The Rays depth in the minor leagues facing them with tough decisions regarding who should be added to the 40 man roster.
The last two seasons the Rule 5 Draft has seen the departure of Tyler Goeddel, Joey Rickard, and Oscar Hernandez, with a Rays prospect being taken with the first overall selection of the Rule 5 draft in each of the last two seasons.
Rays Radio has released a list of potential rule 5 eligible players that the Rays could protect. November 18 is the deadline for adding players to the 40 man roster to protect players from the draft.
Who is eligible?
This broad question can be broken out into tiers:
Tier 1: Who are the no doubt must protect top prospects that are eligible?
Willy Adames - The 21 year old shortstop was the major prospect in the David Price trade, and is coming off a very successful season at AA where he hit .274/.372/.430 with a 135 wRC+. He hit 11 homers and stole 13 bases. He’s the unanimous number one prospect in the Rays system.
Chih-Wei Hu - The 23-year old right handed pitcher that found his way in the Rays farm system last July when the Rays sent Kevin Jepsen to the Twins. Baseball America recently ranked him as the Rays #5 prospect, and in their podcast said he’s a strong candidate for the back end of their Top 100. Hu had a breakout season with a 2.61 ERA over 155 innings and 25 starts (24 in AA and one spot start in AAA). He struck out 18.8% of batters and walked 6.5% of batters on the season.
Tier 2: Who are the guys the Rays need to protect that are probable MLB contributors in the short term?
Daniel Robertson - The 22 year old shortstop was received as the major piece in the Ben Zobrist trade with the Athletics in the 2014 off-season. Robertson put together a strong season as a 21 year old in AA in 2015 that was cut short by a fractured hamate bone. His 2016 wasn’t what you would hope, but it generally takes about a year for power to return after a broken hamate. He finished the season with a strong final 55 games by hitting .264/.378/.378 and a 123 wRC+ as the power started to return.
Jaime Schultz - The 25 year old right handed pitcher will probably find his home in the bullpen very shortly. He had a solid season at AAA where he pitched 130.2 innings of 3.58 ERA in 27 starts. He features a high strikeout rate (29.5%) and walks more than you would like (12.3%). In another system he might be given more time to make it as a starter, but he’s behind a fair number of minor leaguers with no major league opening in sight. Somebody will take him in the Rule 5 and use him in the bullpen if he’s left unprotected.
Ryne Stanek - The 25 year old right handed pitcher was the Rays first round pick in 2013 features a 100+ MPH fastball as a reliever. He moved to a multiple inning reliever role on June 8th. Between AA and AAA he threw 42.1 innings in 23 relief outings and struck out 23.0% of batters faced, but also walked 10.9% of those batters. He put up a 1.18 WHIP and 3.83 ERA. He’s likely to see a call up sometime in 2017 as a reliever.
Tier 3: Who should the Rays consider protecting that could be selected in the Rule 5 draft?
Johnny Field - The soon to be 25-year old outfielder out of the University of Arizona can play anywhere in the outfield. In time split between AA and AAA he hit .273/.322/.453 and 121 wRC+ with 12 homers and 18 stolen bases. Field is likely to stick somewhere as a fourth or fifth outfielder that hits left handed pitching. In 2016 he hit .321/.374/.482 in 123 PA against left handed pitchers.
Austin Pruitt - The 27-year old right handed pitcher out of the University of Houston posted a strong season in AAA. He threw 162.2 innings over 28 starts with a 3.76 ERA. He saw his strikeout rate spike to 22.7% while lowering his already well above walk rate to 4.1%. He’s a guy that I would definitely see a team that’s rebuilding that could take a shot and throw him in the rotation and see if he sticks, or use him as a long man in the bullpen.
Hunter Wood - The 23-year old right handed pitcher out of Howard College (Big Spring, Texas) was a 29th round pick by the Rays in 2013. In 2016 Wood put up strong results split between A+ and AA. He threw 117.1 innings over 19 starts with a 2.84 ERA. He struck out 23.0% of batters while walking 9.8% of batters. He missed some time due to a broken thumb when he was hit by a line drive. He’s a guy you can easily hide in the bullpen as a long man for a year and either keep him there or return him to the minors as a starter in 2018.
Yonny Chirinos - The 22-year old right handed pitcher was aggressively promoted after starting the season in Bowling Green (A) and saw significant time at Port Charlotte (A+) and Montgomery (AA). He pitched 129.1 innings in 29 appearances including 17 starts with a 3.41 ERA. He was building off a professional high of 79.1 innings in 2015, so his move to shorter outings out of the pen to close the season was likely a strategic move to limit his innings. He doesn’t strike out a lot of batters (15.5%), but he doesn’t walk many batters either (3.0%).
Jose Alvarado - The 21 year old left handed relief pitcher possesses a 100+ MPH fastball. Between A+ and AA he threw 70.1 innings over 37 outings with a 3.06 ERA. He struck out 27.2% of batters, but his 17.6% walk rate makes Enny Romero look like a control pitcher. He has a big fastball so it wouldn’t surprise me for somebody to select him in the Rule 5 draft. He might not stick if he’s walking almost 1 per inning, but it’s not overly difficult to hide a pitcher in the bullpen.
Tier 4: Who is eligible, but likely won’t be selected?
Andrew Velazquez - The 22-year old middle infielder was one of two pieces the Rays received from the Diamondbacks in the Jeremy Hellickson deal during the winter of 2014. In 2016 he repeated at his minor league level, but the results went backwards. He hit .262/.313/.308 and 84 wRC+ with one homer and eleven steals. I wouldn’t expect him to be taken, but after the Diamondbacks took Oscar Hernandez before even reaching A+ some team could take him and use him on the bench as a utility infielder in they trust in his long term development.
Chris Kirsch - The soon to be 25-year old left handed pitcher was the Rays 2012 14th round pick out of Lackawanna College (Scranton, Pennsylvania). Kirsch threw 145.1 innings over 25 starts for Montgomery (AA). His 18.5% strikeout rate and 9.2% walk rate aren’t special, but they aren’t bad.
Mike Marjama - In 2014 the Rays acquired the 27-year old former Cal State - Long Beach catcher for cash considerations from the White Sox. He hit .288/.341/.442 and 127 wRC+ in AA. He’s old for the level or the minors in general, but he’s a catcher.
How much space do the Rays have on the current 40 man roster?
The Rays 40 man roster currently sits at 37, but who could the Rays DFA or release to make room? This is where we start getting into matters of opinion.
Of the 17 position players the candidates to be removed are C Bobby Wilson, C Justin O’Conner, and UT Ryan Brett. They could also choose to remove INF Tim Beckham and UT Taylor Motter if they feel their days in the organization are over after the way the season ended.
Of the 20 pitchers the candidates are relievers RHP Dylan Floro, RHP Eddie Gamboa, RHP Ryan Garton, and RHP Steve Geltz. LHP Enny Romero could be another candidate as he’s out of options and had an awful season with his control. I think they won’t do it before seeing what he looks like in spring training as if he puts it together with even a below average walk rate could be an asset in the bullpen for cheap.
What moves should the Rays make?
The Rays should add Willy Adames, Chih-Wei Hu, Daniel Robertson, Jaime Schultz, Ryne Stanek, Johnny Field, and Hunter Wood. After adding seven players the 40 man would sit at 44.
To compensate, the Rays should cut C Bobby Wilson, C Justin O’Conner, UT Ryan Brett, and RP Steve Geltz to put it at 40. The relievers next in line to be cut should be Dylan Floro, Ryan Garton, and Eddie Gamboa, and in that order, when the Rays make additions throughout the off-season.