Rule 5 check-in: Trevor Stephan, Garrett Whitlock, and Kyle Holder

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Other organizations love to pillage the Yankees’ farm system in the Rule 5 draft. In recent years, the Yanks lost players like Luis Torrens (San Diego – 2016) and Rony García (Detroit – 2020). Others like Jake Cave, Nick Green, Nestor Cortes, and Mike Ford have been selected but returned to the Yankees too. This year, there are three Rule 5 selections to keep tabs on: Garrett Whitlock (Boston), Trevor Stephan (Cleveland), and Kyle Holder (Cincinnati via Philadelphia).

With opening day just two weeks away, it’s worth checking in on all three of these players. It’s possible that any one of them could return to the Yankees before camp breaks, but if not, not all hope is lost. Remember, Rule 5 draftees must remain on the major league roster all season in order to stick with their new organization. So while making the majors out of spring training is an important first step, there’s still a long season ahead.

Garrett Whitlock

Whitlock was a quick riser in the Yankees’ system before he succumbed to Tommy John surgery in 2019. The Yankees drafted the 6-foot-5 righty in the 18th round of the 2017 draft and got him to Double-A by the end of 2018. He started at that level in 2019 and was quite good: in 70.1 innings (14 starts), the righty had a 3.07 ERA and 3.14 FIP. His season ended in July due to the aforementioned surgery, and he hasn’t gotten into a professional game since because of rehab and COVID-19.

The Yankees rolled the dice and left him unprotected from the Rule 5 draft, and the Red Sox obliged. Whitlock was the first Yankees prospect off the board and was taken with the fourth selection. He’s been really good in Fort Myers thus far: 6 innings, 7 hits, 1 run, 7 strikeouts, and no walks. As a result, Whitlock appears well on his way to making the Red Sox out of camp. From MassLive’s Chris Cotillo:

It’s becoming evident that Whitlock is a lock to make the Opening Day roster and that the Red Sox are likely to do everything in their power to keep him. With all five members of the rotation healthy and both Tanner Houck and Matt Andriese in tow as depth options, Whitlock will likely make the team as a reliever.

“He can do multiple things,” Cora said. “Obviously, we know the situation and everybody knows it. He’s talented and we like him a lot. We’ll try to stretch him out and then we’re going to decide what will happen with him.”

“When you see him walking around in the clubhouse, it feels like he belongs. We’re very happy with the way he goes about his business.”

Boston isn’t a contender this year, so expect the organization to be motivated to keep him. Plus, have you looked at their pitching staff? Sheesh. It doesn’t seem like it’d be difficult to stash him on the 26-man roster anyway.

Trevor Stephan

Cleveland chose Stephan, a right-handed reliever, with the 15th pick in the Rule 5 draft. Stephan was the Yankees’ 3rd rounder in 2017 and was a mildly surprising 40-man roster snub in the offseason. He’s been developed as a starter, but his arsenal profiles well in short inning stints. Stephan topped out at Double-A in 2019 and struggled a bit with control (11.2 percent walk rate), but struck out aplenty (26.5 percent strikeout rate).

Stephan has been OK in Cactus League play thus far. In 4 games, he’s tossed 4 innings and allowed 6 hits, 2 runs, a homer, a walk, and 4 strikeouts. Max Muncy took him deep:

I know, I know. It’s not very flattering to show this video of Stephan, but it’s also the only one we’ve got of him in action this spring. There’s no shame in giving up a dinger to someone like Muncy, at least.

Unlike Whitlock, Stephan’s standing with Cleveland looks tenuous. From Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com:

There are a lot of arms competing for the last five spots. Let’s say one goes to Plutko. Another would have to go to a left-hander. Lefties Oliver Perez, Anthony Gose and Kyle Nelson have had good springs. Would the Indians keep two lefties? Gose has been impressive, the Indians know what to expect from Perez and Nelson has options.

Then there are four veteran right-handers in camp on minor-league deals — Bryan Shaw, Heath Hembree, Blake Parker and DJ Johnson. Shaw, looking for his second tour with the Indians, has pitched well of late. Nick Sandlin, a 2018 second-round pick, has made only one appearance. Trevor Stephan, a Rule 5 pick from the Yankees, has had some good moments.

In other words: Stephan has a lot of competition to hold off all season. He might make the team out of camp, but I wouldn’t bet on him sticking all season long.

Kyle Holder

The Yankees have left former first round pick Holder unprotected for a couple of years, but no one took the bait until a few months ago. Philadelphia nabbed him in the Rule 5 draft only to trade him to the Reds later on. Holder’s now one of money infielders competing for a job in Cincinnati.

Holder, a defense-first shortstop, never hit much in the minors. He was at the team’s Alternate Site last summer, so the Yankees liked him to a degree. Still, he felt like a reach at the time of the amateur draft and clearly was one, in retrospect.

The Reds are in a really bizarre situation at shortstop. They decided not to bring back Freddy Galvis, which isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just…not good if you replace him with a competition between Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino, Dee Strange-Gordon, and Holder. These guys aren’t starting-caliber shortstops. And now, Cincy is even trying to play Eugenio Suárez at short in camp. Desperate times, I guess.

Holder hasn’t acquitted himself well at the plate in spring training, but that’s not necessarily a surprise. He’s 1-for-12 with a double, five walks, and five strikeouts. Maybe he breaks camp with the Reds, but the only way he sticks is in a bench role. There’s just no way he can play everyday in the majors just yet. Maybe he can hang around as a bench piece, but I wouldn’t count on it. Holder might be back before spring training ends.

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5 Comments

  1. TI Ross

    Whitlock threw three shutout innings yesterday, total in spring = 9 Innings, 1 run.

  2. John A Helmuth III

    Hard not to be angry at Cashman here. Prospect hugging while we make no big moves at the deadline the last few years… and we have a 40-man jam like this. SIGH.

  3. MikeD

    I’m still going to question the Yankees keeping Abreu over Whitlock, but I’ll admit I’m hardly a prospect expert. This will be even more painful if the Yankees then cut Abreu if he indeed doesn’t have a 4th option.

  4. dasit

    i’m rooting for holder
    he slugged over .400 at trenton in 2019 so maybe he can hit enough to stick?

    • MikeD

      His bat did seem to pick up in AA in 2019, and that’s in a slightly tougher home park and with out the benefit of the MLB ball.

      There really wasn’t a spot for him on the Yankees, so hoping that the Reds are a good landing spot for him.

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