Not The Weekly Mailbag: The 40-Man Conundrum
Clarke Schmidt – Photo Courtesy of Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post
Seemingly every year for the last 2 or 3 seasons, the Yankees have found themselves with a 40-man roster crunch at the end of the season. Certainly, this is a good problem in reality. It means that the Yankees have both depth in the upper levels of the minors to supply the Major League team with a shuttle squad and high impact prospects worth protecting from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster, even when they likely won’t see the field for the Yankees for some time. Arguably, the Yankees have not yet made any mistakes in shuffling the roster to protect important prospects, outside of oft-injured catcher Luis Torrens, who was stashed on the back-end of a dreadful 2018 Padres team well before he was ready. As we have discussed here at SSTN multiple times, the Yankees have proven to be excellent at appropriately evaluating their own prospects. 2020 is going to test the Yankees’ ability to evaluate players in their farm system to the limit.
Before I go into it any further, here is a list of just some of the important players who will need to be added to the 40-man roster after the 2020 season if the Yankees want to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft:
Jhony Brito – RHP
Alexander Vizcaino – RHP
Oswald Peraza – SS
Yoendrys Gomez – RHP
Roansy Contreras – RHP
Glenn Otto – RHP
Garrett Whitlock – RHP
Clarke Schmidt – RHP
Trevor Stephan – RHP
Some of these names are instantly familiar to those of you who have been reading our series on the SSTN Top 15 Yankees Prospects. Schmidt is in a class of his own, and under normal circumstances, I would have expected him to be added to the 40-man roster by mid-summer. Vizcaino, Contreras, Gomez, and Brito are all pitchers in the low minors who have either added significant velocity, shown an intriguing combination of stuff, or retain potential to start, but haven’t broken through the low minors yet. Whitlock, Stephan, and Otto are pitchers with good stuff who have reached the upper levels of the minor leagues, making them viable big league options sometime in the next year or so. Peraza is one of the top SS prospects in the Yankee system, and while his bat is far from the Majors right now, he shows potential for growth at the plate while displaying slick defensive actions.
Let’s leave Schmidt out of it for a minute, because there is little question but that he will be added to the 40-man roster in the next few months. The remaining 8 guys listed above all would likely be selected in the Rule 5 draft. Given the proliferation of 13-man pitching staffs, teams in need could easily hide one of the Yankees’ high stuff arms on the back of their MLB bullpen for a year prior to sending them back to the minors for further seasoning. Peraza is a different case, but his defense would likely allow a bad MLB team (think about a team like Baltimore) to use him as the last man on the bench as a defensive replacement that gets just occasional reps at the plate.
Realistically, the Yankees wouldn’t protect all of these guys by adding them to the 40-man roster at the end of the year, but 2020 is a pivotal development year for all of these guys, providing the Yankees with key data to aid them with their decision. While the MLBPA and MLB are negotiating to find a way to bring the game back sometime this summer, affiliated minor league baseball is very unlikely to be played in any significant fashion. Minor league players have also lost 2.5 months worth of work with minor league instructors and guided training, hindering their development further. In total, the Yankees will have just 3 or 4 months of firsthand experience any of the prospects listed above at their facilities in 2020. Pitchers with big stuff can have everything click all at once, racing through the minors in a single year. All of the guys above are losing that opportunity in a year that will be huge for their careers.
I don’t envy the job that Yankee talent evaluators in the front office have ahead of them. It is more likely than ever that a prospect will slip through the cracks during the Rule 5 draft period in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Yankee farm system is as deep as any in the league, and it can likely withstand the loss of one or two prospects. If that happens, it is important to keep any “mistakes” that occur in context. I have faith that the Yankee front office will once again show that they are among the best in the business at evaluating their own talent, but figuring out who to protect this off-season may be its most challenging task in some time.