Previewing The 2019 40-Man Roster Deadline
As much as the Rule 5 draft is a wonderful December diversion from the chill of the oncoming winter, the Nov. 20 deadline for teams setting their rosters is in many ways more significant.
By 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, all 30 teams must show their cards. Every organization loves their prospects. Every organization loves the depth of its farm system. But on Wednesday, everyone has to actually make decisions who they really love and who they just like.
It's a harsh but necessary component of roster construction. When a first-round pick is left unprotected in his first year of Rule 5 eligibility, it is a clear sign that he did not develop as expected. Similarly, when a late-round pick or a low-cost international signee is added to the MLB roster to keep them from away from other teams, it is a clear sign some talent has been gleaned from what was once viewed as a fringe prospect.
Players are understandably left unprotected for different reasons. Sometimes it's because a player is far enough away from being MLB ready that the risk of him being picked may be significant, but the risk of him fulfilling Rule 5 roster rules (which require the player to be carried on the MLB roster for the entire 2020 season without being demoted to the minors) is slight.
In other cases, teams with stacked 40-man rosters simply see an open roster spot as more valuable than the prospect in danger of being picked.
And sometimes, very rarely, the protecting team just mis-evaluates the player. It doesn't happen often – as the modest success rate of Rule 5 picks proves – but it does happen.
To get everyone ready for the roster protection deadline, Baseball America examined all 30 rosters. We won't successfully name every roster addition, but we hope this provides insight into the thought processes teams face as they make those decisions.
We will have an additional page up tomorrow that will be updated as roster protection decisions are made.
Five Teams With The Toughest Decisions
1. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have been shuffling players and making trades over the past year to try to manage a very crowded 40-man roster. Those problems won't get any easier on Wednesday.
2. New York Yankees
New York has significant number of talented pitchers who need to be protected in addition to toolsy but oft-injured outfielder Estevan Florial. They will have to clear space to protect everyone who has a case to be protected.
3. San Diego Padres
Much like the Rays, the current depth of the Padres system leads to plenty of tough decisions year after year.
4. Cleveland Indians
An already crowded 40-man roster and a number of prospects with solid cases for being added leaves Cleveland potentially needing to leave some far-away prospects on the Rule 5 available list.
5. Texas Rangers
The Rangers have four open spots and at least five players who need to be protected. Room can be made, but if Texas is going to have additional room for further moves, the roster is getting a little crowded.
Five Teams With Little To Worry About
1. Washington Nationals
The Nationals have a slew of free agents and entered the week with 10 open roster spots.
2. San Francisco Giants
The Giants largely called up their close-to-the-majors prospects this season and most of their best prospects are younger, so they have few tough calls to make.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies don't have a lot of tough calls ahead of the 40-man roster deadline. Their toughest decisions revolve around prospects who are either inconsistent or far away.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
Trades, promotions and injuries have thinned the Brewers prospect depth. The Brewers will likely be able to protect a couple prospects who might be left off the 40-man in a more crowded system.
5. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners rebuild has improved the farm system, but there are very few prospects who face 40-man roster decisions this offseason. Seattle can either protect some fringier prospects or leave room for other offseason moves.
The numbers listed below in parentheses is the number of players on the 40-man roster as of 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Arizona Diamondbacks (35)
Potential Protections: RHP Taylor Widener impressed at every level until 2019. The combination of the new, livelier Triple-A baseball and the hitting environment in Reno led an 8.10 ERA, but his past track record and fastball up to 95 mph give a chance to be protected. OF Anfernee Grier, the D-backs top pick in 2016, never came around with the bat and has yet to advance past high Class A. He is unlikely to be added to the 40-man roster.
Atlanta Braves (33)
Potential Protections: RHP Jasseel de la Cruz has touched 100 mph and spent time in Double-A last year while showing control improvements. He has a big enough arm and enough upper-level minor league success to be picked if left unprotected. LHP Thomas Burrows has less upside potential than de la Cruz, but he has a plus slider to go with an average fastball and he eats up lefties. His combination of upper-level minor league experience and a plausible MLB role in his Rule 5 year would make him a risky player to leave unprotected.
