Rule 5 Options for the Yankees

The Yankees added a slew of prospects to their 40-man roster this winter in anticipation of this year’s Rule 5 draft. As a result, the Yankees’ 40-man is currently maxed out, which doesn’t bode well for the Bombers participating in this year’s Rule 5. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult for them to make room, as there’s still plenty of DFA-worthy riffraff on the roster. But there isn’t nearly as much riffraff as there was a week ago, and the Yankees will need some of those spots if they intend to sign any free agents. If I had to guess, the Yankees will probably sit this one out, just as they have every year since 2011. But if the Yankees do decide to make a pick, there are plenty of interesting guys available according to my KATOH projections.

Pitching Help

The Yankees’ 40-man roster is crowded with pitchers, but their cohort of lefty relievers is rather weak. None of Chasen Shreve, Tommy Layne, Richard Bleier, Jacob Lindgren or Dietrich Enns qualify as established big leaguers. And frankly, if any one of those guys were DFA’d this winter, I would hardly bat an eye. There are some promising righties available — Mike Hauschild, Nabil Crismatt and Armando Rivero, to name a few — but if the Yankees take a pitcher, it will most likely be a lefty. Here are a few available lefties who are probably better than Tommy Layne, and might be worthy of a roster spot.

Team Org Highest Level KATOH KATOH+
Angel Perdomo Blue Jays A 3.0 2.6
Wei-Chung Wang Brewers MLB 2.2 2.3
Ismael Guillon Reds A+ 2.4 2.1
Jason Wheeler Twins AAA 2.2 2.1
Dedgar Jimenez Red Sox A+ 1.6 1.5
Jose Paulino Cubs A 1.5 1.5
  • Angel Perdomo is my first pick if I’m the Yankees. As a 22-year-old who’s yet to pitch above A-Ball, Perdomo is seemingly eons from the major leagues. But his 2.89 FIP and 29% strikeout rate at Low-A last year suggests the 6-foot-6 lefty has a bright future ahead of him. He’d be a low-probability upside play, but the payoff could be huge.
  • The Brewers selected Wei-Chung Wang out of Rookie-Ball in the Rule 5 back in 2013 and managed to retain his rights. They left the 24-year-old unprotected this year, however, despite his 3.38 FIP as a starter in the upper-levels.
  • Jason Wheeler has never been particularly dominant in the minors and is already 26. But a 3.60 FIP as a starter in Triple-A isn’t shabby, and KATOH likes that he’s 6-foot-6. The Yankees love their tall pitchers, so who knows. But then again, they chose to leave their own 6-foot-6 Triple-A lefty, Tyler Webb, exposed this year.

Backup Catcher Competition

With Brian McCann out of the picture, Austin Romine is the obvious backup catcher candidate. Kyle Higashioka will be around too, but could probably use a bit more seasoning in Triple-A. Romine is a solid catch-and-throw guy with non-embarrassing hitting, which is fine for a backup. But a little competition never hurt anyone, and to be mildly nitpicky, the Yankees could probably do a little better. Perhaps they can bring in one of the catchers listed below to duke it out with Romine for the backup gig.

Team Org Highest Level KATOH KATOH+
Tyler Heineman Astros AAA 3.1 3.0
Andy Paz Athletics AA 2.8 2.8
Jin-De Jhang Pirates AA 2.5 2.7
Taylor Davis Cubs AAA 2.4 2.3
Chad Wallach Reds AA 1.8 1.9
Jeremy Dowdy White Sox AAA 1.7 1.8
Ryan Miller Padres AA 1.8 1.6
Jose Godoy Cardinals A 1.4 1.5
Anthony Bemboom Angels AAA 1.3 1.5
  • Tyler Heineman is definitely on my short list if I’m the Yankees. He hit .259/.344/.351 at Triple-A, while logging 63 games behind the plate. Heineman’s short on power, but the switch-hitter’s contact-oriented approach has resulted in decent OBPs in the upper levels. Furthermore, both Clay Davenport and Baseball Prospectus rate him as a very good defensive catcher. I can already hear Austin Romine shaking in his boots.
  • Andy Paz has been kicking around Oakland’s system since 2011 without garnering much attention. He enjoyed something of an offensive breakout last year, though, when he slashed .303/.372/.389 — with most of that coming at Double-A. Paz’s power is minimal, but he controls the strike zone well and is still just 23. The metrics rated him as a merely average defender at Double-A last year.
  • Jin-De Jhang slashed .298/.338/.383 as a 23-year-old at Double-A last year, powered by a superb 6% strikeout rate. Jhang doesn’t have much power, nor does he draw walks, but his contact rate suggests he might hit enough to get by at catcher. The metrics aren’t particularly fond of his defense, however, which might make this entire blurb moot.
  • Taylor Davis hit a respectable .251/.341/.345 at Triple-A, while walking more than he struck out. This is the third year in a row he’s succeeded offensively in the upper levels, so the fact that no team’s given him a shot may be telling. Indeed, the metrics aren’t crazy about his defense.

