A look at the Yankees’ Rule 5 protection candidates

Deivi’s safe.

We’ll finally see the Yankees make some roster moves this week. Tomorrow’s the deadline to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft, which occurs at the end of the winter meetings next month.

Right now, the Yankees have four open spots on the 40-man roster, which is ample room to select the players I believe are must-adds. That said, there’s always the possibility that the Yankees swing a minor trade in order to open up one more spot. In any event, let’s take a brief look at some of the eligible players.

Definite additions

Deivi García is now one of baseball’s top prospects and nearly made it to the majors this year. The 20 year-old should see some time in pinstripes next season, but will certainly start the season in Triple-A. After his rapid ascension last year, he’s a no brainer.

Two other pitchers need to be added in my view: Luis Gil and Luis Medina. The Yankees nabbed Gil from the Twins in exchange for Jake Cave, and he’s done nothing but dominate. He’s yet to reach Double-A and only has 13 innings in High-A, but there’s no way he’d slip through the Rule 5 draft. Elvis Luciano stuck with the Blue Jays all of last year as a 19 year-old who never pitched above rookie ball. That example, along with an expanded 26-man roster, would make Gil a top target.

I wouldn’t have expected Medina to be a definite earlier this year. He struggled in his first taste of action out of rookie ball and seemed doubtful to be drafted, even with his tantalizing stuff. Then, come July, Medina went off and earned a promotion to High-A Tampa. In his final 8 starts, we saw some of Medina’s remarkable potential: 45 2/3 innings, 63 strikeouts, 15 walks, and a 1.77 ERA. He seems like a prime candidate to stash as the 26th man all season, and the Yankees shouldn’t risk losing him.

Lastly, soon-to-be 22 year-old Estevan Florial will get a 40-man spot. Though he’s struggled the past two seasons since his breakout 2017, he’s dealt with a number of injuries. He’s far away, but his ability is too good to risk losing.

Strong candidates

These next three all feel deserving of a 40-man spot, but the Yankees are in a crunch. Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, and Kyle Holder all have their merits, but could be on the outside looking in.

Nelson, the team’s 4th round pick in 2016, posted strong numbers between Double-A and Triple-A this year. In 89 2/3 innings, he had a 2.81 ERA and 3.22 FIP. Nelson fanned 114 batters but walked a few too many (11.4 percent). Seems like prime draft fodder, but there’s only so many the Yankees can protect. That’s why we included him as a trade piece in our offseason plan.

Yajure performed very well this year, mostly in High-A Tampa. He did finish the year with two starts in Trenton. His 2.14 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 138 2/3 innings was impressive, but he also wasn’t overpowering as he’s not a hard thrower who racks up strikeouts. He was another guy we dealt in our offseason plan.

Holder is a glove-first shortstop who hasn’t hit much — until this year. Not that he raked or anything, but he did well for himself in Trenton. He hit .263/.335/.405 (119 wRC+) with the Thunder and had solid discipline (8.7 percent walk rate and 13.8 percent strikeout rate). That modicum of offense makes him a bit more intriguing as a utility-type, which is why we added the Yankees’ first rounder in 2015 to the 40-man roster in our offseason plan. It may be a stretch to add him with Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada already around, though.

Unlikely, but somewhat close to the majors

Ben Ruta’s shown good bat-to-ball skills and the ability to play three outfield positions, but without much power, the Yankees don’t need to add the 25 year-old. He doesn’t seem particularly likely to be drafted, either.

The Yankees seem to protect a reliever every year, and Brooks Kriske could be that guy this time around. He struck out 32.2 percent of hitters in Double-A this year, but also had a walk rate north of 11 percent.

Power hitting Dermis García hasn’t become the guy the Yankees hoped when they gave him a $3.2 million bonus during their 2014-2015 IFA shopping spree. He did hit an impressive 17 dingers in just 297 plate appearances in Double-A this year, but his 35.4 percent strikeout rate will scare probably scare teams off.

22 year-old shortstop Hoy Jun Park performed well in Double-A (120 wRC+). He’s a speedy runner but doesn’t have really have a standout tool. If he had a glove like Holder, perhaps his situation would be different.

Rony García made 20 starts in Trenton this summer after he earned a promotion from Tampa early in the season. The nearly 22 year-old righty is an intriguing arm but not a must-protect.

Chris Gittens won the Eastern League MVP this year, but will have a hard time finding a 40-man spot. The first base/designated hitter prospect hit .281/.393/.500 with 23 dingers in 478 plate appearances, but struck out 29.1 percent of the time. Considering his age (26 in February), position, and high strikeout totals, it’s hard to see him get picked despite his impressive power.

Too far away

Oswaldo Cabrera, Freicer Perez, and Jio Orozco are just a few examples of prospects who are too far away for a team to gamble on in the Rule 5 draft.

Pitchers Perez, Orozco, and Vizcaino haven’t surpassed High-A yet. Orozco had mild success at the level this season, but nothing eye opening. Meanwhile, Perez didn’t pitch all of this season with an undisclosed injury. Seems to be shoulder-related, but there’s very little info.

Cabrera’s a 20 year-old infielder who was just OK with Tampa this season (104 wRC+) and lacks any standout tool. His teammate Olivares performed similarly at the level (107 wRC+), but the outfielder lacks power.


It’s often difficult to figure out who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft each year, but there are a couple of indispensable sources that help. There’s often some uncertainty about some prospects, like 2015 international signee Alexander Vizcaino this year. He wasn’t included as eligible on MLB Pipeline or Pinstriped Prospects, which is what we’re referencing.