Baltimore Orioles (35)
Easy Calls: 1B Ryan Mountcastle Is one of the Orioles' best prospects. RHP Dean Kremer doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but he understands how to use his four-pitch mix and is nearly ready for the majors. LHP Keegan Akin managed to survive the crucible that was the Triple-A baseball and should pitch in Baltimore in 2020.
Potential Protections: OF Ryan McKenna hasn't hit for average or power in Double-A since he was promoted midway through 2018, although he remains one of the Orioles better outfield prospects. RHP Cody Sedlock has battled control troubles and projects as more of an up-and-down reliever/spot starter at this point.
Boston Red Sox (34)
Easy Calls: 3B Bobby Dalbec isn't going to push Rafael Devers aside anytime soon, but his plus power will get him added to the 40-man roster. SS C.J. Chatham is a career .299 hitter who can play up the middle and has had success in the upper levels of the minors.
Potential Protections: OF Marcus Wilson has yet to prove he can handle Double-A in six seasons in the minors, although he was excellent at high Class A Salem in 2019 and can play all three outfield spots.
Chicago Cubs (32)
Easy Calls: C Miguel Amaya is one of the organization's top prospects and should easily earn a 40-man roster spot. He hasn't put together a truly eye-popping season, but he's more than held his own as one of the youngest players in his league each of the last two years. RHP Tyson Miller revamped his body in the offseason and got big-time results in 2019. He's also gone from being primarily a fastball-slider pitcher to having a full, four-pitch complement. He optimized his changeup grip as well, settling on a Vulcan-style grip that best fit his hands and allowed the pitch to get closer to its potential. SS Zack Short offers excellent defense at both middle infield positions as well as a bit of sneaky power.
Potential Protections: The Cubs remain high on the 3B Christopher Morel. They believe in his power potential, ability to hit and high ceiling, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him placed on the 40-man. RHP Manuel Rodriguez can run his four-seamer and sinker into the upper 90s and counterbalances his fastballs with a power curveball. He struck out 65 in 47 innings this year with high Class A Myrtle Beach. 2B Vimael Machin is 26 years old but did nothing but hit at two levels in 2019, so he might be worth a flier. Machin altered his approach to shoot for more contact and a lower launch angle, and the results were loud. RHP Matt Swarmer led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in strikeouts despite gaudy home run totals. His low-90s fastball tunnels well with his slider.
Chicago White Sox (33)
Easy Calls: OF Blake Rutherford still offers a vexing combination of a sweet lefthanded swing but not enough power to profile in a corner outfield spot. He has just 19 home runs in 1,395 minor league at-bats, but has worked hard to gain more strength and only 22 years old. With seven available 40-man slots, expect the White Sox to keep Rutherford out of the Rule 5 draft. RHP Dane Dunning missed the season after having Tommy John surgery but would be slam dunk to be selected in the Rule 5 draft. His injury actually makes it easier to potentially carry him on an MLB roster since he could spend the first half of the season on the injured list.
Potential Protections: RHP Jimmy Lambert had Tommy John surgery in the middle of the season, but was intriguing to other clubs before the injury. Left unprotected, Lambert might be a player a team picks up and waits to return to full health. LHP Bernardo Flores did not allow a home run in 93.1 innings in 2019 and creates intriguing angle with his fastball that generates lots of grounders. RHP Zack Burdi suffered a torn ligament in his knee late in the season, but his stuff was beginning to return to form after a rough few years that included a Tommy John surgery.
Cincinnati Reds (35)
Easy Calls: C Tyler Stephenson got on-base at a .372 clip in the upper minors and is Cincinnati's top catching prospect. RHP Tony Santillan had a rough year, posting a 4.84 ERA in 102.1 innings, but is one of their better arms in a system that is thin pitching-wise in the upper minors.