Infield Depth

The Yankees have a fine utility infielder in Ronald Torreyes. Torreyes isn’t much of a hitter, but he makes enough contact to not embarrass himself and can play second, third and shortstop. But aside from him, the only guy resembling a utility infielder on the 40-man is Refsnyder, who’s arguably more of a “1B/LF/RF” than a “UTIL”. Injuries happen in baseball, and if any one of Torreyes, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius or Chase Headley goes down in spring training, the Yankees would likely open the year with a scrubby non-roster player on the team. Here are a few players who could provide depth and also some healthy competition for Torreyes and Refsnyder, who both have minor league options remaining.

Team Org Highest Level KATOH KATOH+
Sherman Johnson Angels AAA 2.8 2.3
Allen Cordoba Cardinals R 2.3 2.3
Tim Locastro Dodgers AA 2.2 2.2
Wilfredo Tovar Cardinals MLB 2.0 2.0
Eric Stamets Indians AAA 2.0 1.8
Matt Williams Cardinals AAA 1.5 1.6
Noah Perio Dodgers AA 1.6 1.5
  • A Fringe Five regular, Sherman Johnson‘s positional flexibility and control of the strike zone are intriguing. Though he hit just .226/.332/.345 at Triple-A, his .265 BABIP is partly to blame. On the downside, the metrics don’t particularly like him at second base and he has limited experience at shortstop.
  • Allen Cordoba is just 20-years-old, and is coming off of a .362/.427/.495 season with 22 steals in Rookie Ball. It’s probably safe to conclude that Córdoba is not ready for the show, but he’s clearly quite talented for his age. Perhaps his speed, defense and contact-oriented approach would make him a passable, utility infielder in 2017.
  • Another Fringe Five guy, Tim Locastro‘s made extreme amounts of contact in the minors, while simultaneously playing shortstop. He’s light on tools, but could conceivably make for a decent utility infielder as soon as this year.
  • The Cardinals recently singed Wilfredo Tovar as a minor-league free-agent, but since he’s not on their 40-man, he’s eligible for the Rule 5. He hit just .249/.301/.327 at the Triple-A level, but made a lot of contact and did damage on the bases. More importantly, though, he played a solid shortstop, as Davenport had him at 8 runs above average at shortstop in each of the last two years. His defense seems to be big-league quality, and given his contact skills, he probably wouldn’t embarrass himself at the plate.
  • Eric Stamets isn’t much of a hitter, but the metrics like what he’s done at shortstop in the upper levels. He added some power to his game last season, though it came at the expense of his strikeout rate.
  • Matt Williams was born in 1989, making him a senior citizen by prospect standards. But he hit a respectable .263/.355/.346 in Triple-A while playing mostly shortstop. It isn’t too much of a stretch to envision Williams hitting enough to make for a passable utility guy.

No Help Needed

If there’s one place the Bombers don’t need help, it’s the outfield. Barring a trade, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury will be back for 2017, while Tyler Austin, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Rob Refsnyder and Mason Williams should all be in the mix come spring training. Furthermore, Clint Frazier reached Triple-A last year and could easily force his way to the Bronx by the season’s second half. There are a slew of interesting outfielders up for grabs in this year’s draft — headlined by Kyle Wren and John Andreoli — but they aren’t necessarily more interesting than what the Yankees already have.

The Yankees also appear to be set at first base. Greg Bird has had trouble staying healthy in the past, but there is built-in depth on the 40-man. A couple of the Yankees outfielders — Austin and Refsnyder — also played a considerable amount of first base last year. If the Yankees were in the market for first base depth, they likely would have protected Mike Ford, who absolutely raked in High-A and Double-A last season. Among Rule 5 eligible first basemen, only Nick Delmonico projects better than Ford in the long-term.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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