Tuesday is an important date in the offseason, though it often goes somewhat unnoticed until it shows up. November 20 marks the date on which teams must officially protect any prospects eligible to be selected in December’s Rule 5 draft. For those unfamiliar, the Rule 5 draft happens at the end of the Winter Meetings. The way it works is as follows. Teams must add eligible prospects to their 40-man roster by the November 20 deadline. If they are on the 40-man, they cannot be selected in the draft. If they are not, they can be selected and the teams that select them must keep the player on their active roster for the entire next season. If they do not, then the player is returned to their original team. As far as eligibility goes, it comes down to your age at signing. If you first signed at 19 or older, you are only eligible to be drafted if you have been in the pros for four years. If you first signed at 18 or younger, you are eligible if you have been in the pros for five years. If you think that’s unfair towards Latin American players, you are correct, but that’s a rant for another day.
Anyway, the Red Sox have a few interesting names who are eligible to be drafted this year. Currently, they have five open spots on their 40-man roster, and I suspect they’ll use all five spots to protect players. You can see the full list of eligible prospects here thanks to our friends over at Sox Prospects. Below, I’ll go over the five players I suspect are the most likely to be protected before Tuesday’s deadline.
Michael Chavis, 3B/1B
Chavis is certainly the most likely Red Sox minor leaguer to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. The near-unanimous top prospect in the system will likely find himself on a fair number of top 100 lists this winter/spring, and for good reason. It’s unclear where he fits defensively — he is a natural third baseman, though not great there, and has seen time at first base while there has been speculation for him getting time at second base and left field as well — but that’s secondary. What makes him so exciting is his bat. Chavis is a good all-around hitter who has improved his contact skills as he’s moved his way up the ladder, and if that can hold against major-league pitching he’ll find a role with some team at some position. If he was unprotected, he’d obviously get selected, and very early at that.
Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP
The Red Sox prospect who has been gaining the most steam in terms of hype over the last couple of months is Hernandez as he has put on a show during the Arizona Fall League. The southpaw has big-time stuff and was striking everyone out in short stints in Arizona. The plan is for him to keep starting to begin 2019, but it seems most evaluators see him as a future reliever. The good news is his stuff certainly plays up and there is real potential for a legitimate late-inning arm here. He likely wouldn’t be a dominant reliever right off the bat, but some team would certainly find a way to stash Hernandez in a lower-leverage role in 2019 to have him on the roster long-term. He’ll be protected, and there’s a decent chance he’s in the Red Sox bullpen at some point next summer.
Travis Lakins, RHP
From one reliever to another, Lakins is not as potentially dominant as Hernandez but he already has more bullpen experience and could feasibly be a viable major-league reliever as soon as Opening Day. In fact, you’ll likely recall the surprise of many that he was not added to the major-league roster last September. The Red Sox ultimately deemed him not ready, but after thriving in relief for both Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket he is already knocking on the door. Lakins will be protected, and he’ll be in spring training competing for an Opening Day bullpen role.
Josh Ockimey, 1B
The top three names listed here are certainly the biggest locks, though Ockimey isn’t very far behind. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t protected, though he’s likely a notch below the other ones because he’s less likely to see major-league time in 2019. The first base prospect is an interesting player whose value all comes down to his bat. He showed more in-game power in 2018, which was certainly needed, and also earned himself a promotion to Pawtucket. However, he still possess plenty of swing-and-miss that could hold him back. As a first-base only prospect he needs his bat to carry his value, and while it has that potential there is still work to be done. Ockimey will be protected, but I’m not sure what his 2019 will look like.
Josh Taylor, LHP
This is the most surprising name on the list and also the most likely to be left unprotected, but there seems to be a decent amount of helium around the lefty’s name over the last couple of months. Taylor was acquired by the Red Sox in May as the player to be named later in the Deven Marrero trade with the Diamondbacks. He spent the majority of his time with the organization in Portland, and while there were some control issues he showed off intriguing stuff. Then, he was sent to the Arizona Fall League and he struck out 17 batters while walking just two in 13 1⁄3 innings. If left unprotected, teams will see a lefty with a mid-90s fastball and workable secondaries, and that would be enough for someone to draft him. The Red Sox have the room on the 40-man, so I’d be surprised if he was left unprotected, even if that ultimately ends up with him being traded.