As the roster currently sits, the Yankees have 37 players on their 40-man roster. Some things will inevitably change between now and the rule five though, so it is likely the Yankees will be able to protect more than five players by that time. They could drop some players off the 40-man, like Garrett Cooper, Chasen Shreve, Caleb Smith, Giovanny Gallegos, Brian Mitchell, Ronald Herrera, or Ben Heller. They could trade some guys currently on their 40-man roster to make more room, like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dellin Betances, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, or Kyle Higashioka in addition to the guys mentioned above. Lastly, they could trade any one of the guys below to avoid the issue of protecting them all together. This would be similar to what they did with Ben Gamel, and they got some excellent pitching prospects out of the deal (Juan De Paula and Jio Orozco).
The point is, it’s not black and white that the Yankees can only select five players from the list below. There are definitely more than five players on this list that the Yankees need to protect. If they don’t, they will lose a couple of them in the rule five draft. Something’s gotta give or they will lose these players for nothing. They lost Torrens for nothing last season, and no one wants to see a repeat of that.
Obvious protect candidates
1. Gleyber Torres – 6-foot-1, 175-pounds, 20-years-old, SS – Arguably the best prospect in the minor leagues right now, Torres is a must protect. He will likely be a huge part of the 2018 Yankees. This is a real no brainer. I’m not going to spend any more time talking about this because there is no way he doesn’t get protected.
2. Domingo Acevedo – 6-foot-7, 250-pounds, 23-years-old, SP – Acevedo is a no brainer as well. He was really good across three levels last season, and threw 133 innings. He had 142 K, a 3.25 ERA, and just 34 walks. If the Yankees don’t protect him, he is as good as gone. He has an upper 90’s fastball, a killer changeup, and a slider that has come a long way and is getting better every day. It’s a starter mix until he proves he can’t start. There is no chance the Yankees leave him unprotected unless they trade him.
3. Albert Abreu – 6-foot-2, 175-pounds, 22-years-old, SP – There is also no chance Albert Abreu is left unprotected. He is an upper 90’s pitcher with potential #2-#3 starter stuff, and he’s only just begun. He had an abbreviated season due to injury this year, but he ended off with good numbers. In 53.1 innings, he had 61 K : 18 BB and a 3.38 ERA. With a high 90’s fastball, an upper 80’s slider, and a changeup that fades he’s a commodity and another potential front-end starter. There is but one choice here. Protect him.
4. Thairo Estrada – 5-foot-10, 185-pounds, 21-years-old, SS – Perhaps the least no brainer of the no brainers, Estrada flies under the radar better than any prospect in the Yankees’ system. The fact remains that he is one of the most valuable prospects they have. Estrada has a lot going for him. He is a good fielder at shortstop and multiple other positions (second, third, outfield). He can barrel the baseball with the best of them and has gap power. The hit tool is off the charts, and he has leadership in spades. He played extremely well this year as a 21-year-old in Double-A. If he is left unprotected, there is no chance he doesn’t get selected in the rule 5. Therefore, the Yankees will protect him. To me, it’s a slam dunk.
Say goodbye if you don’t protect these guys
1. Jonathan Loaisiga – 5-foot-11, 165-pounds, 23-years-old, SP – He only threw 32.2 innings this season, but he also threw some innings at instructs. This is a guy who sits mid 90’s and hits 98 mph. He has a plus curveball and rapidly developing changeup. He only played in Staten Island this year, so he has no track record. To draft a guy from the short season leagues in the rule 5 would be an unprecedented move, but in this case will probably happen if the Yankees don’t protect him. Just ask the Yankees what happened last time they left a guy unprotected because he was in the lower minors and they thought he would not got selected. His name is Luis Torrens, and he now plays for the San Diego Padres. Loaisiga has the talent to be in a major league bullpen now. The Yankees have a real talent on their hands here and it would be a shame to lose him for nothing. I think they will find a way to add him to the 40-man roster this offseason.
2. Jake Cave – 6-foot-0, 200-pounds, 24-years-old, CF – He was just added to the 40-man roster yesterday, which means he cannot elect free agency. In fairness, he doesn’t belong in this article because he would not be exposed to the rule 5 draft if not protected, he would be a free agent. He is still a guy who has to be protected though, and the Yankees made the move to put him on the 40-man roster yesterday. This past year he had a career year, hitting .305/.351/.542/.893 with 20 homeruns, 26 doubles, five triples, and 115 K in 103 games. He put himself on the map this year and would have almost certainly been signed by another team if left off the 40-man roster. There will still be a dilemma for the Yankees when the time comes to set their rosters before the rule 5 draft, as there are several other players who the Yankees will lose if they leave unprotected. They will either have to free up space or decide whether Cave is worth keeping ahead of the other players on this list.
