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These 55 Lower-Level Players Earned 40-Man Roster Protection

(Editor's Note: This post has been updated to correct the omission of Angel Zerpa.)

One of the strangest quirks of baseball’s roster management rules involves the Rule 5 draft. Because players’ eligibility for the Rule 5 depends solely on service time and not experience, a handful of players who are nowhere near the major leagues get protected every year.

Despite being well down the minor league ladder, the players are talented enough that their parent club would worry about another team selecting them in the Rule 5, holding them on the big league roster all season, then sending them back down to the minors to resume a normal developmental track.

Recent examples include current Mariners catcher Luis Torrens, who was selected by the Reds (and then immediately traded to the Padres) with the second pick in the 2016 Rule 5 draft. So, despite having just 108 minor league games—including just nine above short-season—Torrens found himself on a big league roster for all of 2017.

He posted a .446 OPS that year in 56 games, then spent all of 2018 at high Class A Lake Elsinore.

So while the immediate payoff in the big leagues isn’t particularly strong, teams with little hope of making the postseason will use the Rule 5 as a means to poach young talent for cheap (a pick costs a team just $50,000), even if it means stashing them on the major league roster all season long.

With that in mind, there are 56 players on current 40-man rosters who haven’t played a game above high Class A. Twenty-four teams have at least one such player, and 18 have more than one.

This doesn’t even count players like Brailyn Marquez (Cubs), Estevan Florial (Yankees), Humberto Mejia (D-backs) and Luis Campusano (Padres) and Astros relievers Luis Garcia and Nivaldo Rodriguez, who made their big league debuts this season despite not advancing past Class A in the minor leagues.

The Yankees alone have six players who fit that bill, which means 15% of the spots on their 40-man roster are taken by players without a game above high Class A. Five of those six players rank among the organization’s Top 10 Prospects, and the sixth—righthander Roansy Contreras just missed being included. 

Here’s the complete breakdown of how many spots on each team’s 40-man roster are occupied by players without any upper-level experience.

1 … White Sox, Reds, Cardinals, Mariners
2 … D-backs, Indians, Rockies, Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Blue Jays, Nationals, Royals
3 … Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Twins, Padres, Rangers
4 … Giants
6 … Yankees

That the Yankees lead the way is no coincidence. A great deal of their high-end prospects were signed on the international market as 16-year-olds, and their system also includes a possible six levels before reaching Double-A. They are the only team with a club (or more) in the Dominican Summer League, a Rookie-level complex league, a Rookie-level non-complex league and a short-season league.

So if a player like Oswald Peraza, a talented shortstop who ranks as New York’s No. 6 prospect, moves a level a year after signing, he’ll have only reached low Class A by the time he needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft.

Is he ready for the big leagues? Absolutely not. But he’s talented enough that a team would easily consider selecting him in the Rule 5 and stashing him on the roster for a season in order to add him to their system.

But Peraza is by no means the least experienced player who earned 40-man protection earlier this month. Here’s a quick look at the highest level reached by each of the 55 players without any time at Double-A or above.

High Class A … 30
Low Class A …  20
Short-season … 4
Rookie-level …  2

That chart tells you there are five players who have earned 40-man protection without ever making it to full-season ball. So, who are they?

David Garcia, C, Rangers

Signed out of Venezuela in 2016, Garcia is a switch-hitter who more than held his own on both sides of the ball in 2019 as a 19-year-old in the typically college-heavy short-season Northwest League, where he ranked as the No. 12 prospect.

Carlos Vargas, RHP, Indians

Vargas signed in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic, then missed all of 2017 with a right elbow strain. He moved a level a year between 2018 and 2019 before the lost 2020 season. He brings a fastball that already reaches triple-digits and couples it with a potentially plus slider in the low 90s.

Alexander Canario, OF, Giants

One of the Giants’ top position players, Canario has played through shoulder problems for the past few years before having surgery this offseason to repair the injury. Even with the issue, Canario was excellent in 2019, when he hit a combined 16 home runs between the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Salem-Keizer.

Kervin Castro, RHP, Giants

Castro’s growth has been slowed by two lost years recovering from Tommy John surgery and then the obvious setback of having the 2020 season wiped out by the pandemic. A converted catcher, Castro was intriguing in the short-season Northwest League in 2020 but there were questions about whether he could remain a starter. He put up good numbers and commanded his low-to-mid-90s fastball, but there wasn’t much projection remaining.