Potential Protections: Defensive-minded SS Alfredo Rodriguez hit .286/.325/.347 in the Double-A Southern League before hitting a wall in the Triple-A International League. RHP Ryan Hendrix is close to the majors as a two-pitch reliever with an upper-90s fastball and power breaking pitch. OF TJ Friedl had an injury-riddled season, while OF Mariel Bautista and OF Jose Siri are athletic but haven't clicked with the bat. RHP Tejay Antone held his own in the International League and could make sense for a pitching-starved team.
Cleveland Indians (38)
Easy Calls: RHP Triston McKenzie missed all of 2019 due to an upper back injury and is no longer the team's top prospect, but he's still an easy add. LHP Scott Moss, part of the Indians' haul for Trevor Bauer, impressed after joining the organization and has upside. OF Daniel Johnson would certainly be taken if the Indians left him unprotected. He's coming off a strong season with Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.
Potential Protections: OF Oscar Gonzalez was left unprotected a year ago, but after a solid season with high Class A Lynchburg and a late-season promotion to Double-A Akron, the Indians may not chance it again with the righthanded slugger. RHP Luis Oviedo had a disappointing season, missed the final six weeks due to a lower back injury and hasn't pitched above low Class A, but his upside and big arm probably means he gets protected. SS Jose Fermin had a solid season with low Class A Lake County and is an above-average defender, but his bat is light, he's far away from and shortstop is a position of strength for the Indians, so they may leave him unprotected.
Colorado Rockies (36)
Potential Protections: 1B Roberto Ramos has 70-grade power and is coming off back-to-back 30 home runs seasons, although evaluators question whether he has enough bat speed to succeed in the majors. RHP Reid Humphreys had season-ending shoulder surgery in June but showed a promising mid-90s fastball and low-90s cutter as a closer when healthy. RHPs Mike Nikorak and Robert Tyler are former top draft picks with lots of arm strength and little control who will likely be unprotected and unpicked. RHP Ashton Goudeau posted a 2.07 ERA at Double-A this year and was one of the stars of the Arizona Fall League thanks to his 12-to-6 curveball. The former minor league free agent threw 13 scoreless innings with four hits allowed, zero walks and 18 strikeouts.
Detroit Tigers (33)
Easy Calls: 3B Isaac Paredes and OF Daz Cameron are two of the top position player talents in the Tiger's system. RHP Beau Burrows hasn't dominated, but the club's 2015 first-round pick has plenty of upper-level minor league experience and a big fastball. The 23-year-old has enough upside remaining to be a logical addition to the 40-man roster for a rebuilding team.
Potential Protections: RHP Kyle Funkhouser had a season at Triple-A Toledo that is best forgotten. If the Tigers have an abundance of caution they can protect him, but even though he still can touch 95 mph, his inconsistency makes him likely to skate through the Rule 5 draft if unprotected. RHP Anthony Castro worked as a swingman for Double-A Erie and pitched more than 100 innings for the third year in a row. He went unpicked the last two Rule 5 drafts, but his Double-A success may make him a little more enticing this year. Athletic RHP Elvin Rodriguez has the ceiling of a back-end or spot starter if everything clicks. RHP Nolan Blackwood posted a 1.76 ERA in 66 innings for Double-A Erie since joining the Tigers in the Mike Fiers trade. The siderarming reliever is more of a performer than a high-ceiling pitcher. RHP Logan Shore, the other player acquired in the Fiers trade, has seen his strikeout rate drop in the upper minors. OFs Jacob Robson and Derek Hill are athletic with defensive ability but don't offer much with the bat. OF Jose Azocar is Rule 5 eligible for the second year in a row and has shown more contact ability to go along with his excellent defensive reputation.
Houston Astros (34)
Easy Calls: RHP Cristian Javier is one of the best pitching prospects the Astros held on to last year. RHP Enoli Paredes has a high-90s fastball and a useable slider. His arm and his flashes of brilliance at Double-A Corpus Christi make a strong argument for protecting him.
