The Winter Meetings are the most exciting portion of the offseason. By that point in mid-December, all of the teams have met at the GM Meetings in November and been talking on the phone (apparently with emojis) since then. Trades generally come fast and furious at that time, and free agents often come to their final decisions. Then, at the end of that whole process, there is the much less discussed Rule 5 draft. Most of you are likely familiar, but for those who are not here is a quick primer.
Players with a certain amount of service time as professionals (four years removed from their signing if they started playing when they were 19 or older, five years removed if they were 18 or younger) become eligible for the draft if they are not on the 40-man roster. Every team has a chance to pick anyone from this pool, and if a player is selected they must spend the entire season on the major-league roster (or major-league disabled list). If they are removed, their original team has a chance to take them back into the organization. For example, both Aneury Tavarez and Justin Haley were taken away from the Red Sox last winter, but both were eventually returned.
This isn’t a place where teams will find future studs most of the time, but it can be helpful to build depth at various portions of the roster. The Red Sox rarely get involved in this draft, but last year they did select Josh Rutledge, who spent the entire year with the organization.
The deadline to protect players is Monday night at 8:00 PM ET. Anyone who is not on the 40-man by that point can be selected in the draft. As of this writing, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster stands at 37. It’s possible that they could keep a spot open to either target someone in the draft or simply keep more flexibility moving forward in the offseason, but they could protect up to three players. Let’s take a look at all of the players with even the slightest chance at getting protected or selected in the draft (I readily admit there are a few long shots discussed below), listed in order of likelihood.
If Boston could only protect one prospect heading into this draft, Beeks would almost certainly be the guy. The left-handed pitcher had a very strong year in 2017, splitting his time between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. He has solid stuff, particularly with his fastball, and cleaned up his mechanics a bit this year. In this non-expert’s opinion, he seems a lot more likely to be a starter long-term than he did at this time last year. That being said, he’s still on the smaller side and could be a better fit in the bullpen. Either way, he’s going to be an important depth piece for the Red Sox this year and could make his debut at some point in 2017. If for some shocking reason Boston doesn’t protect him, I can’t imagine he would make it very far without being selected and put into someone’s major-league bullpen.
Some of you may remember Shepherd from spring training last year, as the right-handed reliever looked strong in exhibition games. He never turned that into a chance to make an impact in the majors in 2017 and didn’t put up stellar numbers in Triple-A, posting a 4.07 ERA. Still, he has an intriguing fastball in the mid-to-high 90s that he can locate and struck out 68 batters with just 18 walks in 59 2⁄3 innings. He needs to develop a secondary (likely his slider) a bit more to have an impact, but he’s very close to being a solid major-league reliever and if he’s not protected I could definitely see a team taking a chance on him and seeing what he looks like in camp.
Buttrey is another right-handed reliever who was originally drafted as a starter but converted to a relief role on a full-time basis midway through 2016. Last year was his first full year in the bullpen, and it was....intriguing? He split time between Portland and Pawtucket, and was really up and down showing big flashes and scary downside. He has a huge fastball that can sit in the high-90s and the potential for an above-average changeup. His command needs a ton of work, though, and when he’s off he gives up tons of walks and hard contact. I don’t necessarily see him sticking in a major-league bullpen all year in 2017, but he’s the type of guy who could make a leap out of nowhere and, like Shepherd, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone take a chance on him in the draft.
I get the feeling that I like Haley more than most. As I mentioned above, he was selected in last winter’s draft and spent the first half of the year with Minnesota before being sent back at the trade deadline when they acquired Jaime Garcia. The righty does not have a high ceiling, but he is a solid starter who can fill a depth role. I don’t think the Red Sox will protect him, but they should hope he sneaks through the draft because he could be an important piece of depth through this season, particularly with the health issues around their rotation.
Here we have yet another right-handed reliever, which are generally the most popular players this time of year. Cosart is a confusing prospect, as he has a huge fastball and at times can look like a future closer. He converted to the bullpen in 2016 and had a great year in the low minors, making me excited for what he’d do in Portland in 2017. The strikeouts were there and he induced some weak contact, but he struggled mightily with control in too many of his outings. He’s someone teams could be intrigued by, but may be just a bit too risky for this conversation.
- Aneury Tavarez, as mentioned above, was selected by Baltimore last year but returned right before the regular season. He had a great start to the year, but the rest of 2017 was marred by injuries and underperformance.
- Kyle Martin was removed from Boston’s 40-man roster in September after being protected from last year’s Rule 5 draft. There’s still some potential for a major-league career from the reliever, but it’s too much of a long shot at this point.
- Rusney Castillo is not being taken in this draft. Sorry.