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13 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    Are we sure Kyle Holder has to be added? I don’t see him on any other lists. Could be an oversight.

    • Wire Fan

      He was actually Rule 5 eligible last year and was undrafted. That might be why he is not on some lists this year?

      He was drafted in June 2015 and over 19, so he is rule 5 eligible in the fourth rule 5 draft after his signing (2018). Under 19 and you are eligible in the fifth rule 5 draft (so 2015 IFAs and HS draftees are eligible this year). The exception is 19 year old HS draftees, they are basically the same as a college draftee.

      So rule 5 eligible this year:
      – college prospects 2016 or earlier
      – HS prospects and IFA’s (under 19) drafted/signed 2015 or earlier

      • RetroRob

        That’s probably it. The lists I’ve been looking at are likely discussing players newly eligible.

  2. Wire Fan

    1. DFA/outright Greg Bird to protect Holder. If Bird wants to come back on a minor league deal, fine.

    2. DFA/outright Chance Adams to protect Yajure. They can shop Adams to a team with 40 man space but I doubt he gets anything back.

    I’d roll the dice on Nelson in the rule 5 draft. If he gets picked, is it really that big a loss?

    They will need space later this winter and I could see some combo of Cortes/Holder/Cessa getting dumped or traded later on. I could also see them dealing Estrada (last option year) if they protect Holder. They will need space for Gardy (or whoever the 2nd CFr is). They also might bring Romine back. And who knows, maybe they will get Cole (stifles laughter) or bring in a relief arm.

    • Wire Fan

      Forgot about Kriske. I think someone would draft him.

      Not sure who they would cut/trade… Maybe Holder in a trade? Cortes seems less likely as the Yankees like those lefty arms and he’s not just a LOOGY. I’d DFA Ellsbury but I can’t see the Yankees giving up that insurance money.

  3. RetroRob

    I just saw a BA article that has Yajure listed as an “easy” protection, noting he was tremendous down the stretch and had perhaps the “biggest breakout performance” of any Yankees pitching prospect. They added he’s a likely rotation candidate down the road and will “certainly find a spot on the 40-man roster.”

    I won’t publish the rest of their picks or those on the bubble as I’m pretty sure it’s behind the firewall. I have no idea of they’re correct on Yajure definitely finding a spot, but I hope he does.

    I’d really be surprised if the Yankees don’t make some deal by the time they have to submit their Rule 5’s. They have one of the deeper systems when simply looking at toolsy arms.

  4. Colombo

    Any thoughts on who could be DFA’d to open up a few more roster spots?

    • RetroRob

      An easy pick would be Ellsbury if he was healthy. Since he’s not healthy there’s a chance he may remain on the IL, which means the Yankees could collect another $15M in 2020 simply by him not playing again. So, strangely, a healthy Ellsbury likely gets cut, and unhealthy Ellsbury likely remains.

      • Saul Goodman, Esq

        There is no IL in the offseason. Ellsbury is taking a spot unless he gets DFAd.

        • RetroRob

          Yup. I’m thinking more generally toward how the Yankees would treat Ellsbury if they believe he’s going to remain injured throughout 2020. If they do, then they’ll hold him to get back $15M. That means they’ll lock up a 40-man roster spot on him until they can put him back on the 60-day IL at a later date. If they believe he’ll be healthy enough to come off the IL in 2020, then they likely just cut him now.

    • Wire Fan

      Greg Bird is the easy call for me.

      Chance Adams? I don’t think they will cut him right away, but the Yankees have a bunch of fungible relief pitchers like him. 2020 is also his last option year. I’d cut him to protect Yajure or Holder (probably Nelson too)

      Ellsbury? I agree with RR – if he is expected to be healthy he is an easy cut. If the Yankees expect him to start on the IL, they keep tying up the 40 man spot this winter to collect the insurance money next year.

      Less likely guys – Cortes, Holder, Cessa. But I could see some of these guys maybe getting dealt later this winter if they need space for a FA signing (Gardy, Romine?)

  5. Nick G

    It feels like there are a number of guys who could get popped in the draft. Not sure any would stick a roster spot for 2020, but I’m thinking we may at least see a minor trade over the next 28 hours. Package one of these guys with Happ/Ellsbury for some salary relief or a trade for IFA money.

  6. RetroRob

    This year’s 40-man roster protections leading up to the Rule 5 draft has an extra element of uncertainty. MLB teams expanding to 26 players, coupled with a high percentage of teams absolutely tanking, means tanking teams could hide a decent player on their roster for a full year. Much more likely now than when the Yankees lost Luis Torrens to the Padres a few years back. I expect to see that happen this year. The 26th man does have to be a position player, so that will decrease the likelihood of a team trying to stockpile a talented arm, but not entirely. The 26th man will still allow for more flexibility enabling teams to hide an arm on the roster for a full season by rotating a couple position players up and down between the minors and the majors.

    Kyle Holder will be gone if he’s not protected and I highly doubt he will be returned. He already has a year plus in AA and his bat showed progress power wise. He did that without even having the benefit of the MLB used in AAA. His numbers likely would have been even better. He’s exactly the type of player a team could roster in the majors as a 26th man and who could actually provide help immediately because of his glove. He doesn’t have to be hidden. I just don’t see the Yankees letting him go for nothing after drafting him so high and spending a lot of time developing him. He’s either protected or traded by tomorrow.

    I certainly hope they find a spot for Yajure. Probably because I did see him pitch and then I read BA’s comments that I’m a bit concerned he’ll be gone, one way or another.

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