SSTN Weekly Mailbag: A Rule 5 Prequel
Hot Stove season is getting interesting. Rumors and smokescreens abound, there have been a flurry of transactions as teams set their chessboards for the offseason, and we've gotten the usual soundbites of owners and GMs puffing their chests out about their early actions. Just last night, Ethan Semendinger and I were sitting at a table chatting when we discovered that Kyle Lewis (former AL Rookie of the Year) was dealt to Arizona for a utility catcher that we both admitted neither of us had heard of (a rarity for either of us). I had originally planned to write about the early season maneuvers in my introduction today, but it seems far more interesting and timely to talk about why I was sitting at a table with Ethan last night.
As many of you had seen on the blog, our Editor-In-Chief, Paul, was hosting a Q&A with Roy White at Ramapo College in NJ last night. Given the realities of being a working father who travels for work with a 3-month old at home, I didn't register for the event until a few hours prior, and was relieved to find there were still seats available for my father and I. I am so glad I attended.
I knew a little bit about Roy White prior to the Q&A, about his long tenure with the Yankees, his status as a respected elder on the 1977 and 1978 World Series Championship teams, that he was a respected coach in the Yankee farm system during the development of the dynasty core in the late-90s, and that he played with Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese Hank Aaron. Much as I eat, sleep, and breathe baseball, what I found most fascinating were the stories I didn't know that had little to do with baseball.
I've mentioned it a little previously, but in a life far, far away, I studied the experience of minorities in 20th century America through the lens of baseball. I thought I knew a lot about the African American experience as it relates to baseball, but Roy's story of his upbringing and early experiences as an African American ballplayer was wholly different than other stories with which I was previously familiar (and in some fascinating ways tracked more closely my studies of the diaspora experience of early Latino ballplayers who came to the US to play ball prior to MLB's integration, but that's a conversation for another time). At one time, some of Roy's stories were halting and thought provoking, but he also told these stories with such humility, humor, and dignity that it was impossible to not be impressed by Roy White as a person, not just as a ballplayer. As should have been expected, Paul did a fantastic job of asking questions that encouraged Roy to tell stories that resonated with the people in attendance, and I couldn't possibly do those stories justice by recounting them here. That I got to share this experience with my father was icing on the cake. It was a special evening, and I feel so lucky that I was able to attend.
As Yankee fans and humans, I think everyone should circle the date in April that Paul and Roy release their co-written autobiography of Roy White's life, From Compton to the Bronx. I know I will, because I am fascinated to learn more after last night's taste, and if they hold other events together, I can't recommend attending more highly - I promise, you won't be disappointed.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll take a deep dive into the Yankees' roster maneuvers in the lead-up to the Rule 5 Draft. Let's get at it:
Brian asks: Can you analyze the moves that the Yankees have made in the last couple of weeks leading up to the 40 man roster deadline? It seems like the Yankees have some extra roster spots that they didn't use and I don't remember that happening recently...
Yes, I think it's critical to discuss this deadline above the other nebulous rumors in baseball news today. Major League teams had until 6 PM this past Tuesday to add eligible players to the 40-man roster (players with 5 years of minor league service who were signed at 18 years old or younger and players with 4 years of minor league service who were signed at 19 years old or over), lest they be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft scheduled to take place on December 7th at the Winter Meetings.
Brian is correct, the Yankees have had a tremendous roster crunch at this time of year going back at least 5 years, and they have not selected a single player in the Rule 5 Draft since drafting Brad Meyers in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. I do not remember a time that the Yankees have maintained 2 open slots on the 40-man roster at the Rule 5 protection deadline in recent memory.
In terms of actual roster maneuvers, the Yankees have made 4 moves of significance: Stephen Ridings was removed from the 40-man roster, and was promptly picked up on waivers by the Mets; and the Yankees added Jimmy Cordero, Matt Krook, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft.
Ridings tantalized in 2021 with a 100 MPH fastball and usable secondary offerings, but was out all of 2022 with a set of mysterious injuries. Ridings is talented, but the Yankees clearly believe that the injury issues are significant and will keep him from reaching his potential (we'll see how that works out). Cordero has had success at the big league level prior to Tommy John. He came back and worked in the minors with poor results, but showed that his stuff was intact, making him a potentially useful piece to stash at AAA. Krook was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 last season from the Rays, and performed decently while building up innings as a starter. Krook's high-80s fastball plays up due to deception, and commands his secondary offerings well enough to make him a possible up-and-down arm. Brito has seen his fastball bump by at least a full grade in the last year, as he now touches 98 MPH regularly with a good change-up. Brito was excellent at AA before going through an adjustment at AAA, though with his arm, he could be a breakout waiting to happen in the bullpen. Vasquez is one of my favorite prospects in the system despite some real red flags in his delivery. Vasquez has very long arm action, with a short stride and sharp recoil with the arm at the end of his delivery, which gives me pause about his long-term health. However, he has excellent stuff, with a fastball that lives in the low-mid 90s and can touch higher, a whiffle-ball like curve (it's a bit slurvy, but it misses bats), and an inconsistent change-up that often flashes plus. Vasquez began to put all of the pieces together at AA in 2022, making 25 starts with excellent results, save for a tough couple of starts in July. Vasquez has a big league arm, and could be in-line for MLB starts as soon as 2023 if he can command his fastball better.
Before we analyze any further, let's take a look at some of the most notable guys that were left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft:
Very Little Chance of Being Selected:
1B/DH/OF Anthony Garcia, RHP Tyrone Yulie, SS Alexander Vargas
Garcia has some of the most raw power of any prospect in the Yankee system, but he struggles to make enough contact in games to make it interesting, and is likely just a 1B/DH already as a player who hasn't advanced to A+ in his age-21 season. He just doesn't have anywhere to hide on a big league roster.
