Last week, the distinguished Jessica Quiroli shared comments on several Rays minor leaguers made by a scout. On Jacob Faria, the scout said,
We actually will be in the position to have to protect him this year. He has nothing really plus. He knows how to get guys out and that's his best asset. He knows when to use which pitches. Good 2-seam fastball. That's his best pitch and he knows that.
My emphasis intrigued me. Are the Rays about to face a 40-man roster crunch?
Here are the players on the 40-man roster or 60-day disabled list that are under contract, eligible for arbitration or under team control for 2016:
Right-handed pitchers (13)
Left-handed pitchers (8)
That is already 39 players, though non-tenders could definitely be in the future for someone like Daniel Nava or Jake Elmore.
Going back to Faria, the high school picks from the big 2011 draft need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason or the Rays risk losing those players in the Rule 5 draft. In 2011, the Rays were probably hoping for this crunch, because it means they hit on their draft picks. Here are those players they have to make decisions on:
High school picks, 2011 (6)
RHP Jacob Faria
OF Tyler Goeddel
RHP Taylor Guerrieri
IF Jake Hager
3B Patrick Leonard
LHP Blake Snell
In this group, I think Guerrieri and Snell are locks. Of course, Snell may even already be on the roster by the time the offseason rolls around.
If Faria and Leonard aren't locks, I would put the odds of them being protected around 99 percent. After a slow start, Leonard is performing in Double A and is back at third base, which improves his value. Faria is also performing after his midseason promotion.
Goeddel, I think, is more likely than not to be protected. He has been a steady performer, starting strong in April every year and playing just okay the rest of the way. In his two seasons with Bowling Green, he posted OPS' of .706 and .701. With Charlotte in 2014, his OPS was .757, and this season with Montgomery is .755. Although he was moved from third base to the outfield, he has the athleticism to play all three outfield spots, and he can probably fake it at third base if needed for a short time.
Hager is a real wild card. He is missing the entire season after knee surgery. His .692 OPS with Montgomery in 2014 was just okay, and if his athleticism is seriously impacted by his knee issues, I am not sure what his role could be on a major league roster in 2016. A shoulder injury also limited him in 2013 with Charlotte.
College picks from the 2012 draft will also be Rule 5 eligible for the first time. Shaffer would be in that class if he was not already added to the roster, but the Rays still have some decisions to make.
College picks, 2012 (4)
RHP Dylan Floro
C Luke Maile
OF Boog Powell
OF Joey Rickard
Powell has hit a bit of a road block since his promotion to Durham, but he still owns a .358 on-base percentage. His speed, plate approach and feel for contact would make him a target in the Rule 5 draft were he not protected.
Floro is a tough call. His peripherals are again better than his sky-high ERA, so a statistically inclined team that values defense could be interested. Of course, his current organization is a statistically inclined team that values defense. I don't know if a team would take him in the Rule 5 draft with the intention of using him as a starter, but a strike thrower and groundball guy pitching multiple innings in relief can help a team.
The rest are up in the air. In her piece, Jessica also has a less than flattering quote on Maile. After nice campaigns in 2013 and 2014, he has not hit at all in 2015. However, he is very good behind the plate. Teams are clearly willing to look past poor bats if a catcher can catch, but they also do not have a great track record in the Rule 5 draft. I would not be surprised if he was left unprotected and was taken.
Rickard is performing well at two levels this season. He has always played all three outfield spots and provided speed on the bases, but this season, he is suddenly hitting. I'm not sure if his ceiling is any higher than that of a fourth or fifth outfielder, but an athletic player playing well in the higher levels could draw interest.
In addition, some players who have been eligible before but not taken may have improved their stock over the course of the season.
RHP Jeff Ames
UT Taylor Motter
Ames is probably still in the weeds in Rule 5 discussion, but he has been very good since a midseason promotion to Double A. In 19 innings with the Biscuits, he owns a 27.4 K% and 8.2 BB% after not pitching well at all for Charlotte. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery has limited him in the past, but if a team remembers his amateur days and is encouraged by his performance, he could be in play.
I had actually forgotten Motter was available in last year's edition and went undrafted. He got off to a slow start for Durham, but he's now hitting even better than last year. With his bat and defensive versatility, I can't imagine the Rays would leave him unprotected again.
I cannot imagine the Rays would actually add all 12 of these players to the 40-man roster, but they are likely in the discussion.
A way to get around the roster crunch and the possibility of losing players the team values is making trades. Last offseason, the Rays traded Joel Peralta and Adam Liberatore to the Dodgers for Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris. They subtracted a player already on the roster (Peralta) and a player that needed to be on the roster (Liberatore) and added one player on the roster (Dominguez) and another that they did not have to worry about for a while (Harris).
The Rays are likely looking at another busy winter.