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Looking ahead to the Yankees Rule 5 Draft roster crunch

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Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar headline a long list of Rule 5 eligible prospects.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Another major offseason milestone is rapidly approaching. On Friday, November 18th, teams must add Rule 5 eligible prospects to the 40-man roster or risk losing them in the draft. This date proves especially important for the Yankees, as they have a surplus of candidates and a finite number of roster spots.

The front office has its hands full with these selections. In all likelihood, the organization will lose a prospect or two. That’s the cost of business when you have a deep farm system. The Yankees just hope they don’t leave the wrong player exposed. To get an idea of the decision-making behind this, it makes sense to examine the crop of candidates and weigh the likelihood of their protection.

I’ve grouped the eligible players into three categories: the sure things, the maybes, and the likely unprotected. Some of these are easier than others since they would need to stick on a big-league roster for all of 2017. For each candidate, I’ve provided a summary of where they stand and a brief justification for their listing. Before getting down to business, however, here’s a quick primer on how the Rule 5 Draft works.

The Sure Things

Jorge Mateo - The 21-year-old shortstop had a disappointing year for High-A Tampa. He slashed .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with eight home runs and 36 stolen bases. He also was suspended by the organization for two weeks in early July for indeterminate reasons. That said, he currently ranks as the 18th best prospect in all of baseball. He’s a shortstop with 80-grade speed and shows potential with the bat. He gets protected.

Miguel Andujar - For all the talk about the deep farm system, Andujar sure seems to fly under under the radar. The 21-year-old third baseman had a solid but unspectacular 2016 campaign for Double-A Trenton. He hit .266/.323/.358 (89 wRC+). With just two home runs on the season, he has room to grow in the power department, but teams are already asking about Andujar in trades. He’s a safe bet to get protected.

Dietrich Enns - The 25-year-old southpaw starter returned from injuries to have a breakout season in 2016. He posted a 1.73 ERA in 135 innings, split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre. It remains to be seen if Enns remains a starter long-term, but another organization would definitely give him a try. The Yankees will probably give him a spot on the roster.

The Maybes

Jake Cave - The Yankees actually lost the 23-year-old outfielder to the Cincinnati Reds during last year’s Rule 5 Draft. He was returned after failing to make the Cincinnati 25-man roster after spring training. Cave hit .268/.330/.427 with eight home runs in 470 plate appearances between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees have a glut of outfielders in their system, which makes it unlikely that they protect Cave. The only pause I have is that if a player is selected in the Rule 5 Draft twice, they are eligible to elect free agency rather than return to his home organization. The Yankees would probably hate to lose Cave for nothing.

Brady Lail - The 23-year-old right-hander had a rough season in 2016. He posted a disappointing 4.62 ERA in 126.2 innings. That’s not exactly good enough to justify a roster spot at the moment. That said, he’s a starting pitcher who’s not too far removed from a strong 2015 campaign. Lail presents a tough case for the Yankees.

The Likely Unprotected

Mark Montgomery - Remember when Montgomery was going to be the next best Yankees relief pitcher? Now he’s 26 and spent 2016 bouncing around between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He had good numbers (2.56 ERA in 45.2 innings), but he’s prone to periods of extreme wildness. There’s just no room for Montgomery on the 40-man roster.

Tyler Webb - The 26-year-old southpaw reliever spent the entire 2016 season in Triple-A. He threw 72.2 innings for the RailRiders and amassed a 3.59 ERA. He’s a useful piece, but the Yankees face a serious roster crunch. I expect the Yankees to leave Webb unprotected, and he will likely get selected by another organization.

Giovanny Gallegos - Another victim of the crowded 40-man roster, the 25-year-old right-handed reliever had a very successful 2016 campaign. He owned a 1.27 ERA in 78 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He’s a major-league ready reliever, so he’ll probably get picked up in the Rule 5 Draft.

Ronald Herrera - The 21-year-old right-hander spent most of the season in Double-A Trenton starting rotation. He pitched well, too, posting a 3.75 ERA for the Thunder in 132 innings. That said, he’s not major-league ready so the organization doesn’t need to worry about protecting Herrera.

Luis Torrens - You couldn’t really have asked for a better bounce back season from Torrens, who returned from a labrum tear in 2016. The 20-year-old catcher hit .250/.350/.337 in 214 plate appearances, and cracked the Low-A Charleston roster. He’s still too far away from The Show to be considered in the draft and will go unprotected.

Rashad Crawford - After being acquired by the Yankees as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade, Crawford hit .291/.381/.364 with two home runs for High-A Tampa. The 23-year-old outfielder is a toolsy prospect, but he’s not major league-ready. He doesn’t have to be protected.

Cale Coshow - The 24-year-old pitcher posted a 4.03 ERA in 89.1 innings for Double-A Trenton. A team might take a chance on him because he’s a pitcher, but it’s safe to assume he goes unprotected and remains with the Yankees.

Tito Polo - The headliner of the Ivan Nova trade, Polo is a 22-year-old outfielder. He’s a legitimate prospect, but he’s only at High-A Tampa. He still needs a few years of development. Polo won’t be protected.

Stephen Tarpley - The second piece in the Ivan Nova trade, Tarpley is a 23-year-old pitcher in High-A. He has a long way to go before being major league ready, and therefore doesn’t require protection.

Who do you think the Yankees will protect? Who would you hate to lose in the Rule 5 Draft? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Note: The post originally included Domingo Acevedo, but he is not Rule 5 eligible.