It rarely has a huge impact, but I find the Rule 5 Draft to be one of the most fascinating parts of the offseason. It’s the part of the winter that is designed to find diamonds in the rough, and it’s always amazing when it works. Of course, the Red Sox rarely take part in the actual draft. This is partially due to the fact that they typically have a low pick when all the best players have already been selected. Even when they’ve had high picks in recent years, though, it hasn’t really been worth it since they’ve consistently entered each season with an eye on contention.
It’s not just the actual draft — which takes place at the end of December’s Winter Meetings — that is interesting, though. Before that draft can take place, teams need to protect their best prospects from the event by placing them on the 40-man roster. The deadline for clubs to do so is Friday afternoon, meaning the plans are already being made. This process is interesting in its own right, as it shows what the team thinks of individual players. Last season, the Red Sox protected Marco Hernandez, Pat Light and Williams Jerez, all giving them much different results in 2016. One was a contributor off the bench, one was trade bait for a deal that mildly worked out if we’re being generous, and one’s stock fell dramatically as he never took that step forward they were looking for.
Looking ahead to who will get the protections this year, the most important consideration is just how many 40-man spots they have open. Obviously, they can open up more by designating or outrighting players already on the roster, but the less they can do that the better. Currently, they have just two open spots, but I think it’s reasonable to believe they could open up three more easily by getting rid of Noe Ramirez, Jerez and Brayan Holaday if it came down to it. Looking at the list of players who would need to be protected (you can get some info on the criteria of available players and other Rule 5 draft info here), it doesn’t appear they’ll need all five of those possibly available spots. Here are a few candidates who they could consider protecting, though.
While there are not clear top prospects that need protecting like Rafael Devers and Luis Alexander Basabe will next offseason, Martin sort of jumped off the page on this list. He obviously never made the majors last season, but there was always speculation he could get the call in the second half when the team was experiencing major bullpen hiccups. Martin, entering his age-26 season, was drafted in the 9th round of the 2013 draft and has spent his entire professional career as a reliever. This past year was his most successful, as he spent the entire year in Pawtucket and pitched to a 3.38 ERA, a 3.02 FIP and a 2.26 DRA while striking out over 10 batters per nine innings. Martin can reach the mid-90s with his fastball and has an impressive changeup to go along with it. Although his ceiling likely isn’t that of a True Closer, the floor is quite high and he should be able to contribute to a major-league bullpen as soon as this season. It would be shocking if he weren’t protected by Friday afternoon.
We’re only two players in, but you’re likely noticing a trend by now: relievers are the most popular names in this process. It makes sense, as those are the easiest players to hide for an entire season on the 25-man roster, and they’re also the players least likely to be protected. Ysla fits this criteria, as a left-handed power arm that spent basically the entire season in Portland. He can reach the high-90s with his heater, and adds in a good slider and a decent changeup. His command isn’t quite to Martin’s level, which makes his floor considerably lower. At the same time, one can also see him reaching greater heights. I’d have considered him a near-lock yesterday considering the lack of depth from the left side, but their signing of Edgar Olmos may make them more likely to risk his selection.
Haley doesn’t exactly fit the theme of the day, since he’s a starter and not a reliever. With that being said, if anyone did take him in the actual draft, they almost certainly wouldn’t use him in their rotation. Still, Haley built his stock up a bit after pitching well in Double-A and spending half the year in Pawtucket. As I talked about earlier this week, you can never have too much starting pitching and Haley is part of the team’s rotation depth right now. I don’t think anyone would actually take him right now, which makes protecting him sort of unnecessary, but there is some risk involved. Losing starting pitching depth, even this low on the depth chart, can be painful.
We’re back to the relievers, though it wasn’t that long ago that Callahan would’ve been part of the rotation depth. He was never able to take that next step as a starting pitching, so the organization decided it was time to try him in a new role. He spent the year in High-A Salem, and the results were good but the underlying numbers weren’t. He was able to pitch to a 3.29 ERA and a 3.74 FIP that was almost entirely because of a lack of home runs that is likely mostly due to the home run suppression Salem’s home park is known for. To Callahan’s credit, though, he has pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, albeit in a smaller sample. I doubt that alone would raise his stock enough to be nervous about his selection, but it at least merited his inclusion here.
Overall, it’s a pretty lackluster year for players who need Rule 5 protection for the Red Sox. With their two already-open spots, I’d likely hold on to Martin and Ysla, as both could realistically be expected to contribute in 2017. Haley would be the only other I’d consider, and it’s an interesting question. I don’t think he’s good enough to be selected, but I don’t think there’s much to lose by designating someone like Holaday for assignment. This would also still leave at least two easily available spots for free agents down the road. Either way, we’ll find out their real intentions tomorrow afternoon.