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Which prospects will the Rays protect ahead of the Rule 5 draft?

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Forecasting Rays 40 man roster additions

MiLB: OCT 18 Arizona Fall League Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first key date in the Major League Baseball offseason comes on Nov. 20 — the deadline to add prospects to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.

The Rays’ 40-man roster will sit at 37 once Jose Alvarado is activated from the 60-day injured list. Johnny Davis and Hoby Milner were outrighted from the roster, and Travis d’Arnaud, Avisail Garcia, and Eric Sogard will be removed when they become free agents.

The Rays already did a lot of heavy lifting in July, sending out Andrew Velazquez, Christian Arroyo, Hunter Wood, Joe McCarthy, and Adam Kolarek to open up spots on the roster.

This winter, we’ll also see how the new 26-man roster affects the Rule 5 draft and 40-man roster management. On one hand, having an extra active roster spot will make it easier for a team to keep a Rule 5 draftee, but on the other hand, teams will have one fewer spot to protect a player who probably isn’t immediately expected to be a major league contributor.

This could make it easier for a team that isn’t really trying to win to keep a Rule 5 pick, but it could make a different type of prospect available, as we see teams need depth to be able to call upon now and not a year or two in the future. There will still be some space to keep prospects that aren’t expected to be contributors in the immediate future, but the spots will become more limited.

Locks to be protected

IF Vidal Brujan: Brujan split the season between Class A-Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, hitting .277/.346/.389. He doesn’t have a lot of power, but he hits for contact (14.2% strikeout rate) and has elite speed. He was successful on 48 of 61 stolen base attempts (78.7% success rate), and he showcased that speed in the Arizona Fall League, posting the second-best home-to-first time. If the middle infield becomes too clogged, it’s expected his speed would allow him to move to center field.

C Ronaldo Hernandez: Hernandez got off to a slow start and finished with a .265/.299/.397 line with Charlotte. He didn’t strike out much (15.2%), but also didn’t walk much (4.0%). He has a very aggressive approach but can barrel the ball with the best of them. His double with an exit velocity of 113.0 mph was the hardest-hit ball of the AFL. Hernandez’s improvement behind the plate was the most promising development of the season. He has a strong arm and has gotten better as a framer.

Likely to be protected

IF/RHP Jake Cronenworth: Cronenworth had a great season at the plate for Triple-A Durham, hitting .334/.429/.520. He hit 10 homers and stole 12 bases. He’s a contact hitter with a good idea of the strike zone. He posted a 15.3% strikeout rate and 12.1% walk rate. His overall line is inflated by a .382 BABIP. Defensively, he has mostly played shortstop but has also moved around with time at second base and third base. He could be a fine utility infielder, but where he showed even more promise was on the mound. At the University of Michigan, Cronenworth played second base and was the Wolverines’ closer. He returned to the mound in the middle of the season and showed a 95-97 mph fastball with a plus slider. However, due to a hamstring injury, he was only able to throw 7 13 innings with nine strikeouts and eight walks. The stuff looked good, and I foresee him making an impact at the major league level.

LHP Cristopher Sanchez: The 22 year old posted a 2.26 ERA in 75 23 innings with 73 strikeouts (23.7%) and 26 walks (8.4%). Sanchez typically threw 2-4 innings with 2-3 days off between outings. This was a breakout season for the 6’5 lefty. A year ago, his fastball consistently sat in the low 90s, peaking around 92. This year that exploded to 94-97. His breaking ball of choice is an 87-89 slider and an inconsistent changeup around 85 as his third offering. He’s likely a reliever at the major league level, and the increased velocity helps his case.

1B/3B Kevin Padlo: After suffering a broken hamate in 2017, Padlo had a disappointing 2018. He’s a fly-ball hitter who struggled in the Florida State League environment. In 2019, the power returned, and he hit .265/.389/.538 between Montgomery and Durham. He hit 21 homers, including nine in 155 Triple-A plate appearances. There is a swing and miss in his game (26.9% strikeout rate), but he combines it with on-base skills (15.7% walk rate) and power (.274 ISO). Padlo is likely battling with Mike Brosseau for a roster spot.

Might be protected

These players have a chance to be taken but will likely need to be exposed due to 40-man roster constraints.

SS Lucius Fox: Fox hit .230/.340/.342 in Montgomery in 431 plate appearances and struggled in a cup of coffee with Durham. Fox hasn’t developed even below-average power at this point. Speed is his game with 39 stolen bases. He’s likely to start the year in Triple A, but his game looks similar to former Ray Mallex Smith. Speed on the bench is a skill that can be leveraged and makes him a potential Rule 5 selection.

LHP Kenny Rosenberg: Rosenberg threw 134 innings at Montgomery with a 3.29 ERA and 3.98 FIP, posting a 19.5% strikeout rate and 9.9% walk rate. Only 16 of his 25 appearances came as a starter, but he consistently threw 5-6 innings an outing regardless of role. His fastball sits 90-92, and his offspeed weapon of choice is a high-70s curveball. He likely is a reliever at the major league level. The Rays don’t have room to protect him, but somebody else might be interested.

OF Garrett Whitley: Whitley was the No. 13 pick in 2015 draft. He missed the whole 2018 season after having shoulder surgery that spring. He was rusty this year, but there were things to like about his season. He hit 10 homers and stole 16 bags with Charlotte. He hit .226/.339/.412. Swing and miss has always been a problem, but that became worsened in 2019 with a 37.1% strikeout rate. His 14.1% walk rate was a career best. Due to the missed year of development, Whitley likely isn’t a real candidate to make the 40-man roster until next winter, but due to pedigree and the power he showed in a tough environment, somebody might take the gamble on his upside.

OF Moises Gomez: Gomez had a breakout 2018, but had an unspectacular 2019 season. He hit .220/.297/.402 with Port Charlotte (A+). On the plus side his 16 homers were tied for third most in the Florida State League. His batting average plummeted along with a rise in strikeout rate (33.5%), but his walk rate did improve (9.8%). A year ago I would have expected him to be closer to a lock. At the mid-season updates he was ranked 10th by Baseball America and 12th by MLB.com among Rays prospects. He could be a casualty of the 40 man roster crunch and could be taken in the Rule 5 draft, but another year of development before adding him to the roster would be more beneficial for the Rays.