It is that time of year again. The Rule 5 Draft is on Wednesday, and the Rays have decisions to make on several prospects as they decide who to protect on their 40-man roster and who they will leave for the taking. Let’s go into the notable eligible players and attempt to ascertain the moves the Rays will be making in the next few days.
Before we go into the players, we should start by looking at the Rays’ 40-man roster and figuring out how many players the Rays can protect. Here’s their roster as it stands right now.
Add up all the names, and it comes to just 33, seemingly leaving plenty of room for the Rays to protect players. But their current 40-man roster also lacks a first baseman, a designated hitter, a starting or at least tandem catcher, and one or two bullpen arms. That would leave the Rays with either 38 or 39 spots filled. From there, though, there are several candidates to be designated for assignment: Beliveau, Lueke, Ramos, and maybe even Fuld. Let’s assume that Fuld is retained, and one of Beliveau, Lueke, and Ramos (or a minor league signee not currently on the roster like Mark Lowe) would be the second bullpen arm if the Rays don’t sign another one. That leaves the Rays with up to five openings. Let’s go through the cases and see which players are deserving of one of those spots.
Vince Belnome- Belnome, 25, had a great year at Triple-A Durham in 2013, hitting to a .300/.408/.446 line in 533 plate appearances. He stands out for his plate discipline–he drew 84 walks while striking out 109 times–and his versatility. Belnome is capable of playing every infield position but shortstop, although only at first base can he be considered average. Belnome is a nifty utility player, but given his lack of speed and power and the fact that his pitch recognition skills trail behind his patience, Belnome could end up as a Quad-A type who doesn’t do enough to stay on a major league roster. Belnome seems unlikely to be added.
Cole Figueroa- After going unselected in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, Figueroa is likely heading for the same fate this year. Another utility player, the 26 year old Figueroa had a good year in 2013, putting up a .286/.361/.367 line in 533 plate appearances, and while his power is even worse than Belnome’s, he does does have some other talents. Figueroa is capable of playing a halfway-decent shortstop and is a good defender at both second and third base. So far in his professional career, Figueroa has played every position but pitcher, catcher, centerfield, and first base. Figueroa also has strong plate discipline, walking 54 time against just 30 walks in 2013, and while he isn’t fast, he used good instincts to steal 10 of 12 bases. Figueroa does some things well, and Joe Maddon raved about him last spring training, but his stock hasn’t changed since last year and the Rays will likely take their chances with the Rule 5 Draft again.
Todd Glaesmann- We come to our first interesting case in Glaesmann, a 23 year old outfielder who was the Rays’ third round pick in 2009 and their Minor League Player of the Year just last season. 2013, though, did not go so well for Glaesmann as he managed just a .240/.289/.378 line with 28 doubles 11 homers, and 6 stolen bases in 529 plate appearances. Glaesmann has two big tools that give him a chance to be an above-average major league right fielder: big-time raw power and excellent arm strength. He ties together his package of abilities with good bat speed, above-average speed, and strong defensive ability overall, giving him a tantalizing combination of talents. However, Glaesmann’s approach at the plate still needs plenty of work as he gets overaggressive at times and has issues with breaking pitches, and his future is in serious question as we see whether he can overcome that major obstacle. Glaesmann will likely repeat Double-A if he stays in the Rays organization, and while his raw tools stand out, there’s no reason to think he’s ready for the big leagues. The Rays will see what happens with Glaesmann in the Rule 5 Draft.
Jesse Hahn- The Rays always imagined adding Jesse Hahn to their 40-man roster after the 2013 season–but they thought the circumstances would be far different than this. With a fastball that touches the high-90’s and a curveball and changeup that both show promise, Hahn has topflight starter potential and a chance to be an effective bullpen arm right now. The issue, though, is that Tommy John Surgery delayed his professional debut until 2012 after the Rays drafted him in the 4th round in 2010 and this season saw Hahn struggle with injuries once again. Hahn was dominant when he was on the mound, managing a 2.15 ERA, a 63-18 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 57.1% groundball rate in his 19 High-A starts, but those 19 starts spanned just 67 innings pitched, just 3.5 innings per start, as he never got healthy enough for the Rays to take the training wheels off. After Hahn was excellent in his pro debut for Short Season-A Hudson Valley, the Rays pictured Hahn delivered a great 2013 to become one of their top pitching prospects. Instead, Hahn will be added to the 40-man roster with just 121 pro innings under his belt after three years and his future as a starting pitcher in serious question as his health issues loom.