Potential Protections: SS Jonathan Arauz has shown steady improvement but doesn't have enough plus tools or the impressive stat line to be a sure-bet Rule 5 pick. 1B Taylor Jones is a productive hitter who spent all of 2019 in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, but he lacks the big tools that would make him a slam-dunk Rule 5 pick. RHP Andre Scrubb's mid-90s fastball and hard curveball helped him strike out 10 batters per-nine in the Texas League with the Dodgers and Astros after he was acquired in the Tyler White deal. His iffy control works against him being protected. OF Ronnie Dawson has proven he can play center field and hit 17 home runs last year, but his batting average and on-base percentage plummeted when he reached Double-A. RHP Brandon Bailey is an undersized righthander who has had consistent success since the Astros acquired him from the A's for OF Ramon Laureano.
Kansas City Royals (40)
Easy Calls: None.
Potential Protections: The Royals don't have a lot of obvious candidates to be protected. OF Nick Heath is an 80-grade runner who stole 62 bases last season and can play center field. He's not projected as more than a pinch-runner/defensive replacement, but a team looking for such a player could be intrigued. LHP Foster Griffin went unprotected and unpicked in last year's Rule 5 draft. That's not likely to change this season, but he is pitching well for Licey this winter.
Los Angeles Angels (38)
Easy Calls: None.
Potential Protections: 2B/OF Jahmai Jones has fallen from the ranks of the Angels' top prospects but hit .292 with a .370 on-base percentage in the final two months at Double-A to bolster his case to be protected. LHP Hector Yan touches 95 mph with his fastball and has a plus slider, but he has not pitched above low Class A. C Jack Kruger is the kind of backup catcher who rarely gets picked despite a solid resume because teams are rarely comfortable carrying a Rule 5 pick as the primary backup catcher. OF Brennon Lund is a short (5-foot-9) center fielder with some leadoff skills. The Triple-A ball was lively for everyone, but 3B/1B Jose Rojas hit 31 home runs, which was loud enough to get some scouts' attention. SS Roberto Baldoquin is also eligible but unlikely to be protected or picked after hitting .232/.291/.301 as a 25-year-old in Double-A. INF/OF Leonardo Rivas and OF Torii Hunter Jr. are also scheduled to be Rule 5 eligible but have yet to play above high Class A.
Los Angeles Dodgers (37)
Easy Calls: RHPs Jordan Sheffield and Mitchell White have flashed big stuff in the upper levels and have strong chances to be protected. OF DJ Peters also figures to be protected with his huge power and ability to play all three outfield positions.
Potential Protections: INF Zach McKinstry's improving bat and ability to play all over the diamond make him a candidate to be picked in the Rule 5 draft unless he's protected. 3B Cristian Santana went unprotected and unpicked last year, but a solid season at Double-A gives him a better chance this year. OFs Cody Thomas, Starling Heredia and Carlos Rincon have big power but big strikeout issues. OF Brayan Morales and SS Errol Robinson offer speed and defensive ability but are limited with the bat.
10 Young MLB Hitters Who Would Benefit From A Universal DH
With reports surfacing the owners may propose a universal DH for 2020, here are 10 young National League hitters who would benefit most.
Miami Marlins (35)
Easy Calls: RHP Sixto Sanchez is the organization's top pitching prospect and brings a nasty combination of high-octane heat and a solid slider. He's a slam dunk to get protected. After targeting him in the midseason trade of Sergio Romo, the Marlins will find a spot on their 40-man roster for 1B Lewin Diaz and his big-time power. The same goes for SS Jazz Chisholm, another midseason trade acquisition who brings power and speed from a middle-infield position. RHP Nick Neidert impressed in the Arizona Fall League and is a virtual plug-and-play option in the back of a big league rotation with improved control and command. RHP Edward Cabrera had a breakout 2019 that saw him dominate at high Class A and Double-A with a nasty combination of fastball and slider. He's another easy call to make the 40-man.
