There’s one day left for this year’s edition of the winter meetings, which can only mean one thing: it’s almost Rule 5 Draft time. With the league having done away with its August waiver trade deadline, the Rule 5 Draft stands as the most esoteric piece of the MLB calendar. What does it mean for a player to be selected? Who’s even eligible to be taken? It’s all a bit of a puzzle, one that involves each team solving their own particular 40-man roster conundrums.
Any player who signed with their team prior to turning 19 must be added to the 40-man roster within five years of signing, or else become eligible for the Rule 5. Players who signed at age-19 or older must be added within four years. Should a club select a player in the draft, that team must place that player on their 26-man roster and keep him there for the duration of the season. If the acquiring team wants to send the player to the minors, the player must be placed on waivers, and then offered back to the original team.
It’s a pretty cumbersome, opaque process, but it does serve at least one player-friendly purpose. The Rule 5 Draft prevents talented prospects that deserve a chance at the big leagues from being stashed away in the systems of deep teams for too long. Teams like the Yankees, that often have both deep farm systems and loaded big league rosters, can’t hide away players like, say, Garret Whitlock for too long, as the Rule 5 allows the possibility that they’ll be poached away by a team with 40-man roster space.
While the Yankees are unlikely to see the Whitlock situation, in which a quality right-hander was taken by a direct rival and immediately saw major-league success, play out again, they do still have some talent left exposed in this year’s edition of the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at the end of the winter meetings on Wednesday. Who was left off the Yankee 40-man, and thus could plausibly be stolen away by another club?
We’ll start with first baseman Andres Chaparro, who former PSA prospect guru Dan Kelly says is a lock to be taken in the Rule 5. One look at Chaparro’s stat line is enough to explain why he’d be an attractive target. The 23-year-old first baseman broke out in 2022, running a .296/.370/.592 slash line with 20 homers in 71 games.
Yet Chaparro has yet to take an at-bat at the Triple-A level, and scouts question whether he’ll be able to catch up to true major league velocity. As a pure corner infielder, Chaparro’s bat is his only route to producing in the bigs, so it’s easy to imagine the slugger struggling if forced to leap from Double-A to the majors next year. This could turn into a Mike Ford situation, as the former Baby Bomber spent the majority of 2018 spring training with the Mariners after being picked in the Rule 5; he was ultimately returned to New York and had a productive 2019.
Catcher Josh Breaux was the Yankees’ second-round pick in 2018, and is ranked as the club’s 20th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. Known for his prodigious strength, Breaux has flashed power in the minors, slugging .461 as a prospect, but hasn’t shown much in other areas of his game. He owns a sub-.300 career OBP, and he’s never been renowned for his receiving. He did play 41 games at Triple-A in 2022 and didn’t look overmatched, so he is reasonably close to the bigs. If an opposing team feels they can polish Breaux’s defense into something resembling average, or curtail some of the swing and miss in his game, they could take a chance on him at the MLB level.
Just before Breaux, the Yankees took another catcher, Anthony Seigler, in the first round in 2018. A strong athlete, Seigler tantalized as a potential contact-hitting, plus-fielding catcher, but his bat has yet to play in the minors. The 23-year-old has hit .226/.373/.346 on the farm, hinting at impressive plate discipline but an inability to drive the ball. Opposing teams could bet on a talented athlete that could stick at catcher, but the fact that he’s yet to reach Double-A could scare clubs off.
On the pitching side, most vulnerable might be right-hander Matt Sauer. Signed to an overslot deal as a second rounder in 2017, Sauer came to the Yankees with a big arm but underwent Tommy John in 2019. He returned for a full season in 2021, and reached Double-A in 2022, though his numbers for the year (109 innings with a 4.54 ERA, 134 strikeouts versus 42 walks) were more fine than great. The 23-year-old did flash with one of the minors best performances of the season, a 17-strikeout gem in August:
With a mid-90s fastball, a potentially plus slider, a usable change, and a sturdy 6-foot-4 build, Sauer has the tools to start in the bigs. Any team that selected him would be betting that Sauer would take a step forward another year removed from elbow reconstruction, as he has yet to produce consistent results at any level.
Outfielder Brandon Lockridge is as fast as any player in the minors, and brings a quality center field glove to the table. But after a breakout 2021, the 25-year-old stalled in 2022, running a .230/.300/.378 line in Double-A. Had Lockridge’s bat held up and progressed to Triple-A, there would’ve been a very solid chance he’d be taken in this year’s Rule 5, particularly given his speed and defense could give him a clear role on a team’s bench. Now, he’s entering his age-26 season and hasn’t cleared Double-A, giving opposing clubs pause.
There are a handful more lower-profile arms that could possibly get popped. Zach Greene, 26, was the Yankees’ eighth-rounder in 2019, and had a fine 2022 with Scranton, running a 3.42 ERA in 68.1 innings, mostly as a reliever. Sean Boyle, also 26, covered a lot of innings in 2022, running a 3.71 ERA in 155.1 innings combined across Double-A and Triple-A. Both are proximate to the majors, even if they possess low ceilings.
Further from the majors but with more upside are Edgar Barclay and Juan Carela. Barclay is a soft-tossing lefty with an excellent changeup, and he just dominated High-A, albeit at 24 years old. The righty Carela has a live fastball and struck out 11 batters per nine in 2022, reaching High-A at age-20. Neither has worked in the high minors, but they stick out as among the more talented players the Yankees have left unprotected at the lower levels.
While it may not be particularly likely that any one of these players is selected, it’s probable the Yankees will see someone go in the Rule 5 Draft. The team perennially deals with a 40-man crunch, what with its contending major league roster and its farm system that is typically stocked with interesting minor league arms. The Yankees usually see a player or two get picked in the Rule 5 (and the minor league phase can’t be ignored either), and we’ll soon see whether this year is an exception.