2019 Rule 5 Draft: 11 Prominent Prospects Unlikely To Be Protected

Image credit: Wander Javier (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

By 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, all 30 teams have plenty of decisions to make. Teams must add to their 40-man Major League rosters any Rule 5 eligible players that they want to protect from that draft.

Players are Rule 5 eligible after five years if they were first signed at age 18 (as of June 5 preceding their signing) or younger. Players who signed at age 19 (as of June preceding their contract) are eligible after four years.

For draftees, the calculation is generally simple — all high school players drafted in 2015 or before are Rule 5 eligible if not added to the 40-man roster. Junior college, four-year college players and the extremely old high school players from the 2016 draft (Blake Rutherford is the most notable prep example) or earlier are eligible if not placed on the 40-man roster.

For international players, the calculation is a little more complicated. Most international players signed on July 2, 2015 will be Rule 5 eligible this year, but if a player signs after the season ends, there is another year added before he is eligible.

(As a lesser note, teams also have to set their Triple-A rosters. Any Rule 5 eligible player not placed on the 38-man Triple-A roster or 40-man MLB roster is eligible for the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft).

This year the protection decisions have become a little more difficult. With a 26-man roster coming in 2020, rebuilding teams (and even some other creative teams) may be willing to take more risks in carrying a Rule 5 pick than they have in past years.

We won’t fully know the ramifications of that change until the 2020 season is complete, but a 26-man roster proposal was floated in 2016 that wasn’t shot down until just before the Rule 5 draft was held. In the leadup to the draft that year, some teams speculated about picking a top-of-the-scale baserunner who could also play defense, reasoning that they could find room for such a player on a 26-man roster even if they could not on a 25-man roster. Teams could also reason that there is more room to stash a power pitcher who isn’t full ready to contribute.

We’ll have further coverage in the leadup to Wednesday’s protection decisions, but we wanted to begin with a look at who is unlikely to be protected.

There are a number of once-prominent prospects and first-round picks who will likely be left unprotected come Wednesday. Of the 17 2015 prep first-round picks, there are seven who are highly unlikely to be protected. The success rate of 2016 college first-round picks is much better. It’s possible that all 17 2016 college first-round picks will find themselves on 40-man rosters on Thursday — only five of those 17 have yet to make their MLB debut.

Here are 11 prominent prospects who likely will be left off the 40-man rosters on Wednesday.

Wander Javier, SS, Twins
Javier was one of the top prospects in the stacked 2015 international class and in his first two seasons, he did nothing to temper expectations. A labrum injury in his non-throwing shoulder cost him his 2018 season and derailed his development. When he returned in 2019, he looked rusty and didn’t show the same pop in his bat. Javier hit .178/.278/.323 in the low Class A Midwest League. Even with 26-man rosters, it’s hard to see how any team would take the risk of carrying a player whose skills seem to have regressed. If Javier is looking for reasons for hope, the Twins left first baseman Lewin Diaz off its 40-man roster for the 2017 and 2018 Rule 5 drafts. He went unpicked both years but blossomed into a significant prospect again in 2019.

Alec Hansen, RHP, White Sox
Hansen showed flashes of being a first-round talent when he was pitching for Oklahoma and he’s done the same for the White Sox. But the 2016 second-round pick has battled significant control problems over the past two years. He first reached Double-A at the end of the 2017 season, but he’s had to be sent back to high Class A Winston-Salem in both 2018 and 2019. Over those two seasons he’s walked 103 batters in 103.2 innings. Big arm or not, it’s hard to carry a pitcher who can’t throw strikes.

Seuly Matias, OF, Royals
Matias was battling for the minors home run lead in 2018 before a freak injury (he cut his finger getting his bag off the bus) ended his season early. He has massive power potential, but he struck out 44 percent of the time while hitting .148 at high Class A Wilmington last season. With no Double-A experience and a frightening strikeout rate, it’s extremely hard to see any team, even a rebuilding one, try to carry Matias for a full season.

Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, Phillies
Ortiz signed for $4 million in 2015. He long impressed scouts with surprising athleticism for his rather massive size and massive power potential. The power is still there, but he has also showed a bottom-of-the-scale hit tool in each of the past two seasons. Having yet to succeed in Class A, it’s hard to see any team being enticed to take a look at him in the Rule 5 draft.

Brady Aiken, LHP, Indians
After failing to sign with the Astros as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, the Indians picked Aiken with the 17th pick in the 2015 draft, hoping to get a potential top five pick who had slipped because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. It has not worked out. Aiken’s fastball never returned after the surgery, which meant he had to nibble at the edges without an above-average pitch. He walked six batters in .2 innings in one start this year at low Class A Lake County before being shut down. He went to Driveline Baseball to try to rediscover some of the 5-7 mph he has lost.

Cornelius Randolph, OF, Phillies
The day the Phillies drafted Randolph, they announced that Randolph would move from shortstop to left field. While no one expected Randolph to stay at shortstop, a move to left field put a lot of pressure on his bat. He’s not been able to meet those expectations. Randolph was thought to be one of the purest hitters in the 2015 draft class, but he has proven to be a tweener so far without the hitting ability or power to project as an MLB regular.

Garrett Whitley, OF, Rays
There is a relatively consistent theme to the likely-to-be-unprotected 2015 first-round picks. They often have missed a full season because of injury. Whitley was sidelined for all of 2018 with a labrum injury. When he has played, he has been relatively productive, but a massive (37 percent) strikeout rate, a lack of Double-A experience and limited productive power makes it difficult to make a case for protecting him.

Ashe Russell, RHP, Royals
After Tommy John surgery and problems with both wildness and velocity, Russell retired with less than 40 pro innings on the back of his baseball card. He’s technically eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Nolan Watson, RHP, Royals
Watson had never gotten the velocity bump that scouts projected for him when he was in high school. With a fringe-average fastball at best, Watson has proven very hittable (458 hits in 340 innings to go with his career 6.36 ERA). He missed almost the entire 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery.

Mike Nikorak, RHP, Rockies
Nikorak had massive control troubles from his first day on a pro mound. Tommy John surgery in 2017 didn’t help. He posted an 8.03 ERA as a reliever with low Class A Asheville in 2019. He threw strikes on 50 percent or fewer of his pitches in more than half his outings in 2019 and spent the final three months on the injured list.

Nick Plummer, OF, Cardinals
A hand injury cost Plummer the entire 2016 season and didn’t help his development, but even when healthy, he hasn’t hit. Plummer hit .193/.332/.327 this season at high Class A Palm Beach and is a career .204 hitter.

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