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Yankees lose one pitcher, gain two in minors portion of Rule 5 Draft

Welcome to the Yankees, Manny Ramirez. Yes, really.

New York Yankees Photo Day
Farewell, Brian Keller
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There was once a thought that the 2021 Winter Meetings would mark a return to the status quo after the 2020 edition was one of countless events cancelled by the pandemic. However, the MLB owners locked the players out in early December and froze the ol’ transaction log, so we’re again in a weird state of flux. The annual Rule 5 Draft typically marks the end of the Winter Meetings, but this year, it’s just another teleconference on the virtual calendar. Furthermore, the MLB portion of the Rule 5 won’t take place until the lockout ends.

Minor league transactions have continued unabated though, as minor leaguers aren’t members of the MLB Players Association, and if they’re not on 40-man rosters, then they can still be moved around as teams see fit. So the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft proceeded as scheduled today and there was some activity on the Yankees’ end to report (especially since they entered the day with only 36 of 38 spots on their Triple-A roster filled). Under the rules of this part of the Rule 5 Draft, these players are now full members of their new organizations, albeit without being on the 40-man rosters.

The Yankees had the 24th overall pick, and they chose Steven Jennings, a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Pirates. He spent last season bouncing between the Pirates’ A-ball and Double-A rosters in Greensboro, Bradenton, and Altoona. A second-round high school pick in the 2017 draft, Jennings isn’t much of a strikeout guy, but he had a 4.99 ERA, 1.392 WHIP, and 2.6 BB/9 in 74 combined innings out of the bullpen in 2022.

Bronx-related activity was quiet until late in the second round, when the Red Sox took a page out of last year’s Garrett Whitlock/Kaleb Ort book and nabbed another Yankees minor league pitcher. This time, it was Triple-A Scranton’s Brian Keller, who had been in the organization since being taken out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the no-longer-existing 39th round of the 2016 draft. He pitched to a 2.77 ERA, 4.37 FIP, and 1.608 WHIP in 26 games (11 starts) and 55.1 innings last year. Keller didn’t exhibit much control (7.5 BB/9), but he did strike out over a batter an inning (10.6 K/9).

The very next pick, the Yankees made a splash by picking up Manny Ramirez. Get your jokes in now because they’re oh-so-easy! This Manny Ramirez isn’t a hitter savant though; instead, he’s a right-handed pitcher from the Astros’ organization. The 22-year-old Dominican has a live arm, as he fanned 126 batters in just 95.2 innings of work across low levels of the minors from 2017-19. Baseball America ranked him one of its Top 30 Astros prospects of 2019, but the downside is that Ramirez hasn’t pitched since then. The pandemic stranded him in the instructional league in 2020, and he missed all of 2021 with an undisclosed injury.

Dan will have more tomorrow on the players selected.