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Tampa Bay Rays: Who Do They Protect in the Rule 5 Draft

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Brent Honeywell (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Brent Honeywell (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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With an off-season of several top prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays could have a serious dilemma as to whom they will protect.

The Tampa Bay Rays are facing an off-season where several of their best prospects will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The list includes twenty-two players ranging from Low-A to Triple-A and features six of the teams top 25 prospects. Currently, the Tampa Bay Rays 40-man roster has eight openings and that leaves the team with room to keep at least their ranked prospects.

An interesting part of the baseball off-season takes place in December of each year. It is called the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place on the final day of the Winter Meetings. Minor league players with four to five years of service time are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if left unprotected. To protect any of these players, they must be added to the team’s 40-man roster. If an unprotected player is drafted, he must remain on that team’s 25-man roster for the entire season. Let’s take a look at the group of players the Rays may wish to protect.

Brent Honeywell is a starting pitcher and the organization’s #1 prospect. He is also the #11 prospect in all of baseball and has a good shot at joining the Rays’ rotation next season. Jake Bauers is a first baseman/outfielder and the Rays #5 prospect. He is the #72 prospect in all of baseball and has a good chance to be the team’s starting first baseman in 2018. Both are locks to be protected.

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Next up are two very talented starting pitchers in Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough. Chirinos is the #19 prospect in the system and Yarbrough is #23. Both were International League leaders in a number of categories including strikeouts. Depending upon how the Tampa Bay Rays 2018 rotation works out, one or the other or both could make the team next year.

The last two ranked prospects are outfielder Justin Williams and catcher Nick Ciuffo. Williams, who was obtained from Arizona, has burst on the scene as a left handed power hitter and made the jump to Triple-A last year. He is the team’s #10 prospect. Ciuffo is part of a long line of high draft choice catchers that the Rays have tried to cultivate. He has come along slowly but has developed into a solid defensive backstop. He is the team’s #25 prospect.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays have a couple of non-ranked players who are interesting enough to take a look at protecting. Diego Castillo is a relief pitcher who closed for Durham last year. In his minor league career, he has 32 saves, a 3.04 ERA and 211 strikeouts in 189 innings. Kean Wong is an infielder and the brother of St. Louis Cardinal second baseman Kolten Wong. He is not a power hitter but has hit at every level in the Rays’ system and has a .284/.333/.358 career slash line.

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When looking at whether to expose a player to the draft, teams must also look at whether the player is an impact prospect and/or ready to be in the major leagues. That will affect how Rays look at pitcher such as Travis Ott who may have some upside but has never pitched above Single-A. Another team may like Ott but do not feel they could keep him on the 25-man roster.

The Rays have never lost many players to a Rule 5 draft over the years. Even fewer have stayed in the major leagues. The most recent player to make it is Joey Rickard who was selected by Baltimore in 2015 and has remained with the Orioles as a part time outfielder. On the other side of the coin, the Rays rarely select anyone in the draft unless they have arranged to trade or sell that player to another team.

In the end, it’s usually much to do about nothing. The Rays keep their best prospects and the others return to the minors to wait for a chance at the major leagues.

Next: Rays Lose Eighteen To Minor League Free Agency

However, the player choices should not be taken lightly as one mistake can cost you a future major leaguer.

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