The deadline for teams to protect players from the annual Rule 5 Draft is rapidly approaching this Friday. The Yankees currently have a full 40-man roster and an interesting mix of players who would become prime candidates to be selected by teams around baseball in the Rule 5 Draft. Over the last two seasons, the Yankees have lost three players through the major league portion of the draft including Garrett Whitlock, who became the most reliable Red Sox bullpen piece this past season. Let’s take a look at the players who the Yankees may be protecting, trading, or risking to the Rule-5 process in the coming days and weeks.
First, a quick refresher on the Rule 5 Draft. Teams are allowed to keep players in the minor leagues for a set period of time before they either have to be added to the 40-man roster or exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, which is the last official event of the annual Winter Meetings held in December. Players who were signed at age-18 or younger in 2017 (most high school draft picks and international free agents) are now eligible, as well as players who were age-19 or older when they were signed in 2018 (mostly college draft picks).
Another arm that jumped on the teams radar this past season was Stephen Ridings. The Yankees signed him after his time spent working out with strength and conditioning coach Eric Cressey in the offseason. Ridings added significant velocity and control from him previous minor league stops with the Cubs and Royals. He was called up in early August and allowed just one earned run in five innings pitched before being sent down.
Stephen Ridings, 100mph pic.twitter.com/oAOipR5clQ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 4, 2021
Due to the nature of his big league promotion related to COVID protocols, the Yankees were able to remove Ridings from the 40-man roster when he was sent down. He finished the minor league season on the injured list with an elbow injury, but showed tremendous potential during the season with a triple-digit fastball and good complimentary pitches as well.
Coming into the season, Oswaldo Cabrera had never hit more than eight home runs in a season, but he quickly demonstrated that he was more than a light-hitting middle infielder. Following a slow start, Cabrera was especially impressive after returning from the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in early June. He hit .285/.340/.570, with 26 homers over the final 97 games he played, including an incredible hot streak to finish the year at the Triple-A level.
Oswaldo Cabrera is on fire.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 1, 2021
The @Yankees’ No. 16 prospect has 4 homers in 8 games for the @swbrailriders, this one traveling 434 feet. pic.twitter.com/7p7yeiHJID
Few players were hitting home runs at a faster clip than Cabrera down the stretch, but one of them was center field prospect Everson Pereira. The 20-year-oldstarted his season in mid-June as part of the Florida Complex League but quickly rose through the ranks. By the time his season was done, he’d clubbed 20 home runs in just 188 at-bats.
On the season, Pereira hit .303/.398/.686 across three levels that ended in High-A. With a strong enough arm to play any outfield position, he’s a valuable young prospect.
Taco opuesto!— HV Renegades (@HVRenegades) September 18, 2021
Everson Pereira with the dinger! pic.twitter.com/cMLXmPcK5r
Finishing one level ahead of Pereira is another center fielder coming off a strong season in Brandon Lockridge. Known as one of the fastest players in the Yankees system, Lockridge hit .328/.382/.557, with 10 home runs in 43 games for Double-A Somerset. The Yankees’ fifth-round pick from 2018 has developed the power and speed game that they envisioned when they selected him in the draft.
Another player who finished at the Double-A level for the Yankees from the 2018 draft was catcher Josh Breaux. The second-rounder hit 23 home runs in just 90 games while catching for both High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset. Breaux’s carrying tool is his power, and he has reportedly become a solid pitch framer behind the plate. If the Yankees leave him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, he is likely to be selected based on his upside and potential.
Breaux, are you serious?— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 11, 2021
Josh Breaux (@Big_Boshy) CLOBBERED three dingers for @HVRenegades. pic.twitter.com/3GOvwOteHu
The Yankees have a significant number of arms who are candidates to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if not protected. Most notable among those is Matt Sauer, who the Yankees selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. After losing almost all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery, he returned in 2021 to pitch 111.1 innings at Low-A and High-A. He posted a 4.69 ERA, but also struck out 10.3 K/9 on the season. There has been a strong reliever risk with Sauer from the time he was drafted, and possibly a team will see his ability to miss bat while banking on another level of improvement as he moves further past his Tommy John procedure.
Ron Marinaccio recorded 14.2 K/9 in 66.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this past season. He was a lights-out reliever at both levels and had a 0.935 WHIP. Another player pitching out of the Scranton bullpen this year was Greg Weissert. The Fordham University product has been rated by Baseball America for two years in a row as having the best slider in the Yankees system. This year, he posted 1.64 ERA over 49.1 innings.
Right-handed pitcher Jhony Brito reached the Double-A level, posting a 3.55 ERA in 116.2 innings pitched in total on the season. He has precise control with a 1.6 BB/9 rate that is among the best in the Yankees system. The Yankees selected Matt Krook in the minor league portion of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, and he was really strong down the stretch for Scranton, allowing just two earned runs in his last 33 innings, while striking out 37 hitters. The big left-hander has scouting reports comparing him to Zack Britton based on his high ground ball rate and raw stuff.
Other arms like Shawn Semple and JP Sears both struck out over a batter per inning while climbing to the Triple-A level. Talented but not fully established arms such as Braden Bristo, Barrett Loseke and Tanner Myatt have flashed nasty stuff, though they also have questions about their ability to stick for a full season on the major league roster.
Two names that may have the Yankees concerned right now are Andres Chaparro and Anthony Garcia. Neither player has reached the upper levels of the system yet, but they have tools that could be desirable to other teams. Chaparro has walked over 12.8 percent of the time in his last two seasons and he recently displayed his improved power by crushing one of the hardest-hit balls of the AFL season with a 117-mph double. Garcia is known for having the best power in the Yankees system and he slashed .306/.444/.678 with 14 home runs in just 39 games this season. He is a major project, as he strikes out over 30 percent of the time, but he showed massive improvement this past season and is Rule-5 eligible.
The Yankees have a number of tough decisions to make regarding the Rule 5 Draft and the players to protect. In the coming days, the team is very likely to make some trades rather than risk losing a player with no return value. Even if a player is selected in the Rule 5 Draft, they could be returned to the Yankees, as players such as Nestor Cortes Jr. and Mike Ford in the past.
This past season was very successful for the Yankees minor league system, and the result is that there are talented players who will end up being exposed. It’s a good problem to have, and the team will be looking to make the most out of it.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post indicated that Randy Vasquez was Rule 5 eligible this year, but as it turns out, he is not. Good news for the Yankees, given his resurgent 2021 campaign.