Potential Protections: There are five players listed among Easy Calls and five vacant spots on Miami's 40-man roster. If the Marlins choose to clear space to add more players, one spot might go to LHP Will Stewart, whom the Marlins added last offseason in the J.T. Realmuto deal. He had a trying season in high Class A and is likely too far off for a team to keep on an MLB roster all season. RHP Humberto Mejia combines a low-90s fastball with a deceptive delivery and a fringe-average curveball and struck out roughly a batter an inning in high Class A.
Milwaukee Brewers (33)
Easy Calls: OF Corey Ray has moved slower than most of his 2016 college first-round contemporaries. A finger injury ruined his 2019 season, but his 27 home runs in 2018 and his first-round pedigree should lead to a 40-man roster spot. RHP Zack Brown's walk rate and ERA skyrocketed in Triple-A, but he remains one of the Brewers' top pitching prospects.
Potential Protections: 3B Lucas Erceg has slugged under .400 each of his past two seasons, which a surprising result for a slugger with impressive raw power. His statistical resume doesn't really state a case for being a Rule 5 pick, but the Brewers may still protect him because of his power potential. RHP Braden Webb has injury issues and control troubles but is easier to protect in a thin system.
Minnesota Twins (32)
Potential Protections: OF Gilberto Celestino has started to drive the ball and is a plus defender in center field, but he's played just nine games above low Class A and would be difficult to keep on a major league roster. RHP Griffin Jax was effective in 20 starts with Double-A Pensacola and made a late-season cameo with Triple-A Rochester. He doesn't have the kind of plus stuff that is often coveted during the Rule 5 draft, but his plus control and command make him more MLB-ready than some bigger arms. 3B Travis Blankenhorn doesn't have the kind of stat line that grabs attention, but he has lefthanded power and the defensive versatility to play third base, left field and second base.
New York Mets (37)
Easy Calls: SS Andres Gimenez is an above-average defender with more than a season in Double-A. As one of the Mets top prospects, he's an easy decision. LHP Thomas Szapucki has plenty of work left to do, but he has enough stuff and feel to be added to the 40-man roster.
Potential Protections: RHP Jordan Humphreys has thrown just 13 innings since 2017 because of a slow recovery from Tommy John surgery, but 11.2 of those innings were in the Arizona Fall League. His effective work there will likely lead to the Mets to protect him. INF Shervyen Newton has only reached low Class A and is in no way ready to help a major league team—he hit .213 for Columbia last year with a lot of strikeouts—but his plus-plus raw power and athleticism could entice a tanking team. C Ali Sanchez has the defensive chops to help a big league team, but his 11 home runs in six pro seasons is a reminder that he'll get the bat knocked out of his hands in the major leagues. C Patrick Mazeika makes more sense as a protection candidate than Sanchez because he has some power from the left side (15 home runs at Double-A Binghamton) and solid plate discipline. He isn't the type of player that usually sticks on a roster all season, but the 26-man roster could make for a clearer path.
New York Yankees (36)
Easy Calls: RHP Deivi Garcia is one of the organization's top pitching prospects and would be taken with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft if left off the 40-man roster. Though he's wildly inconsistent, RHP Luis Medina would almost certainly get taken as well. His stuff and ceiling are arguably the best in the Yankees system, and he ended the season on a hot streak that made it look like he was finally beginning to turn a corner. RHP Miguel Yajure started slowly in 2019 but was tremendous down the stretch and put together perhaps the biggest breakout performance of any Yankees pitching prospect. He has rotation potential and will certainly find a spot on the 40-man roster. The last two years have been rough for OF Estevan Florial, with two broken bones in his hand/wrist the last two seasons, but the Yankees still believe in his potential. New York acquired RHP Luis Gil from Minnesota in 2017 in return for OF Jake Cave and have watched Gil blossom in the low minors. He has an electric right arm and a pair of improving offspeed pitches, which should earn him a 40-man spot. The Yankees have only four available roster spots, however, so protecting all five will require additional roster moves.
