Yankees Faced With Enviable 40-Man Problem

On Monday, each team is required to set its 40-man roster in advance of this year’s Rule 5 Draft. This presents the Yankees with a particularly enviable problem. With their farm system bursting at the gills with talent, they have far more players who need protecting than available spots on their 40-man roster.

As of Thursday, the Yankees had just two spots available. The Yankees have already added outfielder Jake Cave and righthander Nick Rumbelow, who had Tommy John surgery early in the season, to prevent them from becoming minor league free agents. Even with those two stashed away, there’s still plenty more whom the Yankees would like to keep away from the other 29 clubs.

The Yankees will almost assuredly create more 40-man roster space before Monday afternoon. There are quite a few players who could be cut to make room. Relievers Caleb Smith, Giovanny Gallegos and Ben Heller could lose their spots. Righthander Bryan Mitchell has long been intriguing as a trade chip, and a deal with him included would free another space. Midseason trade acquisition Garrett Cooper could also be in jeopardy. Utilityman Tyler Austin could also be in the same boat, though he could also have value in a small trade as well.

But they will have to create some room, because there are a number of prospects who are automatic adds.

Several of these are easy decisions. They will be protecting infielder Gleyber Torres, one of the best prospects in baseball and a player whom Brian Cashman mentioned earlier this week as a candidate for the third baseman’s job come Opening Day even though he spent most of the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.

That’s one.

Then there’s righthander Albert Abreu, half of the package the Yankees acquired from Houston in exchange for catcher Brian McCann roughly a year ago. He’s been dinged up a bit this year on and off, but he’s put together a strong end to his season in the Arizona Fall League and has rocketed up New York’s list of prospects. They’ll find a spot for him.

That’s two.

Infielder Thairo Estrada isn’t as high-profile a player as Torres, but he put himself on the map with a very fine season at Double-A Trenton and the Arizona Fall League. Scouts inside and outside the organization love him, and he would be a candidate for the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft if he were exposed.

The same goes for righthander Domingo Acevedo. He dealt with a few dings this season and ran into an innings limit just as the Trenton was about to enter the Eastern League playoffs, but otherwise from April through August. He’s not a finished product as a pitcher—the breaking ball still needs significant work—but with an upper-90s fastball and a plus changeup he’d definitely find a taker in the Rule 5.

That’s four, and we’re still not done.

Outfielder/first baseman Billy McKinney made a case for protection this year with a strong performance in major league spring training, as well as a strong close to the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Aaron Judge has the right field job locked down in New York, so McKinney is learning to play first base in the Arizona Fall League. Greg Bird has a pretty good hold on that position, too, but with his injury history it wouldn’t hurt for McKinney to be ready, willing and able to back up Bird if a need arises. If left unprotected, he’d be a good bet to be taken as an inexpensive, big league ready bat.

With Torres, Abreu, Acevedo, Estrada and McKinney, that’s five players. But we’re still not done. Even if they find a way to protect those five players, the Yankees are likely to have their minor leagues raided on the last day of the Winter Meetings.

First up is righthander Anyelo Gomez, a 24-year-old who started the year at low Class A Charleston and dominated enough to finish in Triple-A Scranton. Along the way he went 5-3, 1.92 with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He brings his fastball into the upper-90s and couples it with an above-average to plus changeup. Hard-throwing relievers are all the rage in the Rule 5, so Gomez would be attractive to rebuilding teams, or anyone looking for a hard-throwing low-cost reliever.

Next is lefthander Stephen Tarpley, part of the two-player package the Yankees got from Pittsburgh as the price for Ivan Nova last year. Tarpley’s numbers this year were simply absurd. In a strictly relief role, Tarpley went 7-0, 0.88 and allowed just 18 hits in 41 innings. He didn’t do it with big-time stuff—his fastball this year was in the 86-90 mph range—but he got enough movement on his fastball that he generate 2.36 grounders per fly ball. Lefties are always in demand, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tarpley find another home this winter.

Want more arm-strength guys? How about J.P. Feyereisen and Cale Coshow. Feyereisen brings his fastball into the upper-90s with a fringe-average slider, and Coshow has touched triple-digits this year with a solid-average slider. Both have mechanical shortcomings that cause their stuff to flatten out, but each would be an intriguing flier for a club looking for cheap gas in its bullpen.

Then there’s Nestor Cortes, the lefthander who does nothing but get guys out. He pitched at three levels this year and struck out 105 in 104.2 innings, and has performed wherever he’s been. Much like Vidal Nuño a few years ago, Cortes might not overpower you but he will relentlessly attack the strike zone and let hitters get themselves out. He’s got an ERA of exactly 1.00 over the course of 84 minor league appearances, and has the ability to pitch multiple innings in an appearance.

Want a wild card? How about Jose Mesa Jr. He was drafted in 2012 but didn’t debut until 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery. The son of the former big league closer of the same name, Mesa didn’t make it out of the low minors until this season, but he was spectacular when he got to Trenton. He brings a full four-pitch mix, including a fastball that has touched 95, a slider in the low-to-mid-80s and a changeup that’s just a tick harder.

And then there’s righthander Jonathan Loaisiga. Loaisiga, a short (5-foot-11) righthander, has a lengthy injury history including Tommy John surgery and almost all his limited experience is in short-season ball. But Loaisiga throws 95-98 mph with a solid changeup and tight, hard breaking ball. And he has advanced control for his experienced level.

That’s 12 players who could make a viable case to be protected. Not all can be, which is going to make some other teams happy come Rule 5 draft time. The Yankees had four players picked in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft last year and two of the top three picks in 2015. This is becoming a tradition.

The Yankees have one of the deepest if not the deepest farm system in the game, and this 40-man crunch is one of the byproducts. It’s a problem, but it’s one plenty of other teams would like to have.

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