3. Billy Mckinney – 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, 23-years-old, OF – He is in a very similar situation as Cave as a guy who had a career year this year to put his name in this conversation. He hit 16 HR, 29 doubles, and seven triples while hitting .277/.338/.483/.821 this year in 124 games. He struck out 94 times. Something seemed to click for him mid-season and he took off from there. Now he will have to be protected or he will be drafted in the rule 5. This is a good problem to have, but a tough one to deal with.
4. Raynel Espinal – 6-foot-3, 199-pounds, 26-years-old, RP – Espinal had a career year over three levels this year, with a 1.45 ERA and 93 K in 74.1 innings from Low-A to Double-A. He only walked 15 all season. If he is not protected, someone will definitely take a flier on him and see if he can stick in their bullpen for the full year. He has a 94 mph fastball with big movement. He has developing secondary offerings but the fastball is so good all he needs are show me pitches to complement it. He is on the bubble for whether or not the Yankees will protect him, but if they don’t Espinal is as good as gone.
5. Anyelo Gomez – 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, 24-years-old, RP – Gomez is in a similar situation as Espinal as a reliever who had a career year. He had a 1.92 ERA over four levels (Low-A through Triple-A) and had 87 K in 70.1 innings with 21 walks. He has a mid-90’s fastball with decent secondary offerings as well. If the Yankees don’t protect him, someone is likely to scoop him up. He’s currently on the bubble for the 40-man.
6. Nestor Cortes – 5-foot-11, 205-pounds, 22-years-old, SP/RP – He’s versatile, he’s accurate, and he’s had tremendous success in the minors. This past year, he had a 2.49 ERA in 104.2 innings with 105 K : 32 BB. He’s not a guy with high velocity, as he sits in the 90 mph range. He does have excellent secondary pitches and hits his spots consistently though. He would be useful to many teams as a swing man/spot starter in the mold of a Vidal Nuno. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be space on him on the 40-man roster this year, and that means the Yankees are likely to lose him to a team in need of bullpen help or a 5th starter.
7. Jose Mesa Jr. – 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, 24-years-old, SP – Behind the scenes the Yankees have been flirting with the idea of making Mesa a starter for about three years now. In 2017 they finally decided to pull the trigger mid-season, and the results were fantastic. Mesa completely owned the competition while starting in both High-A and Double-A. He finished the year with a 1.93 ERA and 101 K in 84 innings, while walking just 32. He also threw a five shutout inning playoff game after the season was over. He has a 95-98 mph fastball, a slider, changeup, and curveball. He’s in line for about 120 innings next season. He’s got the kind of talent that doesn’t get passed over in the rule five draft. Most teams would probably take him as a reliever right now.
Outside shot at getting taken if you don’t protect
1. Colten Brewer – 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, 25-years-old, RP – Brewer was converted to a full-time reliever this year and the results were really good. He had a 2.82 ERA and 89 K : 16 BB in 60.2 innings. He has a 92-95 mph fastball that can hit 96, and has a curveball and changeup which are average. He really struggled in his limited taste of Triple-A last year, so it is unlikely he will be taken in the rule 5 draft this year. A team could take a flier on him though. Stranger things have happened.
2. Abiatal Avelino – 5-foot-11, 205-pounds, 22-years-old, SS/2B/3B – Avelino is running out of years to become a legitimate starting prospect, but he already ranks as a good utility prospect. He can play multiple positions and holds his own with the bat. He even has a little bit of speed. This year he hit .254/.304/.356/.660 while playing every position in the infield over three levels. He also had 11 SB in 98 games. It is unlikely he gets swiped but I wouldn’t be shocked if a team in need of a utility backup took him and gave him a shot to make the team out of Spring Training. I doubt he’d stick all year but nothing would surprise me after last year.