Potential Protections: RHP Nick Nelson has shown excellent growth as a pitcher since being drafted out of Gulf Coast State (Fla.) JC in 2015. He was a two-way player in college but has focused solely on pitching as a pro. He finished second in the system in strikeouts in 2018 and might intrigue a team in the Rule 5 draft.
Oakland Athletics (40)
Easy Calls: None
Potential Protections: RHP Daulton Jefferies had Tommy John surgery and has battled shoulder problems through an injury-plagued career. He was limited to three innings an outing in his return in 2019, but showed plenty of stuff with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and an above-average changeup to go with plus-plus control.
Philadelphia Phillies (35)
Easy Calls: None.
Potential Protections: C Rafael Marchan spent all of 2019 in low Class A. That should keep him off teams' Rule 5 preference lists, but the D-Backs selected catcher Oscar Hernandez with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 Rule 5 draft after he had a strong Midwest League season. Marchan is more advanced defensively than Hernandez was, although he has a lighter bat. LHP JoJo Romero has been inconsistent and doesn't have a strong case for protection, but he's a well-known prospect who at his best has shown MLB-caliber stuff. RHP Maurico Llovera has a big fastball and excellent Trackman analytical attributes, although there is some concern his slider is more of a chase pitch than a real weapon.
Pittsburgh Pirates (39)
Easy Calls: 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes and SS Oneil Cruz are two of the Pirates' best prospects and are easy additions. RHP Blake Cederlind has touched 101 mph and had an excellent season with Double-A Altoona.
Potential Protections: If the previous Pirates regime was still around, 1B Will Craig would have a better chance to be added to the 40-man roster, as teams rarely like to risk their own first-round picks. New general manager Ben Cherington has no ties to the Pirates 2016 draft, so a first baseman who posted a .426 slugging percentage with the Triple-A ball will have a tough case to be protected. OF Lolo Sanchez has only reached high Class A and doesn't have loud-enough tools to be a stash candidate for a rebuilding team looking to nab developmental talent in the Rule 5 draft.
San Diego Padres (40)
Easy Calls: There are no easy calls with full 40-man roster and a large number of potential protection candidates.
Possible Protections: RHPs Dauris Valdez and Lake Bachar are viewed as potential bullpen options for next season and are the most likely players to be protected if the Padres open up roster space. Valdez is physically huge at a listed 6-foot-8, 221 pounds with a 98-101 mph fastball and improving 84-87 mph slider. Bachar, a former punter/kicker at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater who didn't play college baseball until his junior year, was one of the Texas League's best starters at Double-A Amarillo in 2019. His 92-93 mph fastball and above-average slider are expected to tick up if he moves to relief. Athletic but poor-hitting OFs Michael Gettys and Buddy Reed, 2015 top pick Austin Smith, prominent Cuban signee Jorge Ona, two-time Top 30 prospect Esteury Ruiz and hard-throwing reliever Jordan Guerrero are among the other prominent players who will be Rule 5 eligible unless they are protected. Others include RHP Jacob Nix, who was recently outrighted off the roster, Triple-A INF Jason Vosler and upper-level RHPs Evan Miller and Trevor Megill. RHP Henry Henry is well-regarded has yet to pitch above Class A. 3B/2B Eguy Rosario signed as part of the 2015 international signing class but is not Rule 5 eligible because he signed after the conclusion of the 2015 DSL season.
San Francisco Giants (40)
Easy Calls: None.
Potential Protections: Most of the Giants best prospects are either already are on the 40-man roster or are years from Rule 5 eligibility. OF Sandro Fabian was once a Top 10 prospect for the Giants, but he hasn't hit enough to maintain that status.
Seattle Mariners (35)
Easy Calls: None.
Potential Protections: RHP Ljay Newsome reached Triple-A and posted a sterling 169-to-17 strikeout-to-walk mark in 155 innings to strengthen his case for a 40-man roster spot. His mix of a below-average 88-92 mph fastball, below-average curveball and average changeup make it less certain he will be added, however. OF Dom Thompson-Williams hit .234/.298/.391 at Double-A in his first year with the Mariners after coming over in a trade with the Yankees. He is a good athlete with real power but is very streaky with his swing.
