The 2015 Rule 5 Draft has come and gone and the Yankees lost Jake Cave and Evan Rutckyj in the major league portion of the event. In order to protect these players, organizations can put them on their 40-man roster and keep them safe, but it doesn't mean they have to wait until the Winter Meetings to do it. The Yankees put several eligible players on their 40 during the season, including Greg Bird, Nick Goody, Rob Refsnyder, Luis Severino, and James Pazos, because they were going to have to add them in the offseason anyway. In 2016, the Yankees will do the same, so who will it be this time around?
If you include the players they protected after the 2015 season–Johnny Barbato, Ben Gamel, and Rookie Davis–the Yankees protected a total of eight players. In 2016, they just may hit that number again. There are plenty of players who will be eligible, but given their age or level of play, they won't need to be protected from the draft. Names like Ty Hensley, Michael O`Neill, Luis Torrens, Domingo Aceves, and a few others, won't be going anywhere, but I have counted six players that are worth considering:
3B - Eric Jagielo, AA: Jagielo would have a better chance of reaching the majors if he didn't have knee surgery, but if he proves himself to be healthy, his bat will propel him through the system. While there are many questions surrounding his defensive future, the Yankees' lack of depth at third base could force them to use Jagielo at the hot corner if Chase Headley ever went down with an injury. It's a long shot, but in this scenario they'd probably be desperate.
OF - Aaron Judge, AAA: As close as he is to a major league debut, it's hard to see the Yankees promote him unless he has a chance to play every day. Maybe someone gets injured or, like Greg Bird, they just need to inject the lineup with a better bat, but there's definitely a chance he ends up as a September call-up, if anything. He's going to need to hit better at the Triple-A level than he did last year before he gets a shot in the majors.
SP, Ron Herrera, AA: Acquired in exchange for Jose Pirela, Herrera might be more useful than the Yankees second baseman could ever be. His numbers don't exactly jump out at you, but if you consider the fact that he's only 20 and has already face Double-A hitters, the right-hander is doing something right. His ceiling might be as an innings eater, but that still has value over the length of a long season.
SP - Brady Lail, AAA: Lail is one of the few pitchers in the upper minors who looks like they at least have a future in the majors. He's kept his ERA low, eaten a lot of innings, and maintained command, but he's a below average strikeout pitcher, likely stemming from his tendency to pitch to contact and get ground balls. If he's called up in 2016, it'll be as a spot starter somewhere in the Bryan Mitchell category of players. Hopefully he can do more.
SP - Caleb Smith, AAA: He's gone under the radar over the last few seasons, finally reaching the top 30 prospect list. As a starter he might peak as a backend innings eater, but if he's given a chance in the bullpen, Smith could become a real weapon. My guess is he could become something like an Adam Warren/David Phelps starter/reliever hybrid, finding a way to be effective in both roles.
LHP - Tyler Webb, AAA: Limited in 2015 after a hand injury, Webb pitched well in the Arizona Fall League and should get an invite to big league spring training. Now that the Yankees have traded Justin Wilson, there's room on the team for a lefty specialist, which he, Jacob Lindgren, and James Pazos will be in contention to fill. Regardless of who wins the job, we should see him at some point if he continues to pitch well.
Jorge Mateo will also be eligible for the draft next offseason, but give his age and distance from the majors, the Yankees can afford to wait for the offseason before they add him to the roster. There is just no way the Yankees call up Jorge Mateo during the season with Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, and even Tyler Wade, in the picture right now.