The Rule 5 draft won’t be until December, but with the season winding down, the Royals will need to begin considering how they want to manipulate the 40-man roster in anticipation of the draft. For those unfamiliar with the Rule 5 draft, it is a way to give minor leaguers an opportunity if they have been stashed away in a deep organization or haven’t been given a chance yet.
According to MLB.com, the following players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Players who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years are eligible, as are players who were signed at 18 and have played for five years.
So basically, players who were drafted out of college in 2014 or before and players drafted out of high school in 2013 or before are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. International players are eligible if they have played five pro seasons. Players can be protected from being selected by being placed on the 40-man roster.
The Royals currently have a full 40-man roster, and once the season ends they will have to activate Miguel Almonte, Brian Flynn, Nate Karns, and Bubba Starling from the disabled list and either add them to the 40-man roster or designated them for assignment. Roster spots will be cleared for nine eligible free agents Melky Cabrera, Trevor Cahill, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Mike Minor, Mike Moustakas, Peter Moylan, and Jason Vargas.
So that leaves about five open roster spots to add players to protect. The Royals may not want to use all five of those spots - if they later acquire a player to add to the 40-man roster, they will need to designate some for assignment, requiring them to be exposed to waivers. It is more likely a player is claimed off waivers than it is they are selected in the Rule 5 draft and stick all year with a club. Adding a player to the 40-man roster also begins option years if they are assigned to the minors the following season. You can see all the players currently on the 40-man roster here.
Here are the Royals minor leaguers that they may want to consider protecting.
The Relief Arms
Relievers are typically the most likely players selected, since teams can just stash a guy as the last guy in the bullpen to be used only in low-leverage situations. Here are some pitchers that may be attractive to other teams.
The Royals hyped up Caramo after an impressive performance in spring training with the big league club. The 26-year old right-hander is a sinkerball specialist, with a groundball rate of 47.9% last year for AAA Omaha. However his lack of strikeouts hurts him, and he struggled with a 5.04 ERA in the minors this year. He’s not young, and doesn’t have the electric arm that teams covet, but he is polished, and if a team is looking for a sinkerballer, he could fit the bill.
Fernandez has pretty average stuff, but has had decent results at every level despite being young. Still just 23, the right-hander might make for a nice swingman or long reliever after posting a 3.16 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 77 innings across AA and AAA last year.
Garabito would be making a huge jump from low A Lexington, but he has posted good numbers and has solid stuff. He throws in the low-90s with good command and had a 2.81 ERA in 15 starts for the Legends. The right-hander had 72 strikeouts in 77 innings to just 19 walks.
Marte seems like the proto-typical Rule 5 pick. He can hit 97 on the gun with a good changeup and could have some upside as a reliever. The 22-year old struck out 80 hitters in 72 1⁄3 innings, beginning the season in Wilmington but struggling after his promotion to Northwest Arkansas. He has a high walk rate, but if a team thinks they can teach him to throw strikes, he could be a good value pick.
Selman has always had great stuff since the Royals took him in the second round in 2012 out of Vanderbilt, but he has had trouble with command. His walk numbers were still high last year, but it is hard to ignore his 97 strikeouts in 67 2⁄3 innings. Selman did walk 5.1 hitters-per-nine innings, but had a 2.97 ERA across AA and AAA, and at age 26, could make a nice power lefty arm in the bullpen.
Stout had a nice performance in the Arizona Fall League last year, then followed it up with a 2.99 ERA in 69 1⁄3 innings for Omaha this year. Lefties hit just .193/.264/.301 against him last year, so the 24-year old could be a specialist in the pen.
The 23-year old Dominican is far under the radar, but has posted very solid strikeout-to-walk ratios the last two seasons. He had a 4.53 ERA for Lexington in 55 2⁄3 innings, with 54 strikeouts and just 11 walks, and gave up just three runs in 15 innings for Wilmington.
Others: Jonathan Dziedzic, Emilio Ogando, Colin Rodgers, Glenn Sparkman
Downes smacked 13 home runs in Wilmington, which is no small feat considering how difficult it is to hit there. He also cut his crazy high strikeout rate from 2016 to a more manageable 23%. Downes was in his second season in Wilmington, hitting .245/.334/.471. Downes is very old for his league, so perhaps a team takes a flyer on the outfielder, although it doesn’t seem likely.
The 24-year old is one of the best power-hitting prospects in the system, so he’s a very good bet to be protected. He has smacked 71 home runs over the last three seasons, although he had a down year in 2017, hitting .253/.330/.455 across AA and AAA.
Schwindel was probably the best hitter in the organization this year, hitting .329/.349/.541 with 23 home runs. However he is 25 years old, and plays first base, a position teams will be reluctant to hand to a Rule 5 pick. His high strikeout and low walk rate limit his chances of succeeding at the MLB level.
Other Position Players
Hernandez was given $3 million out of the Dominican, one of the largest bonuses in club history. However, he hasn’t really put up the production worthy of his tools. He had probably his best season this year, hitting .317/.355/.489 in 46 games across High A Wilmington and AA Northwest Arkansas, but was plagued with injuries. He hasn’t shown much power, speed, or defense, so unless a team thinks they can unlock the potential of the 22-year old, it seems unlikely he will be selected.
Fukofuka is a long way from the big leagues, having never played above low A ball, but he shows good speed which some team may see as an asset. He is not a slap hitter either, showing decent power potential, but he whiffs a lot. The right-handed hitter batted .271/.338/.396 between Idaho Falls and Lexington last year.
Toups was teammates with O’Hearn at Sam Houston State and has been a versatile utility player. He struggled after being moved up to Omaha, and hit .245/.326/.377 between there and Northwest Arkansas. He shows decent power, can swipe a few bases, and can draw some walks, although he strikes out a lot. Some team may see the 24-year old as a cheap utility player option.
Others: Alfredo Escalero-Maldonado, Amalani Fukofuka, Logan Moon