Like we do every year, it's time to prepare the Yankees for the Rule 5 Draft again. This year, players drafted out of high school in 2011, drafted out of college in 2012, and signed as an international player during the 2011-2012 signing period are eligible for the draft for the first time. Teams have until Friday to set their 40-man roster and protect the players they want to keep. Right now the Yankees are at 38 players, so unless they remove others from the roster, they will be able to protect two players.
The Yankees would have had a real challenge on their hands this offseason, if they hadn't already added several players to the roster during the season. Greg Bird, Luis Severino, and Rob Refsnyder were all safe bets to be added regardless, but Nick Goody and James Pazos made it on the roster based on in-season needs. Vicente Campos was also added back onto the 40-man roster. There remain several players who could be protected by Friday:
3B Miguel Andujar - The third baseman is young and has good tools, but he hasn't put much together yet. He's declined offensively over the last three seasons and is nowhere close to being major league-ready, so he's probably safe.
1B/OF Tyler Austin - Now that they have outrighted him off the major league roster, Austin is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. After struggling to the point of a demotion in 2015, the Yankees aren't going to put him on the 40 again. Also, considering he had to pass through waivers, it would seem no other teams thinks he's worth much time.
SS Abiatal Avelino - There's at least a tiny chance the middle infielder could be a utility player in 2016, since he can play both shortstop and second base, but he'd have to take a huge leap to become a viable option. He's so far away that no one is taking him, so he can just be added during the season if the need ever arises.
RP Johnny Barbato - Coming to the organization in the Shawn Kelley trade, Barbato has been eligible for the draft last year, but was not selected. He reached Triple-A this season and dominated in limited time, making him a very good candidate to be protected as a major league-ready reliever. Then again, he's a reliever in a system filled with his kind, so he could be considered expendable over another candidate with a more useful role.
1B/3B Dante Bichette - He just had the worst season of his career, the Yankees are not protecting him.
OF Jake Cave - As a top prospect in the system, Cave definitely sits among the top candidates to be taken in the draft. It would be an easy choice to protect him, if the depth chart wasn't already teeming with middling outfielders like Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Dustin Ackley, and Aaron Hicks. Cave projects as a future fourth outfielder-type with good defense and a solid line drive approach, making him ripe for the taking. Maybe the Yankees could keep him if they made someone on the roster disappear soon.
SS Cito Culver - Somehow, someway, Cito Culver managed to reach Triple-A without getting released or being converted into a pitcher. While there is absolutely no reason to protect him, there's at least a non-zero chance his defensive prowess could earn him a future as a utility infielder like Brendan Ryan. Imagine a world where a team actually takes him, though.
SP Rookie Davis - Perhaps the most likely candidate to be protected this year, Davis had a solid breakout season in 2015. While he's likely to start the year back in Trenton, he could get pushed up to the majors at some point, depending on the team's needs. Regardless, you can expect him to be relevant in 2017 as a potential sixth starter in the rotation. He's the only player here I think the Yankees absolutely have to hold on to.
SP Dietrich Enns - Similar to Chase Whitley, Enns was converted from lefty reliever to lefty starter and looked to be thriving before getting hit with Tommy John surgery. The timing of it never cost him a full season, but he's going to be 25 and still hasn't pitched in Double-A. He should hit the upper levels in 2016, but someone could see him as a major league-ready reliever right now and they can worry about his ability to start later.
OF Ben Gamel - International League player of the year, Gamel played out of his mind last season, unfortunately, it doesn't make up for the remainder of his nondescript career. People say he's changed a lot, but given that Cave is above him on the depth chart and they don't have room for any more outfielders, he's probably not getting protected. A team could take him as a potential fourth outfielder, but there's no guarantee he would stick.
RP Taylor Garrison - Becoming a starter wasn't as easy for Garrison as it turned out to be for Enns. Demoted in 2014 and missing time due to injury in 2015, he's not going to be much of a concern to the Yankees.
SP Chaz Hebert - Finally getting the attention he deserves now that he's a healthy and pitched a full season, Hebert pitched well at High-A and even spent some time in Scranton. He should start the year in Double-A and could really make an impact in 2016 or 2017. At 23, he's kind of one of those tweeners who you could see getting protected or getting taken by a team willing to let him try and fail. He'll likely remain with the Yankees, but we'll see what happens.
RP Mark Montgomery - Remember him? He's still rattling around the organization between Double-A and Triple-A and there doesn't seem to be any indication he will be given a shot any time soon. I understand he's lost some of his stuff since his shoulder injury, but he's still getting the numbers you want to see. Maybe someone takes a chance on him to see if he can make it, but I doubt the Yankees will lift a finger to stop them.
2B Tony Renda - Once an interesting prospect before his atrocious defense cratered his value, Renda is 24 in Double-A and not getting protected by the Yankees. If Rob Refsnyder's defense is not good enough for them, Renda certainly won't be getting a shot anytime soon.
RP Evan Rutckyj - He never seemed like a person of much consequence, but a move to the bullpen turned him into an intriguing left-handed reliever. Rutckyj could start the year in Triple-A and ride the express back and forth from the bigs, but he's probably not going on the 40-man roster until he's absolutely needed.
There are plenty other players who are eligible this year, but most of them you've either never heard of or don't matter at all. The Rule 5 Draft takes place on the last day of the Winter Meetings on December 10, so we'll have almost another month to discuss who the Yankees should have protected and who they could take (if they decide to leave a roster spot open). Who do you think the Yankees should protect?