St. Louis Cardinals (38)
Potential Protections: RHP Connor Jones struggles to throw strikes, but his 95-98 mph bowling-ball sinker out of the bullpen generates him supporters in the organization. RHP Alvaro Seijas went 8-6, 2.81 this year and shows promising stuff but has yet to pitch above high Class A. OFs Nick Plummer and Bryce Denton, the Cardinals' first and second-round picks in 2015, have struggled to hit and have yet to advance past high Class A. They are likely to be unprotected and unpicked. 2B Max Schrock is coming off his second straight unimpressive season in Triple-A and also will likely not be protected.
Tampa Bay Rays (37)
Easy Calls: SS/2B Vidal Brujan and C Ronaldo Hernandez are two of the best prospects in one of baseball's best systems. SS/RHP Jake Cronenworth won the International League title, showed he can play a reasonably competent shortstop and even added some solid relief work to his resume as a developing two-way player.
Potential Protections: The Rays decisions are tough because they have a crowded 40-man roster and a number of players who need to be protected. If the Rays left OF Moises Gomez unprotected, his impressive exit velocities and well-rounded toolset would make him a potential Rule 5 target, even though he's topped out at high Class A. 3B Kevin Padlo showed he can handle third base defensively, hit for solid average and smashed 20 home runs in 109 games between Double-A and Triple-A. SS Lucius Fox has athleticism, a plus glove and speed, but a .650 OPS last season isn't comforting for teams looking for a backup infielder who can both hit and field.
Texas Rangers (36)
Potential Protections: A shoulder injury ended the season for SS Anderson Tejeda after 43 games. He has a lot of red flags and would probably be overmatched in the big leagues next year, but his tools might be enough for the Rangers to want to protect him. 3B Sherten Apostel was a Top 20 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League this year and could be another addition. He's far away, but has the tools to entice a team not worried about winning in 2020. RHP Joe Barlow was lights out at two levels before being lit up at Triple-A. As a reliever with a plus-plus fastball and a plus curveball, he would be an interesting Rule 5 candidate if left unprotected. RHP Tyler Phillips didn't have a great year at Double-A, but he's a strike-thrower with a good changeup who reached the upper levels after just seven high Class A starts. Triple-A INF Eli White could also get consideration as a versatile defender with Triple-A experience.
Toronto Blue Jays (40)
Easy Calls: None.
Potential Protections: If the Blue Jays don't create a spot on their 40-man roster to add INF Santiago Espinal, there's a good chance someone will pick him in the Rule 5 draft. Espinal, who turned 25 last week, was solid in Double-A and hit .317/.360/.433 in 28 games at Triple-A Buffalo, playing mostly shortstop and second base with a bit of center field as well. Espinal has limited power, but he's an instinctive player with a high-contact bat who manages his at-bats well and has the athleticism to play up the middle. OF Josh Palacios is another player who could draw Rule 5 interest if unprotected. Injuries limited Palacios to 82 games in 2019, but he makes hard contact, draws walks and may have more untapped power potential than he has shown so far.
Washington Nationals (30)
Easy Calls: RHP Sterling Sharp missed time with an oblique injury, but his sinker/slider combination is effective. His athleticism helps him consistently throw strikes.
Potential Protections: LHP Ben Braymer doesn't wow scouts with his stuff, but he has enough pitchability to be a useful up-and-down starting pitcher. His struggles with the Triple-A ball at Triple-A Fresno don't help his case. RHP Malvin Pena's 92-95 mph fastball and developing slider give him long-term potential, but the jump from struggling at high Class A Potomac to sticking with a major league club would be a massive one.
Contributing: Kyle Glaser, Josh Norris, Justin Coleman, Ben Badler, Teddy Cahill, Carlos Collazo and Matt Eddy.
Editor's Note: Padres infielder Esteban Quiroz was incorrectly listed as Rule 5 eligible in an earlier version of this story.