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Who should the Rays protect ahead of the Rule 5 draft?

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MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft is November 20th at 8 PM EST. The Tampa Bay Rays have historically taken every last second before announcing who they are going to protect.

Last year the Rays protected Brent Honeywell, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Jose Mujica, Ryan Yarbrough, Jake Bauers, and Justin Williams. This group had quite the impact on the 2018 Rays with only Honeywell and Mujica not playing for the major league team in 2018 with Honeywell only due to undergoing Tommy John surgery during spring training.

The Rays 40 man roster is already full, so there could be some minor trades or players who are at the bottom of the roster are designated for assignment. A major trade shouldn’t be expected before the deadline with PTBNL or cash considerations being the more likely returns.

This summer the Rays cleared some space in the Tommy Pham trade when they sent Justin Williams, already on the 40 man, along with Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez who are both eligible for the draft.

Brandon Lowe and Nick Ciuffo would’ve been eligible for the draft, but were added to the 40 man in the final months of the season.

What is the Rule 5 draft?

The Rule 5 draft occurs on the final morning of the winter meetings. In order for a team to be able to keep a drafted player they must stay on the 25 man roster for the full season after they are drafted or be offered back to the team he was taken from.

To be eligible a player needs to be with a team for four years if he was signed after turning 19 or five years if the player signed before turning 19.

Generally this will mean high school draftees from the 2014 draft will be eligible. College draftees from the 2015 draft will be eligible. Junior college draftees can fall on either side of the line if they are drafted one year after graduating high school depending on their age. International Free Agents that were signed at 16 from the 2014 signing period are eligible. But the age and timing will ultimately determine if a player is eligible for the draft.

The 2014 International Free Agent Class

The Rays haven’t typically gotten a lot of production from the IFA market. Recently this trend has been changing with the likes of Alex Colome, Yonny Chirinos, Diego Castillo, and Jose Alvarado producing for the big league club.

The 2014 IFA class looks like it could be the best class the Rays have ever signed. The Rays went over their spending soft cap and were limited to signings of no more than $300k a year in 2015 and 2016.

The Rays spent most of their money on Adrian Rondon for $2.95MM. Rondon was considered by many to be the top IFA prospect, but the rest of the class appears to be the real prize.

Baseball America wrote about the process of how teams are able to get an extra year before being rule 5 eligible if they are assigned to a team whose season has already ended. Specifically in this case when the Rays signed breakout catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez on August 9, 2014 he was assigned to the Rays Venezuelan Summer League team just after their season ended leaving him to not be eligible until next winter’s draft.

  • Adrian Rondon - July 2, 2014
  • Jesus Sanchez - July 2, 2014
  • Ronaldo Hernandez - August 9, 2014
  • Vidal Brujan - October 17, 2014
  • Resly Linares - September 10, 2014

Adrian Rondon and Jesus Sanchez will be rule 5 eligible from this signing period. Sanchez is a lock to be protected as a top 50 overall prospect that has spent half a year in AA. Rondon’s backslide since signing day will leave him exposed and not all that likely to be taken.

Ronaldo Hernandez, Vidal Brujan, and Resly Linares would present interesting cases if they were eligible, but fortunately they are not. All three spent the bulk of the season in Bowling Green, but recently we’ve seen guys get plucked from the lower minors like when the Arizona Diamondbacks took catcher Oscar Hernandez with the number one pick in the 2014 Rule 5 draft. Hernandez and Brujan will be in some top 100 lists, so they would likely have to be protected and as a pitcher Linares would have to be considered.

Players acquired from the draft and trade

  • Ian Gibaut
  • Brock Burke
  • Joe McCarthy

These three are the ones that should be protected.

Ian Gibaut will play a role in the major league bullpen at some point in the 2019 season.

Brock Burke split time between A+ and AA and could either start the season in Montgomery or Durham. Burke likely won’t contribute to the 2019 major league team due more to timing of pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, but you can never have enough pitching.

Joe McCarthy fell to the Rays in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB draft due to back surgery. All he has done is hit in the minor leagues. He was able to stay healthy until this year when he missed most of the season with reoccurring back issues. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League to pick up additional work, but his season ended after breaking his hand when he punched a wall. If McCarthy isn’t protected he’s a near lock to be drafted by somebody. His injury history might make it easier to keep throughout the 2019 season.

  • Kean Wong
  • Kyle Bird
  • Travis Ott
  • Sam McWilliams

Kean Wong is closer to falling in the same tier as McCarthy. Kean’s older brother Kolten Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals expressed his dissatisfaction with the Rays keeping his brother stuck in the minors. The problem is there is just too much competition for second base playing time. The Rays chose to give playing time and the roster spot to Brandon Lowe when Daniel Robertson went down for the rest of the season. That was likely Wong’s best shot as a member of the Rays organization. Wong was passed over in the Rule 5 draft last year, but don’t expect that to be the case after a second good showing in AAA. He deserves an opportunity somewhere, but there are just too many second baseman ahead of him and catching him with players like Nick Solak and Vidal Brujan closing in on the majors. This is why the Rule 5 draft exists. Wouldn’t be shocked to see Wong traded prior to the deadline.

Kyle Bird and Travis Ott are similar soft tossing left handers. Both started the season in Montgomery (AA). Bird and Ott were used as multi inning relievers. Bird was promoted to Durham (AAA) early in the season. Ott was promoted to Durham in September.

Sam McWilliams was one of the PTBNL in the Steven Souza Jr. deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. McWilliams was used as a traditional starter in Montgomery. He likely falls just short of being added. If the 40 man had less talent he is a guy that might have found his way on the roster.

Overall

The Rays are likely to protect Jesus Sanchez, Ian Gibaut, Brock Burke, and joe McCarthy. McCarthy seems to be the one that is most questionable, but would also be the most likely to be taken of the remaining players eligible.

For more on the Rays roster, which entered the week with a full 40-names, see my previous work here: