With the Rule 5 Draft coming up soon, the Yankees were forced to make decisions regarding their 40-man roster. Jason wrote about these upcoming choices the other day, and on Friday afternoon, the roster moves were announced. He said the one player the Yankees absolutely should protect was Rookie Davis, a Top 10 prospect and the second best righthanded pitcher in the organization. The Yankees obliged, and they chose to add two more players as well:
#Yankees add RHPs Johnny Barbato, Rookie Davis and OF Ben Gamel to Major League roster.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) November 20, 2015
Barbato is a 23-year-old righthanded reliever that the team acquired in the trade for Shawn Kelley last off-season, and after posting some good-not-great numbers over 26 games with Double-A Trenton (4.04 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 9.3 K/9), he really kicked his game into high gear upon a promotion to Triple-A. Barbato allowed just one run over the final 25 innings of the International League season with Scranton, striking out 26 batters in the process. One run in 25 innings is a 0.36 ERA, and that is pretty darn impressive, even in a small sample. The Yankees have a plethora of intriguing bullpen arms around the Triple-A level, and it would not be surprising to see Barbato get a shot at the majors some time in 2016. Jason called him a "very good candidate to be protected," and he was right on the money.
The Yankees had another roster spot open up when they lost starter Chase Whitley to the Rays. He was a modest addition to the MLB pitching staff over the past couple years, but after a hot start, he faltered. The 26-year-old righty likely ends his career in pinstripes with a 5.02 ERA over 28 games, 16 starts, and 95 innings. He hid an elbow injury from the team early on in the season and eventually needed season-ending Tommy John surgery. Whitley was expendable since the Yankees have a number of arms like him available in Triple-A to make swingman appearances at the big league level next year. So it goes.
The biggest surprise of these roster moves was that with Whitley's spot, the Yankees chose to protect Ben Gamel over Jake Cave. Prior to the 2015 season, this would have been an absolute shocker. Cave broke out in 2014 with a .294/.351/.414 triple slash in 132 games between Trenton and High-A Tampa, rocketing into some Top Yankees Prospects lists, and even earning some favorable comparisons to a young Brett Gardner. The 22-year-old outfielder never got into the swing of things in 2015 though, slumping to .269/.330/.345. That was still good for a 97 wRC+, and upon a move up to Scranton in his last week, he improved. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a disappointment after 2014's promise, and the Yankees chose to protect Gamel, the 2015 International League Rookie of the Year, over him.
Gamel was picked a year prior to Cave in the 2010 Draft, but he's only about half a year older. By contrast, he had a nightmare 2014 with a .261/.308/.340 batting line in Trenton, a meager 80 wRC+. He was left unprotected in last year's Rule 5 Draft. No one selected him. Bumped up to Scranton by other promotions in 2015, Gamel seized the opportunity. He was terrific all year long for the RailRiders, hitting .300/.358/.472 with 28 doubles, 14 homers, and a 138 wRC+, jumping back into the prospect picture.
So essentially, the Yankees had to compare two lefty hitting outfield prospects (each with 50 grade defense by MLB.com's measures) who were roughly the same age. They chose to take the player who both played at the higher level in 2015 and performed more effectively. Since neither really projects to be much more than a fourth outfielder, it was a logical choice. Fans will just have to wait and see if Cave sticks around, or if he gets claimed.
Regardless, congratulations to Davis, Barbato, and Gamel. Today was certainly a boon for their major league aspirations, and best of luck to them as they continue their organizational ascents.