Canario, Castro, Garcia and Vargas earning protection after reaching only as high as short-season is impressive enough, but two players even have that quartet beat.

Rockies lefthander Helcris Olivarez signed in August of 2016 and didn’t advance out of the Dominican Summer League until 2019, when he made 11 starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction of the Pioneer League.

Part of the reason for the slow movement is because the Rockies do not have an affiliate in the Rookie-level Arizona League, so if Olivarez wasn’t ready for the Pioneer League, then his only option was the DSL.

Olivarez impressed scouts during this year’s instructional league with a fastball that peaked at 97 mph in addition to improved command and control. Inconsistencies in his delivery led to offspeed pitches that were only so-so after the 2019 season, but he had enough raw materials to whiff 28% of the hitters he faced with Grand Junction.

The Royals also added a Rookie-level lefty to their 40-man this offseason when they protected Angel Zerpa, who signed in July 2016 out of Venezuela and spent the 2019 season in the Appalachian League. He's a shorter lefty who makes his living with a heavy, low-90s fastball, which he delivers from a lower slot. He also commands a slider and changeup.

Even under normal circumstances, these 56 prospects would have been extremely unlikely to impact the 2021 big league season. They were all talented enough, however, that their parent clubs decided to keep them out of reach of 29 other clubs who would have been happy to spend $50,000 and an MLB roster spot to add them to their system.

Nick Madrigal Danielshirleygetty

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Highest Classification
Luis FriasRHPD-backslow Class A
Geraldo PerdomoSSD-backshigh Class A
Yoan AybarLHPRed Soxhigh Class A
Jay GroomeLHPRed Soxlow Class A
Jeisson RosarioOFRed Soxhigh Class A
Manuel RodriguezRHPCubshigh Class A
Miguel AmayaCCubshigh Class A
Christopher Morel3BCubslow Class A
Jake Burger3BWhite Soxlow Class A
Jared SolomonRHPRedshigh Class A
Carlos VargasRHPIndiansshort-season
Gabriel AriasSSIndianshigh Class A
Lucas GilbreathLHPRockieshigh Class A
Helcris OlivarezLHPRockiesRookie-level
Jairo SolisRHPAstroslow Class A
Peter SolomonRHPAstroshigh Class A
Freudis NovaSSAstroslow Class A
Jeison GuzmanSSRoyalslow Class A
Angel ZerpaLHPRoyalsRookie-level
Chris RodriguezRHPAngelshigh Class A
Hector YanLHPAngelslow Class A
Gerardo CarrilloRHPDodgershigh Class A
Andre JacksonRHPDodgershigh Class A
Jose DeversSSMarlinshigh Class A
Jerar EncarnacionOFMarlinshigh Class A
Jordan BalazovicRHPTwinshigh Class A
Dakota ChalmersRHPTwinshigh Class A
Gilberto CelestinoRHPTwinshigh Class A
Roansy ContrerasRHPYankeeslow Class A
Luis GilRHPYankeeshigh Class A
Alexander VizcainoRHPYankeeshigh Class A
Luis MedinaRHPYankeeshigh Class A
Yoendrys GomezRHPYankeeslow Class A
Oswald PerazaSSYankeeslow Class A
Francisco MoralesRHPPhillieslow Class A
Simon MuzziottiOFPhillieshigh Class A
Max KranickRHPPirateshigh Class A
Rodolfo Castro2BPirateshigh Class A
Ivan HerreraCCardinalshigh Class A
Anderson EspinozaRHPPadreshigh Class A
Mason ThompsonRHPPadreshigh Class A
Tucupita Marcano2BPadreslow Class A
Kervin CastroRHPGiantsshort-season
Alexander CanarioOFGiantsshort-season
Camilo DovalRHPGiantshigh Class A
Gregory SantosRHPGiantslow Class A
Juan ThenRHPMarinerslow Class A
Drew StrotmanRHPRayshigh Class A
Ronaldo HernandezCRayshigh Class A
A.J. AlexyRHPRangershigh Class A
Yerry RodriguezRHPRangerslow Class A
David GarciaCRangersshort-season
Gabriel MorenoCBlue Jayslow Class A
Otto Lopez2BBlue Jayslow Class A
Joan AdonRHPNationalslow Class A
Yasel AntunaSSNationalslow Class A

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