in his final 11 starts of 2019.
During the 2017 amateur draft, the Yankees focused heavily on college pitching, taking 12 college pitchers in their first 19 picks. That group was headlined by Clarke Schmidt, but Trevor Stephan exploded out of the gate and was the third player from the 2017 draft class to reach the Double-A level. He has struggled since then, even being demoted to High-A Tampa during the 2019 season. He did finish the year on a strong note, throwing a perfect game and notching a 0.67 ERA over his last five outings. It was a good enough showing for him to return to the Double-A level by season’s end.
Many evaluators though Garrett Whitlock was heading back to college after battling injuries during his 2017 college season. The Yankees grabbed him in the 18th round and he quickly rose through the organization, reaching Double-A Trenton by 2019. He was pitching well when he went down with Tommy John surgery in June of that year. Fully recovered and with extra time to manage his rehab, Whitlock has a career 2.41 ERA as a professional with a low walk rate and high ground-ball rate.
During the 2020 season, the Yankees brought in Addison Russ from the Phillies in exchange for David Hale. He completed the season at the Yankees’ alternate training site in Scranton. A 19th-round draft pick in 2017 he recorded a higher K/9 (12.86 to 11.84) and lower BB/9 (3.18 to 4.25) than Brooks Kriske, who the Yankees added to the 40-man after last season, when he became eligible.
Brian Keller was Rule-5 eligible last offseason but not selected, after struggling in his small sample at Triple-A in 2019. Overall, he has a 3.22 ERA in 386 minor league innings. He did not come to the alternate training site with the Yankees, but was told by the Yankees that he was “probably the next pitcher up.”
The top prospect for the Yankees who will need to be protected is shortstop Oswald Peraza. Due to the canceled minor league season Peraza has not played above Low-A Charleston. He rocketed up prospect rankings in 2019, as both the Yankees and external evaluators saw an impressive set of tools and improved performance. Even with the impressive tools, Peraza hit just .263/.332/.340 on the season between two levels. He is ranked as a top-10 Yankees prospect by several organizations.
By November 20th, the Yankees will have to decide which players they are adding to the 40-man roster. Those eligible and not protected will be left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, where they could be selected to the major league roster of any team in baseball. The Yankees will not want to lose quality talent for nothing, so they will be using their best judgment to protect their young players.