3. Cale Coshow – 6-foot-5, 270-pounds, 25-years-old, RP – Coshow had an up and down year but he finished strong. He ended up with 76 K : 24 BB and a 3.75 ERA in 60 innings this year. He improved his walk rate significantly from last season, but he’ll have to improve yet again this year to be a consideration for the major league bullpen. The thing is, with his stuff if he does improve his location he could be a force in the pen. His fastball averages 96-97 mph and can hit 100. He throws a cutter which is a solid secondary pitch, and he has a slider and a changeup which are average offerings. A team could take a flier on him much like the Rockies did with Tommy Kahnle a couple of years ago. Didn’t turn out well for them, but it did for his next team, the White Sox.
4. Stephen Tarpley – 6-foot-1, 220-pounds, 24-years-old, RP – Tarpley is a lefty reliever and has a pulse, which automatically makes him likely to get taken in the rule 5 draft. This year he missed time from injury but threw 41 innings. He had 42 K : 18 BB and a 0.88 ERA in relief. More of a low-90’s type guy with good secondary stuff. He has a two-seam fastball that has good sinking action. He also has a curveball, changeup, and slider. He can hit 94-95 mph at times and is a strike thrower. Given the current roster construction, I can’t see him getting protected. If some trades are made though, he’s certainly on the list of candidates. He is definitely a guy who could get sniped, in fact he probably will. The problem is the Yankees just don’t have enough spots to protect a guy like him.
5. Mike Ford – 6-foot-0, 225-pounds, 25-years-old, 1B – Ford is probably going to be left off the 40-man roster, and he will probably go undrafted. Unfortunately for him he profiles as a backup first baseman type, and there doesn’t seem to be a huge market for that right now. In fact, there are very few teams, if any, that have a need for a player like him. He deserves a ton of recognition for the season he had though, hitting 20 homeruns with 24 doubles and a .270/.404/.471/.875 batting line. He has the rare combination of a great contact approach, exceptional patience, and solid power. If he played a different position he might already be in the majors. With Greg Bird, Garrett Cooper, and Chris Gittens ahead of him, he might be best off in another organization, although I’m not sure which one.
6. Nick Green – 6-foot-1, 165-pounds, 22-years-old, SP – We’ve seen players get taken in the rule five draft from Low-A, but it doesn’t seem likely Green would be one of them. It also doesn’t seem likely that the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster next season. He threw 126.1 innings this season and struck out 112 while walking 39. He finished the year with a 4.49 ERA. He has really good stuff, and next year if he can make a few minor adjustments he could fly through the system.
Long shots, clearly non protect candidates
1. Mason Williams – 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, 26-years-old, CF – It’s hard to believe, but this was Williams’ 7th season with the team. This means if they don’t protect him he is a minor league free agent. Thus he will be a minor league free agent. It will be interesting to see if another team gives him a chance this offseason, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
2. Eduardo Rivera – 6-foot-5, 190-pounds, 25-years-old, RP – He throws it 98-100 mph, but he has just never had the control to advance in the system. Nothing changed this year, and he pitched the whole season in Staten Island. He’s not a protect candidate, and the likelihood he gets taken in the rule five is almost zero.
3. Dan Camarena – 6-foot-0, 210-pounds, 24-years-old, SP – He is in a similar mold to Nestor Cortes, only less successful. Still, he pitched decent this season and is lefty, so that’s something. He finished the year with a 3.65 ERA and 78 K in 118.1 innings pitched and just 31 walks. He’s a high-80’s, low-90’s fastball lefty with excellent secondary stuff. He might find success in the majors, but I don’t see the Yankees giving him a chance given the talent ahead of him, and he doesn’t throw hard enough for the bullpen. Couple that with the fact that the Yankees already have a “better version” of him with Cortes and you can’t protect this guy. It’s unlikely he gets drafted in the rule five, but as a lefty with his stuff you never know.
4. Gosuke Katoh – 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, 22-years-old, 2B/3B – He hit .293/.376/.440/.816 with 20 doubles, three triples, and six homeruns in 84 games. He also stole 11 bases. He did this in High-A. This was a big turnaround season for him but it’s not enough to make the Yankees protect him, and not nearly enough for a team to take a chance on him in the rule five draft. It still turned his career around though and put him back on the map. Hopefully he follows it up with another big one.
5. David Palladino – 6-foot-8, 235-pounds, 24-years-old, RP – Palladino finally broke out this year, but it was a short year innings wise. He had 27.2 innings pitched and had a 38 : 4 K : BB ratio with a 0.98 ERA. He finished the year in High-A. He’s got a mid-90’s fastball, and could be a relief option down the line. He’ll have to start moving fast though. It is highly unlikely he gets taken in the rule five.