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Rays Rule 5 Deadline: Five hitters to protect or trade

Tampa Bay Rays v Atlanta Braves Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images

As is the case every off-season, the well stocked Rays system has various prospects that are strong contenders for a major league roster, and Tuesday Nov. 14 is the deadline to protect those prospects by putting them on the 40-man roster.

In other words, trades could be incoming! Ahead of tonight’s deadline, here are five hitters the Rays will need to consider for protecting or trading.

Heriberto Hernandez, OF

Projecting as a DH for a roster like the Rays, MLB Pipeline rated Hernandez as the Rays “hardest roster decision” ahead of the Rule 5 deadline.

Acquired from the Rangers as part of the Nathaniel Lowe trade in December 2020, Hernandez has some of the best power and exit velocities in the Rays system. But he also hit just .249/.376/.411 with 13 homers as a 23-year-old in Double-A and doesn’t offer much defensive value.

Kameron Misner, OF

Misner has reported to major league spring training three years in a row, even though 2023 was his first season at Triple-A, where he put up a 107 wRC+ in his age-25 season where he struggled mightily against left handed pitching. The result is a projection in the long side of a platoon, if a team has a need. The Rays did not protect Misner in last year’s Rule 5, and may not do so this year either.

Shane Sasaki, OF

Sasaki has hit well at every level since being drafted in 2019, but has come up for the Rule 5 draft earlier than many peers as he is only 23 years old. To test his mettle, the Rays put Sasaki in the Arizona Fall League and thus far he has performed about average in that group with a .681 OPS (50th among hitters this year).

Austin Shenton, 1B/3B

A corner infielder with power finally developing, Shenton is entering his age-26 season and seems ready for a major league opportunity, or at least placement on a 40-man roster. Shenton, once acquired from Seattle in 2021, is an ideal trade candidate given the plethora of corner infielders already on the Rays roster.

Willy Vasquez, INF

The highest ranked prospect on this list at MLB Pipeline, Vasquez isn’t a slam dunk to be a major league regular just yet. For instance Pipeline says he’s a Top-10, 6’3” short stop, Baseball America has him as a 6’2” third baseman, and FanGraphs has him as a Top-20 6’0” center fielder. Regardless, he’s been just average at the plate in A-ball for the last two seasons, (since his 2021 breakout season) so it’s unlikely he’s getting claimed this year, but the power and glove still give him a major league projection someday.

Honorable Mentions

If a Rule 5 player is going to survive on a major league roster, they have to be very flexible and the Rays have several utility style hitters who can fit that need. In particular, infielder Ronny Simon (speed, SS defense) and Tanner Murray (hit tool projection, traded twice) are names to watch.

Also intriguing is Matt Dyer, who was a catcher in Double-A that the Rays sent back to High-A to work on outfield defense. I don’t think he’s getting taken in the Rule 5, I just wonder what’s going on.