Yulie is 21 with a huge arm and no ability to control or command the ball on the mound. The pieces might be there to one day make things interesting, but they're nowhere close right now.
Vargas has some real prospect pedigree and may be the best all-around defender in the Yankee system at SS. If you saw his swing in batting practice, you'd be sure Vargas is a top-25 prospect in the sport. Unfortunately, the swing hasn't played in games, with some pop, but unsightly plate discipline and an inability to make contact. Vargas wouldn't even hit enough to be a bench defender at the MLB level right now, so I can't see a team stashing him.
Someone Might Be Crazy Enough:
C Antonio Gomez, C Anthony Siegler
Rebuilding teams have shown that they are willing to select good defensive catchers and stash them in the Majors for a year before optioning them back to the minors thereafter to finish their development. I think it's an awful idea that really stunts development, but teams have done it. I may also just have some PTSD from when Luis Torrens was snatched up by the Padres despite the fact that he hadn't played beyond A+ ball.
Gomez has all of the tools to be a good catcher, and might eventually hit enough to start. His prospect pedigree is good enough that it only takes one team to try to stash him. Sadly Gomez reminds me a lot of Torrens without the injury history.
Siegler was a former 1st round draft pick who had previously sputtered due to injuries and underperformance. Siegler put himself back on the map this year with good offensive and defensive performances in A and A+. He'd likely get the call to AA in 2023, but I wonder if someone will look at the defensive profile and give him a look in Spring Training. I see Gomez as more likely than Siegler of being selected, but I think a team would be nuts in either case.
You Can Squint And See It:
C Josh Breaux, 1B/3B Andres Chaparro
Breaux has been hanging around the fringes of prospect conversations seemingly forever. He has two carrying tools: power and his arm. Larger bases and additional baserunners with the elimination of the shift will likely make a catcher's ability to throw a more important skill than in recent years, and Breaux can certainly do that. Breaux can put on some truly stunning displays of power, but that's about where his upside ends. Breaux will always strike out a lot and I'm not sure he's a catcher long-term, as he doesn't receive well and is a large body behind the plate that doesn't move particularly well. Some team might be interested in the arm and power profile, and Breaux did reach AAA in 2022, but I just don't see him sticking.
Chaparro has a cult following as a prospect. He produces some of the best exit velocity readings in the Yankee minor league system, produces decent plate discipline numbers, and makes more contact than his swing looks like it would produce. To be as politically correct as possible, Chaparro has what scouts would refer to as a "bad body", and while he has a good arm, he has very poor range at 3B and struggles to make plays on balls that aren't hit right at him. I think Chaparro is a 1B/DH long-term, which puts a lot of pressure on his bat to be plus. I think Chaparro is capable of doing that eventually, but I don't think he could stick at MLB right now with his defensive limitations and I believe good game planning and MLB quality breaking balls would eat him up initially.
Of the two, I think Chaparro has a higher likelihood of being selected, but I don't think either player could stick at the MLB level in 2023.
Rule 5 Possibilities:
RHP Matt Sauer, OF Brandon Lockridge
Matt Sauer reminds me a lot of Trevor Stephan. Similar builds, similar pitch mix (in the minors, at least), and a similar crossroad. Like Stephan, Sauer has pitched almost exclusively out of the rotation. You can squint and see the potential for Sauer to succeed in the back of a rotation, but I don't think it's particularly likely. Sauer has a long delivery and inconsistent command. Plus, he leans very heavily on two pitches, both of which would likely tick up by a half to a full grade out of the bullpen: his fastball which lives in the low-mid 90s and a good slider. The pieces are here for Sauer to be a good reliever, and I believe that the Yankees have left him in the rotation just to get innings and experience after injuries and the pandemic robbed Sauer of valuable development time from 2017-2020. I think someone will look at Sauer and see Stephan and give him a shot to make the club out of Spring Training as a Rule 5 pick.
Lockridge took a real step back as a prospect in 2022, particularly with the bat. At one time, there were scouts and observers who thought Lockridge's ceiling might be as a 2nd division regular in CF. Now, it looks as though the bat is unlikely to develop enough for that to happen, so it makes sense for a team to utilize the speed and defensive skills he does have off the bench before they diminish with age. While it may be counterintuitive to think it's more likely for a team to pick Lockridge now after a bad year, a team looking for a defense-first 4th/5th outfielder who can run in the Rule 5 Draft could be interested in Lockridge, as speed and defense is an expiring asset in CF with age.
Overall, the only eyebrow-raiser for me is leaving Sauer exposed. The Yankees will need shuttle relievers in 2023, and Sauer makes a lot of sense to me in that role, as I think he's a low probability starter that could be a fast-riser as a reliever. That's the type of arm that is often picked in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Yankees have been burned in the past by leaving that type of prospect exposed (Stephan and Whitlock both come to mind...yours truly recommended that both get protected in previous Rule 5 preview posts and Mailbags). Beyond that, I think the Yankees have managed the 40-man roster well given the current situation. Vasquez was a no-brainer for protection while the other pitchers give the Yankees depth in the upper minors for the shuttle. Ridings clearly has some scary medicals that the Yankees know better than anyone, so for now I trust their assessment that he wasn't worthy of a 40-man roster spot.
Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but the fact that the Yankees have left open spots available on the 40-man roster makes me think that they are planning for multiple additions in the near future. A guy can dream, a guy can dream...