Rule 5 Draft Protections Show Teams Picked Wisely In 2017, 2018

Image credit: Kyler Murray (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland A's via Getty Images)

One of the things the 40-man roster protection deadline does is force Major League Baseball teams to make decisions they’d rather put off.

Without a demarcation line, teams will understandably keep giving time for slow-developing players to pull it together. They may carry a struggling player on the 40-man roster for a year or two longer as well.

But the roster protection deadline forces teams to make a choice. They either add a player (or keep him) on a crowded roster or they don’t. That is why we saw prominent players like Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier designated for assignment. It’s also why year in and year out, teams will decide to risk letting a prominent draft pick become eligible for the Rule 5 draft. As such, it’s the first clear measure of how well a team did with its drafting. If a team decides not to protect a first-round pick in his first year of eligibility for the Rule 5 draft, it’s a clear sign that the player’s development has not gone as planned.

This year, teams seemed to do better than normal in the first round of the draft. Only four first-time eligible first-round picks were left unprotected—and one of those, the A’s Kyler Murray, has yet to play any official pro baseball games, since he’s the starting quarterback of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

That leaves only three first-round picks that were truly left unprotected. All three are high school players: outfielder Austin Beck (Athletics), outfielder Bubba Thompson (Rangers) and shortstop Chris Seise (Rangers).

That means that this season 24 of the 28 first-time eligible Rule 5 picks were added to 40-man rosters. At 86%, that is the best protection rate of the past four years for first-round picks. Four years ago, teams only protected 73% of first-round picks.

Unprotected Picks
Here are the numbers for how many first-time eligible first-round picks have been protected in each of the past four years.
Year Protected Eligible Pct
2021 24 28 85.71%
2020 27 34 79.41%
2019 27 35 77.14%
2018 24 33 72.73%
High School      
Year Protected Eligible Pct
2021 9 12 75.00%
2020 13 17 76.47%
2019 10 17 58.82%
2018 11 15 73.33%
Year Protected Eligible Pct
2021 15 16 93.75%
2020 15 18 83.33%
2019 17 18 94.44%
2018 13 18 72.22%


If past history is any indication, being left off the 40-man is a clear glaring sign of concern for the three picks who were not protected.

Last year, seven first-round picks were left unprotected in their first year of Rule 5 eligibility. None of those seven played in the majors this season or were added to 40-man rosters, so all seven will be once again Rule 5 eligible this year. Of the eight first-time eligible first-rounders left unprotected in 2019, none have gone on to have MLB careers as of yet.

Expanding to look at the top three rounds, 53% of first-time eligible players in the 2017/2018 drafts are currently on 40-man rosters. Overall, 56% of college top-three rounders were protected (35 of 62) while 49% of high school top-three rounders (22 of 45) were added or were already on 40-man rosters.

Here’s a look at all four first-round picks who were left unprotected.


Austin Beck, OF, Athletics

Beck was considered a high ceiling but high risk pick in 2017 because he had missed the entire summer in the leadup to his senior year as he recovered from a torn ACL. Beck’s tools are solid, but he’s never hit enough for it to matter in pro ball. He’s a career .253/.303/.384 hitter who has just 22 plate appearances above Class A. The 23-year-old is unlikely to be a significant candidate to be picked in the Rule 5 draft.

Bubba Thompson, OF, Rangers

Thompson was a football/baseball star in high school who had a strong senior season after an uneven year on the summer showcase circuit. He does seem to be one of the players hurt by the lost 2020 season. He had an excellent full-season debut in 2018, but he really struggled in 2019 in a season where he battled a hamate injury. His 2021 season at Double-A Frisco was solid—he’s a center fielder who has generally hit for average with modest power and some basestealing ability. It’s likely some teams will take a look at him for the Rule 5 draft, but his aggressive approach would likely give him trouble handling a jump to the majors in 2022.

Chris Seise, SS, Rangers

Every now and then, a player comes along where everyone in the industry wonders what could have been or what could be if he could just stay healthy. Seise has shown flashes of being an excellent player, he’s just not on the field enough for anyone to feel confident in that assessment.

He’s played just 82 games as a pro thanks to a wide array of injuries. He’s had season-ruining injuries to both shoulders and this year he played only 10 games because of a torn ACL. In the rare moments where a scout has seen him on the field, the reviews have been quite positive, but he’s not ready to help an MLB team in any way.

Kyler Murray, OF/QB, Athletics

No one will consider taking a successful NFL quarterback in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft, but if Murray is left off the Triple-A roster, he could become the new Russell Wilson of the minor league Rule 5 draft. Wilson, a former Rockies second baseman, was picked in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft twice because teams wanted to bring him to spring training and let him talk to their teams. Maybe someone could consider doing the same with Murray.


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