The Rays are facing a 40-man roster crunch like none they have experienced in 2018, with several prospects who will need to be added in order to protect them from being snapped up by other organizations, per MLB rules.
For those unfamiliar, prospects with enough years of service time can be stolen away by other teams in the Rule 5 draft. In order to keep from losing them, a team must add them to the 40-man roster. There are several players in the Rays organization who are eligible but are not currently protected:
Triple-A Durham Bulls
1B/OF Jake Bauers (No. 5 system; No. 72 overall)
LHP Kyle Bird
UTIL Ryan Brett
RHP Diego Castillo
RHP Yonny Chirinos (No. 19 system)
OF Johnny Field
OF Cade Gotta
INF Jake Hager
RHP Brent Honeywell (No. 1 system; No. 11 overall)
INF Patrick Leonard
INF Kean Wong
LHP Ryan Yarbrough (No. 23 system)
Double-A Montgomery Biscuits
C Nick Ciuffo (No. 25 system)
RHP Greg Harris
UTIL Grant Kay
C Justin O'Conner
RHP Jose Mujica
UTIL Michael Russell
INF Ryan Unroe
UTIL Andrew Velazquez
OF Justin Williams (No. 10 system)
High-A Port Charlotte Stone Crabs
LHP Genesis Cabrera (No. 16 system)*
OF Tommy Milone
LHP Travis Ott
RHP Michael Santos
Low-A Bowling Green Hot Rods
C Jonah Heim
*Cabrera signed late with the org in 2013 and may have an additional year of protection
UPDATE 10/31 7:55 AM: I’ve been told that it is understood that Genesis Cabrera won’t be Rule 5 Eligible this winter.
Included above in parentheses are MLB.com system and overall rankings, as of October 2017.
Brent Honeywell, Jake Bauers, Justin Williams, and Diego Castillo are the most obvious must-protect. The top two are generally considered Top 100 prospects. Williams is coming off a great season in AA where his progress has put himself in this category. Castillo ended the season as the closer for the Bulls and has the chance to be an impact reliever.
Nick Ciuffo will be eligible and his left handed bat has become playable with a good defensive profile, and is now a two-time Rays minor league defensive player of the year. It’s likely a choice between Casali and Ciuffo for the third catcher roster spot and I expect that to be claimed by Ciuffo.
Genesis Cabrera is next in line as the best remaining prospect and I think is really close to the must-protect status, if the rules apply. He might not need to be protected since he signed in late 2013. If he wasn’t assigned to a team that year this decision gets pushed down the road. Matt Eddy of Baseball America wrote about Luiz Gohara’s rule 5 eligibility last year in a similar situation. Gohara was signed on August 14 and the Rays signed Cabrera on November 11. Hopefully he doesn’t need protection and the Rays have a free roster spot.
Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Travis Ott, Greg Harris, and Kean Wong are reasonable protection targets. Pitchers — especially close to the majors — are always popular targets in the draft. If the choice was mine, I would protect Yarbrough and Ott among this group. Chirinos is a reasonable choice and a guy I would expect to lose if you can’t make the room.
The Rays will likely add six to nine players to protect from the rule 5 draft, and those they cannot find room to protect will likely be included in trades in the upcoming off-season, because several of the players above could easily have major league projections, even those not included on the Rays Top-30 prospect list.