The Yankees will be debating who to protect in December’s Rule 5 Draft with more intensity this time around.
Players have been lost and returned over the past few years – pitcher Ivan Nova and outfielder Jake Cave for example – and one has even stuck, as reliever Tommy Kahnle, taken in 2013, grabbed a roster spot with the Colorado Rockies (now with the White Sox) in 2014.
Cave almost made the Cincinnati Reds roster in 2016 after being taken in December 2015, but was sent back to the Yankees and is Rule 5 eligible again this year after returning to a system loaded with outfielders which already traded Ben Gamel.
The Yankees have cleared roster space already, as relievers Blake Parker and Kirby Yates were waived and picked by the Angels, reliever Anthony Swarzak declared free-agency as did infielder Donovan Solano and outfielder Eric Young Jr. after both were outrighted to Scranton.
Here are the key Rule 5 eligible candidates in the Yankees system and what we believe the club will do with them. This is just our view, and certainly can change in the next several weeks with trades and other moves:
IF Jorge Mateo – He had his issues with a suspension that cost him a spot in the 2016 Futures Game, and there has been talk he could be traded, but the Yankees certainly will protect this talented prospect in Rule 5.
IF Miguel Andujar – Good guy who hustled at Trenton after he got there in 2016. His fielding needs to improve, but given he is the top 3B prospect in the system – there has been talk of moving Glyber Torres there in Trenton in 2017 – he likely will be protected.
OF Jake Cave – Given the presence of OF Dustin Fowler, the guess is Cave will be left unprotected.
IF Cito Culver – His fielding, and a bat that showed better in 2016, may earn protection. It also may not. Culver could go either way.
C Kyle Higashioka – After a breakout season with 21 homers and 81 RBIs, earning the praise of Yankees talent guru Gene Michael, the Yankees announced last week Higashioka would be protected and added to the 40-man roster.
LHP Dietrich Enns – After going 14-4, 1.73 in 135 innings, Enns will be protected. A crafty southpaw who is a converted reliever. He can either start or relieve.
LHP Tyler Webb – Has velocity and potential as a late-inning reliever. Maybe yes. maybe no.
RHP Brady Lail – One of our favorites and a serviceable starter. Can see him getting a chance with another organization.
RHP Ronald Herrera – Still young at 21, with superb control. Can see Yankees protecting him over Lail. Combined on a no-hitter in Trenton.
RHP Giovanny Gallegos – Another reliever with potential. Whether or not he is protected will come down to how he compares with other right-handed bullpen options.
Those are the key players who will be exposed. Higashioka certainly earned his 40-man spot with his breakout season. The feeling here is Lail could get caught in the numbers game and Cave will be exposed. Both could benefit from a chance with other organizations. RHP Mark Montgomery, who has seen better days, can be left unprotected easily.
The players we feel definitely need to be protected are Mateo, Andujar, Enns and Herrera, who was obtained from San Diego for Jose Pirela and has an advanced approach to pitching.