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Who should the Royals protect from the Rule 5 draft?

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The deadline to add players to the 40-man roster is Wednesday.

Arizona Fall League - Mesa v Surprise Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Rule 5 draft will take place at the Winter Meetings in December, but the deadline to add eligible players to the 40-man roster to protect them from being drafted is Wednesday, November 20. The Royals currently have a full 40-man roster, so they will have to do some roster shuffling to add players in anticipation of the draft.

What is the Rule 5 draft exactly? It is a way of making sure organizations don’t hoard talent by stashing minor leaguers without giving them a chance. Players eligible to be protected are those players not on the 40-man roster that were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming. Basically, if you were a high school draftee or international signee who began their pro career in 2015 or before, or a college draftee who began in 2016 or before, you are eligible.*

*-there are weird exceptions to this, like the one that Blue Jays exploited to steal Elvis Luciano from the Royals last year

Let’s take a look at who might get added and who may get exposed to the Rule 5 draft

Locks to get protected

Nick Heath is almost certainly going to be added to the 40-man roster and is a dark horse to make the roster out of spring training. The speedy outfielder hit .255/.345/.387 across Double-A and Triple-A last year and led all minor leaguers with 60 steals. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League in 2018 and is holding his own in winter ball and having a blast doing it.

Carlos Hernandez is the kind of player teams covet in the Rule 5 draft, a high-upside power arm in the low minors who has been held back by injuries. The 22-year old right-hander posted a 3.50 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 36 innings for low-A Lexington last year, but teams will be enticed by his 95 mph fastball. With the state of the pitching in the organization, the Royals will almost certainly protect the young Venezuelan who is ranked the #13 prospect in the system by MLB Pipeline.

Could get protected

Gabriel Cancel has pretty good pop for a second baseman, slamming 18 home runs for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and batting .246/.308/.735 overall. The 22-year old has experience in the upper minors and is still young enough to have some upside. He was overwhelmed in the Arizona Fall League this year, but his ability to play all over the infield may make him enticing to teams.

Gerson Garabito has been good, not great, posting a 3.77 ERA with 113 strikeouts in 141 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The 23-year old right-hander features a fastball in the low-90s and has always had average to below-average strikeout rates, so the upside seems limited, but a team may gamble on him hoping to unlock more.

Grant Gavin is a Kansas City native who attended Central Missouri University and has posted strong numbers as a reliever at each level. He had a 3.61 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas this year, and had a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. The 24-year old right-hander has struggled with walks a bit, but he could be able to make the jump into a big league bullpen soon.

Ofreidy Gomez is a 24-year old right-hander that has flown under the radar, but features a mid-90s fastball that teams could covet. He had a 4.05 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 115 2/3 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

Seuly Matias was considered one of the top prospects in the system a year ago, but a disastrous season and a hand injury have diminished his value. Matias hit 31 home runs in 2018 for Low-A Lexington, but hit just .148 with a 45 percent strikeout rate for High-A Wilmington in 57 games this year, missing the last two months. He still has great power potential at age 21, but teams typically don’t select raw power hitters with high strikeout rates, so Matias could very well be unprotected.

Blake Perkins was acquired from the Nationals in 2018 in the Kelvin Herrera. The 23-year old centerfielder hit .224/.330/.347 in 122 games across High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He has good speed and has shown an ability to get on base with a 12.8 percent walk rate in his career, but his failure to hit much in his career may keep teams away.

Sebastian Rivero gets lost in the catching depth the Royals have, but Rivero was considered the best defensive backstop in the system by Baseball America in 2018. The Royals already have four catchers on the 40-man roster with Salvador Perez, Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria, and Nick Dini. Rivero has only played three games above High-A ball and has never hit much, so teams may not want him to make the jump to the big leagues.

Have been passed over before

D.J. Burt has some speed and positional versatility as a second baseman and outfielder, but hit just .226/.303/.304 in 80 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The 24-year old has virtually no power, but could still have some use as a utility player and pinch-runner.

Foster Griffin was exposed to the draft last year and went unselected. The former first-round pick had seemingly ugly numbers in Triple-A this season, posting a 5.23 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings, but that was actually a league-average ERA in the offensive-crazy Pacific Coast League. The left-hander has always been a bit underwhelming in his minor league career, but he is still just 24 and has pitched very well in winter ball this year.

Jake Kalish has been a serviceable left-hander in Omaha’s rotation the past two seasons, but at age 28, lacks the upside teams are looking for in the Rule 5 draft. He posted a 5.16 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 118 23 innings for Omaha this year. Kalish has generally posted underwhelming strikeout rates in his career, but very low walk rates, so he could be attractive to a team looking for a strike-thrower.

Yunior Marte seems like the kind of pitcher teams should like in the Rule 5 draft, but he went unselected in last year’s draft. Marte has a loose arm that can hit 96 mph on the radar gun and can fill any role on a staff. The 24-year old right-hander had a 3.58 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings across Double-A and Triple-A this season.

Rudy Martin is a speedster who can draw some walks, but fails to hit much otherwise. He hit .185/.260/.283 across three levels this year, swiping 26 bases in 100 games. He had a 32 percent strikeout rate, far too high for a non-power hitter, so unless a team sees him as an asset on the bases only, he seems unlikely to get selected.

Emilio Ogando improved his strikeout rate moving to the bullpen this year, although his overall numbers were still underwhelming. The 26-year old left-hander had a 5.20 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings mostly in Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Ogando has generally posted decent numbers in the minors, but with lower strikeout rates, and at his age, there isn’t much upside.

Chase Vallot has had trouble staying healthy and making contact, but he does flash some great power when he connects. The former first-round pick hit just .190/.303/.401 with 14 home runs in 83 games for Low-A Lexington this past season. The 23-year is a patient hitter, but has pretty much no defensive value and a 38 percent career strikeout rate, so he will not be selected.

Nolan Watson has a 6.46 ERA in his career since the Royals made him a first-round pick in 2015 and missed most of this season due to Tommy John surgery. The 22-year old right-hander has a “fringe-average fastball” and seems unlikely to be selected.

Long shots to be added

Jeison Guzman was given a $1.5 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic, but his bat has failed to develop since then. The 21-year old hit .253/.296/.373 with seven home runs in 121 games for Low-A Lexington this past season. He has a left-handed bat and some good tools, so he may still have a future, but he seems unlikely to be selected in the Rule 5.

Janser Lara has a live arm and an ability to miss bats, but he was out the entire 2019 season with an undisclosed injury. The 23-year old has a 4.02 ERA in his career with 10.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings, but 4.7 walks-per-nine innings, and has never pitched above low-A ball, making him very unlikely to be chosen.

Emmanuel Rivera is ranked as the #19 prospect in the system by MLB Pipeline due to offensive potential, but he has not developed much power yet. The 23-year old had a down year for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, hitting .258/.297/.345, and there usually isn’t much use for third basemen who struggle with the bat in the Rule 5 draft.

Ashe Russell has been an enigma since the Royals selected him 21st overall in the 2015 draft, tossing just 38 13 professional innings in his career. Russell had psychological issues that prevented him from throwing a baseball correctly and walked away from baseball at one point. Jeffrey Flanagan reported last winter that he had made progress and could return to the mound, but the 23-year old never appeared in a game this year.

Andres Sotillet has a thick frame and a low-90s fastball, but hasn’t translated that into a high strikeout rate. The 22-year old right-hander did perform adequately for Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season with a 3.35 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. His walk rate took a big spike this year, but he has generally been a solid strike-thrower.