Merrill Kelly- In sharp contrast to Hahn, no one thought that Kelly would even be considered at this point last year. Last season, Kelly went in to a swingman role for Double-A Montgomery, and while his ERA was solid at 3.57, it seemed like his days as a prospect was over. Kelly had a 4.15 ERA and a 41-31 strikeout to walk ratio in 73.2 innings pitched back at Montgomery to begin 2013, seemingly drilling that point into the ground. But then injuries and call-ups creating an opening for Kelly in the Triple-A Durham rotation, and from there, he somehow took off. Kelly went 8-4 with a 3.19 ERA in 84.2 innings pitched, managing a 70-34 strikeout to walk ratio and a 0.4 HR/9. The Rays saw enough to send Kelly to the Arizona Fall League, and while he appeared to run out of gas after tossing 158.1 innings on the year, he did manage a 9-3 strikeout to walk ratio in 11 innings pitched. Kelly’s strikeout to walk ratio over the course of the regular season was still underwhelming, but he has the stuff to be at least a middle relief option in short order. Kelly does a decent job commanding his 88-90 MPH fastball with late life, and its best use may be to set up his plus changeup, which is a weapon against hitters from both sides. He completes his article with a slurvy breaking ball that he is working to improve. Kelly’s breakout came out of nowhere, but he has the stuff to be a big league contributor in some form as soon as next season. Considering he turned 25 in October, that will likely come in relief, but Kelly should be added to the 40-man roster nevertheless.
Braulio Lara- Lara was selected by the Miami Marlins in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, but the 24 year old lefty’s progress continued to stall after the Marlins returned him to the organization after seeing him in spring training. 2013 marked Lara’s first year in the bullpen and his 4.20 ERA was certainly progress after he managed just a 5.71 mark in 2012, but his strikeout to walk ratio was just 56-44 in 75 innings pitched as he continued to be enigmatic. Lara’s fastball can reach 100 MPH, but he struggles to command it and his breaking pitches haven’t come along as planned. Getting selected again would mean that Lara would have the opportunity to pass through waivers before returning to the Rays, but even with his standout stuff, Lara’s lack of progress will leave him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft once again.
Adam Liberatore- Let’s just say it straight-out: Adam Liberatore was fantastic in 2013. The 26 year old lefty saw his ERA rise to 3.58, the highest of his four-year career, but that stat is extremely misleading. Liberatore’s strikeout to walk ratio jumped from 48-28 in 2012 all the way to 72-25 in in 62.1 innings pitched in 2013. He managed a 10.4 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.1 HR/9, and while the homer rate had a lot to do with luck, the Rays really may have something in Liberatore. Liberatore doesn’t have the best command of his 90-92 MPH fastball, but he made major strides this year and it plays up thanks to a deceptive arm slot. More importantly, it’s only his second-best pitch behind his slider, with features good late break and is a real swing-and-miss pitch, especially against same-side batters. Between his deception and his slider, Liberatore held lefties to just .162/.244/.230 line with 35 strikeouts against just 8 walks. He was even fine against righties, allowing a .257/.322/.329 line as his changeup has emerged as a decent third pitch. Suddenly it is looking like Liberatore could have a future in a big league bullpen in at least a lefty specialist role. The Rays will add him to their 40-man roster to make sure that happens in Tampa Bay.
Jeff Malm- Selected two rounds after Glaesmann in 2009, Malm has also shown flashes but ranked a tier behind even the inconsistent Glaesmann. Malm, 22, had a rough 2013, managing just a .239/.308/.391 line with 22 doubles, 14 homers, and 57 RBI in 467 plate appearances. His numbers did look much better from May 4th on as he hit to a .266/.330/.439 line in 376 PA’s, but even in the latter stretch, he struck out 69 times while walking only 28 times. Malm flashed easily the most raw power of any first baseman in the Rays’ system in 2013 (although comparing him to Richie Shaffer would be interesting), but poor recognition has prevented him from tapping into it consistently. He plays a solid defensive first base and he’s fine in left field as well, but a prospect at the bottom of the defensive spectrum really has to hit and Malm has not. The Rays will count on Malm not being selected and hope he can finally break through at Double-A next season.
Parker Markel- At this time last season, there would been no doubt that Markel was going to be added to the Rays’ 40-man roster right now. The former 39th rounder had shown a fastball as high as 97 MPH to go along with a good changeup and solid slider, and while his prospects of remaining a starting pitcher were iffy, at the very least he looked like a fireballing relief arm. Then the 23 year old right-hander proceeded to have an absolute nightmare of a 2013 season. He managed just a 6.37 ERA in 82 innings pitched, missing the rest of year from injury. His season honestly could not have gotten any worse–if he was hurt all season, we would be idealizing his talents while if he stayed healthy at least we could harp on that. Now he is yet another pitcher with a tantalizing arsenal who can’t figure it out. Markel has the stuff to be drafted in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Rays will let that happen if a team so desires. He is such a wild card and so far from the big leagues that they can’t afford to use a 40-man roster spot on him. The reason that isn’t so bad is that Markel is likely in a Lara-esque situation where he may have great stuff but is not ready for the big leagues, and the Rays will hope to get him back for next season and reevaluate where he stands in a year.
