Who to Protect from December’s Rule 5 Draft

Tomorrow, November 20th, is another important date for the Rays as they prepare for 2014 and beyond.  It’s the last day they can add players to the 40-man roster, or risk losing them next month in the Rule 5 Draft.

Here’s a simple way of explaining which players will not be protected unless they’re added to the 40-man roster:

-Players signed at age 19 or older and have played in four seasons

-Players signed at age 18 or younger and have played in five seasons

That would cover most college players drafted in 2010 or prior and high school / international players signed in 2009 or earlier.

If a player is taken in the Rule 5 draft, that player must spend the entire season in the majors, or be offered back to the team that had them initially.   A Rule 5 player can be claimed off waivers during the season, but the rules are the same: that they must remain on the major league roster of the team that claims the player.   When the Rays decide to protect a player, they’re considering a couple of factors.  First, how important is that player in the short and long term. Second, if he’s unprotected, how likely is that player to stick in the majors for the entire 2014 season.

Last year, these Rule 5 selections stayed in the majors the entire season:

TJ McFarland – Orioles

Josh Fields – Astros

Hector Rondon – Cubs

Ryan Pressly – Twins

Nate Freiman – Astros & A’s

Alfredo Silverio – Marlins

Angel Sanchez – White Sox

It’s easier for a team like the Astros, Cubs, Marlins, White Sox and Twins to keep Rule 5 players, because when not competing for a playoff spot, a team can absorb that risk and look at the long-term ceiling of that player.  It also allows that team to chance to avoid calling up another player who may not be ready.

For the Rays, looking long-term is essential, but this must be determined: is this a player that can contribute to a major league playoff team, not just a major league team.    Here are the key names to consider, in alphabetical order:

Vince Belnome: A line drive hitter who knows his strike zone, Belnome had a terrific first season in the organization. He was named Durham’s MVP.  While he hit only eight homers, Belnome did have 46 extra base hits and an impressive .408 on-base percentage.   What the Rays have to determine is not whether Belnome is going to be a major league player, but how much he can help a team that aspires to continue playing in the post-season.

Cole Figueroa: In his first big league camp he impressed Joe Maddon a great deal and had a solid season in Durham.  A more versatile and talented defensive player than Belnome, Figueroa hit .286 with a .361 on-base percentage, but only a .727 OPS.  That being said he struck out just 30 times in 519 plate appearances, while drawing 54 walks.  Bat-on-ball skills can be valuable to a team that at times will have to manufacture runs.

Todd Glaessman: Had a terrific 2012 season with the Charlotte Stone Crabs, and was named Minor League Player of the Year in the Rays system. Struggled in the 2013 Double-A season with Montgomery.  Hit .240 with a .667 OPS, only 11 HR and drew just 26 walks, compared to 110 strikeouts.  He also was limited in the Arizona Fall League due to injury.  Because of the struggles in Double-A and not playing much this fall, it would be unlikely for Glaessman to stick on an MLB roster for an entire year if left exposed to the Rule 5 draft.

Jesse Hahn: One of the toughest decisions for the Rays.  By all accounts, he showed electric stuff and the Rays have worked with him diligently as he battled back from Tommy John surgery, and then had this season cut short by injury.  When he was healthy, Hahn was spectacular, compiling a 2.17 ERA this year.  While pitching only 67 innings his stuff is dominant enough that it would be understandable if a team like the Twins, Cubs, Marlins or Astros would select Hahn if he were exposed.  That being said, Hahn has yet to pitch above High-A.

Merrill Kelly: Had his best season, going 13-10 with a 3.64 ERA between Montgomery and Durham.  Knows how to pitch, but doesn’t possess dominant stuff.  Kelly allowed 21 base runners in 11 innings in the Arizona Fall League.  Teams may be less apt to select Kelly if he’s left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, because of his performance against the game’s top prospects.

Braulio Lara: Hard throwing lefty was taken by the Marlins last year in the Rule 5 draft, but returned to the Rays, where he pitched in relief for a full season for the first time in his career.  With Montgomery had an OK year, allowing 111 base runners in 72 innings, striking out only 53 while walking 43.    He had a 1.88 ERA in the second half, but also walked 22 in 38.1 second half innings.  The lefties currently working out of the pen in the majors are Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos and Alex Torres, with Jeff Beliveau among those already on the 40-man in the minors.

Adam Liberatore: Spent the entire season in Durham, his first full year there, and had a real solid year.  He’s left-handed, which works in his favor, but also hasn’t pitched in the same high-leverage situations with success as Kirby Yates, or Jeff Beliveau, who’s already on the 40-man roster.  The Rays may end up choosing between Liberatore and the player just after him on this alphabetical list.

CJ Riefenhauser: Had a terrific 2013 season, most of in Double-A.  Is left-handed, and while he wasn’t as successful in Triple-A, he was extremely tough on lefties.  Lefties were 4-for-34 against him in Durham (10-for-82 for the season).    During his time in Spring Training in 2013 was aggressive in the strike zone and composed against major league hitters.

Kirby Yates: After being left exposed to the Rule 5 draft last year, it would be unlikely to see that happen this time around.  Dominated at the Triple-A level, splitting closing duties with Josh Lueke.  Allowed just one base runner per inning, and struck out 93 in 61.2 innings pitched.  Neither lefties nor righties had an OPS against him of higher than .521, making him more valuable because of his ability to get hitters out on either side of the plate.  Probably the easiest choice for the Rays is adding Yates to the 40-man roster.

-Neil Solondz

3 Comments

Great post Neil; I was wondering this same exact question today as well. Wasn’t sure exactly who qualified so I’m glad to see a post about it.

Total aside from this year: It looks like next year’s Rule 5 protection will be very interesting considering that we had some of the talent coming in from the huge 2011 draft as well as some HS talent from 2010. Lately, it’s looked like the Rays have traded fringy prospects who would normally get selected in the Rule 5 draft in smaller deals throughout the year (like the DeJesus, Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts deals), so I’m sure guys eligible for next years Rule 5 could be used as trade bait for smaller deals this year, either during the season or in the winter meetings.

Regarding the players you listed, I’ve been following Riefenhauser a bit last year. You think he’s got any shot at seeing ML playing time next year? He’s certainly got the stuff and results.

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