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Rays prospects and the Rule 5 Draft

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Top prospects will have to be protected, but how far down the list teams will have to protect is unknown.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The next major roster decision deadline for Major League Baseball teams comes November 20. Teams must decide which prospect they want to protect from the Rule 5 draft.

Like most things in 2020 the Rule 5 draft sets up to be much different than normal. Minor League Baseball didn’t happen in 2020, so unless a player was designated for a team’s Alternate Site and 60 man player pool nobody really has seen eligible players for about a year including the player’s parent club.

The Tampa Bay Rays have seen many players selected in the Rule 5 in recent years, but the most memorable misstep remains to be the failure to protect Josh Hamilton over a decade ago. Despite only having 55 plate appearances in A+ after having missed three full minor league seasons due to suspensions, the former number one overall draft pick was selected and became an All-Star, despite the uncertainty of missed playing time.

It’s not quite as extreme as the Hamilton situation, but having everybody miss a full season leaves a lot of uncertainty. Top prospect types will need to be protected because somebody will be willing to give them a shot, but how far down a list does that go?

Must Protects

The 60 man player pool for the Rays in 2020 should give us some clues about who they intend to protect.

Many of the 2020 player pool prospects still aren’t Rule 5 eligible, including notable names like Shane Baz, Joe Ryan, Wander Franco, and Esteban Quiroz. All of them with the exception of Quiroz would be automatic inclusions if they were eligible, but those decisions don’t need to be made at this time.

Only two Rule 5 eligible players from the player pool have survived roster cuts to this point in Taylor Walls and Josh Lowe, and that inclusion means they are locks for the 40-man roster this year.

Josh Lowe is an outfielder who was selected by the Rays with the 13th overall pick in the 2016 draft and is the younger brother of Rays first baseman Nate Lowe. Josh Lowe should be an easy choice to protect for the Rays as he is a unanimous top 10 prospect in the system and a borderline top 100 overall prospect.

Taylor Walls was a third round pick out of Florida State University in 2017. The switch hitting shortstop is a contact oriented defense first prospect. He has hit well in the minor leagues to this point and should get the opportunity to fill an utility infielder role off the bench. He should be protected. He became the Rays defensive player of the year in 2019, and is expected to be a major leaguer.

The Unknown

This is where the decisions get far less clear and with the Rays only having one open space on the 40 man roster as things sit right now with some clear additions needing to be made from outside the organization at catcher for every addition you need to remove somebody. There is some filler at the very bottom of the roster, but there isn’t much fat left to trim.

Moises Gomez is a rawer hitter with upside. He hit 16 homers for Port Charlotte in 2019. Coming into 2019 he was a popular breakout prospect, but had some struggles. The power is real, but the plate discipline is a work in progress. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft and wasn’t taken, so I think he is a safe exclusion this year.

Ryan Boldt is an outfielder that was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. Dating back to his high school days when he has been healthy he has been productive and physically impressive. Staying healthy has been the problem and 2019 was no exception as he underwent Tommy John surgery. This seems like a long shot, but if a team needed a fifth outfielder he might be worth a shot. He will be difficult for the Rays to protect due to space.

Paul Campbell was a 21st round selection in the 2017 draft. Campbell managed only 39.0 innings spread across three years at Clemson University. Despite the lack of innings in college he threw 233.1 innings in just over two seasons in the minors. In 2019 he logged 144.2 innings. In this year’s Rays prospect list write up at FanGraphs Eric Longenhagen wrote, “Campbell, 24, has what would be the highest fastball spin rate on The Board if his FV merited being on there, at a whopping 2700 rpm. He also has elite curveball spin, though he had a forearm issue this spring.” This sounds exactly like the type of arm the Rays would bet on.

Drew Strotman was drafted in the fourth round in the 2017 draft out of St. Mary’s College in California. Strotman underwent Tommy John surgery early in 2019, so he would’ve missed most of 2020 regardless. At his best he paired a 93-97 mph fastball with an above average curveball and slider. Reports are he was looked very good during the recent Instructional League. It would be really surprising if somebody took the gamble on Strotman, but having some time to rehab in the minor leagues makes it easier to keep him, so in the right situation I could see a team take a shot.

Phoenix Sanders was a tenth round selection in the 2017 draft out of the University of South Florida. Sanders has put up good results with middling stuff. He seems like a long shot for the Rays to protect as he is very similar to guys they pick up as Minor League free agents.

Tyler Zombro was undrafted out of George Mason University in 2017. He came out of nowhere to be one of the most talked about guys in Spring Training 1.0. He has an interesting background that includes working for Research and Devlopment Baseball out of Washington DC. He reviews video and analytics of pitchers in order to help players improve and more on that can be found at Rays Radio. He deserves a chance someday, but if he does not have a future in the Major Leagues as a player, it sounds like there will be an easy transition to coaching.

Conclusion

The Rays are looking to win today and don’t have much space available in their 40 man roster. There are guys who could be added under different circumstances, but my expectation is the only additions will be Taylor Walls and Josh Lowe.

The Rays tend to make a surprise addition or two. If the Rays end up holding to form my expectation is that will be Paul Campbell.