C.J. Riefenhauser- Riefenhauser, a 23 year old lefty, had as good of a season as any reliever in the minor leagues in 2013, pitching to a 1.22 ERA, a 70-19 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 73.2 innings pitched between Double-A and Triple-A. He was especially dominant against same-side hitters, holding them to a .127/.188/.177 line, but righties didn’t fare much better, managing just a .175/.234/.251 line. The question with Riefenhauser, though, is whether his stuff is good enough to force anywhere near those types of results moving forward, especially after his results fell back to earth at Triple-A. Riefenhauser’s fastball stays in the 88-90 MPH range, and he pairs it with a good, but not great slider along with a decent changeup. That doesn’t exactly overwhelm you as much as the numbers. Based on both level and pure stuff, Adam Liberatore beats out Riefenahuser. But can the Rays really leave Riefenhauser unprotected after the type of year he had? The Rays are going to be right on the fence regarding protecting Riefenhauser or not, but if they have a spot open, it’s hard to see him being left off.
Jacob Thompson- Thompson, who turned 24 in August, has flown entirely under the radar since being a second round pick in 2010, but he actually had a nice season in 2013 as he repeated Double-A, managing a 4.18 ERA, a 101-59 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 46.1% groundball rate in 148.2 innings pitched. Thompson finished the season especially strong, managing a 2.29 ERA and a 53.1% groundball rate in his final 11 starts. Thompson was a second round pick because of an intriguing arsenal, and that hasn’t really changed. He throws a low-90’s sinker that can hit as high as 95 MPH, and he pairs it with two secondary pitches that show some potential in his slider and changeup. Thompson needs to find more consistency and still has to conquer Triple-A, but he still has a chance to turn into a number four or number five-type starter or at least a middle reliever when it’s all said and done. Nevertheless, given his lack of upside and the fact that he’s at least a year from the big leagues, the Rays will likely leave him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, and a move to another organization could be for the best for his career if someone pulls the trigger.
Alejandro Segovia- It is really hard to see Segovia getting selected, but it would be really interesting if a team elected to try. Segovia, 23, had a strong season in his first year since moving off the catcher position, hitting to a .281/.376/.457 line with 22 doubles, 14 homers, and 51 RBI in 436 plate appearances. Segovia will have to really hit to remain a prospect now that he is no longer a catcher, but he may have the ability to do just that, showing solid bat speed, good power, and strong plate discipline. Segovia has a ways to go before he’s a legitimate big league option at first base–his defense especially needs work–but could a National League team target him as a power-hitting multi-position backup? Segovia played first and even got into a game at third base this year, and if a team believes he’s a halfway-decent catcher and is capable of playing left field, he could be a valuable bench player. Could Segovia turn into a Ryan Doumit-type power hitting outfielder and backup catcher? Maybe down the line, but the Rays will take their chances that Segovia won’t turn into that this season.
Kirby Yates- Yates was also eligible for last year’s Rule 5 Draft and went unselected. But after a tremendous season moving up to Triple-A Durham, maybe the 26 year old has turned some heads. Yates delivered an outstanding 1.90 ERA as the Bulls’ closer, striking out an insane 13.4 batters per 9 innings while walking just 3.4, and allowing just a 0.3 HR/9 in 61.2 innings pitched. Yates’ fastball usually stays in 92-93 MPH range, but he has made major strides commanding it, and he pairs it with a nasty slider in the mid-80’s that led to most of the K’s. Yates was originally an undrafted free agent, and after the way he dominated at Triple-A, it looks like he has finally established himself as a big league relief option for the near future. The Rays will have to add him or he seems like a likely Rule 5 selection.
At the end of the day, Hahn is definitely going to be protected, and Kelly and Liberatore seem likely as well. That leaves Yates and Riefenhauser, but it seems like they will both be protected. The question would have been much more interesting if Jeff Niemann was still around, but Niemann elected free agency, opening up all five spots. The Rays’ 40-man roster will stand at 38, with players like Beliveau, Lueke, and Ramos lookiing like the first to go when the Rays’ begin to make their offseason moves. The Rays will likely be adding five pitchers with potential to their 40-man roster, leaving players like Thompson, Markel, Lara, and maybe even Segovia to be selected if one of them catches a team’s eye. It should be interesting next couple of days as we see what the Rays actually to do, and we will have to wait until next month to see what happens in the Rule 5 Draft.