Friday evening was the deadline for teams to protect eligible prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, and we have been talking all week about the decisions the Boston Red Sox had to make. The team had seven open 40-man spots at their disposal, though the math is obviously not quite that simple as they also want to add other players from outside the organization. Still, they had a lot of potential additions, so there was some curiosity about what they would ultimately do. To my surprise at least, they only protected four players, with Jeter Downs, Josh Winckowski, Brayan Bello, and Kutter Crawford being added to the 40-man.
Before we get into some of the players left unprotected, a quick word on the four who now join the 40-man, and were seen as virtual locks prior to the deadline.
- Jeter Downs was the top prospect to come back from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade. He was pushed to Triple-A this past season despite little experience as high as Double-A before 2021, and he struggled. The infielder (he can play shortstop though played more second base this past summer) finished the year hitting just .190/.272/.333. That said, the skillset is still there for an everyday player up the middle, and he looked better at the end of the year as well as the start of the Arizona Fall League. The hope is that he will make his debut at some point in 2022.
- Josh Winckowski was a part of another trade, coming back as the top prospect in the package Boston received for Andrew Benintendi. Spending most of his season at Double-A before a late-season promotion to Worcester, the righty pitched to a 3.94 ERA over 112 innings, striking out 101 and walking 33. The ceiling isn’t huge here, but there’s a chance for a back-end starter or a solid reliever, and he can provide depth in either role as soon as midway through next year.
- Brayan Bello was the big breakout in the Red Sox farm system for the first half of the year. He’s always had the tools to be an enticing young arm, but prior to 2021 he struggled to put it together consistently on a start-to-start basis. The righty did just that starting the year in High-A, pitching to a 2.27 ERA with Greenville. He struggled a bit more in Double-A, but still showed good stuff and encouraging flashes. He may not be ready quite as quickly as Winckowski, but he could be an option in late 2022 if all goes right and the upside is higher.
- For the whole season, Kutter Crawford may have been the big breakout in the system. He actually already made his major-league debut this past year but was able to be removed from the 40-man due to COVID rules. That start didn’t go well, but he had an impressive 2021 between Double-A and Triple-A, pitching to a 4.28 ERA over 94 2⁄3 innings, striking out 131 and walking 20. It’s still an open question as to whether or not he can stick in a rotation long-term, but he’s major-league ready depth and has the potential to be, if not a back-end starter, than potentially a solid seventh inning reliever or something along those lines.
It’s no surprise that those four were protected, and there were always good cases for each of the four to be added to the 40-man. That said, I was expecting at least a few more to be added as well. Gilberto Jimenez is the most surprising to me, though he only played in A-Ball this past year and is extremely raw. It likely will be tough to keep him on the 40-man for all of 2022, making this a defensible decision from the organization, though with the number of teams who don’t care about winning right now I can see a team toughing it out to keep him and his upside in their organization.
Beyond that, there are a few pitchers I could see being selected in the draft as well. Durbin Feltman seems like a prime candidate, and even if his upside has dropped a bit since he was taken in the amateur draft he still is nearly major-league ready and can be at the bottom of a bullpen depth chart at this point. I think Zack Kelly and potentially Kaleb Ort fall into that category as well. Thad Ward was an interesting case as well. He’s coming off Tommy John and will likely be kept on the IL all year, and a team would have to keep him active for 90 days the following season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team take that chance, especially after what we saw from Garrett Whitlock this past year.
All that said, while I think I would have protected at least Jimenez and Feltman, these are all defensible risks by the Red Sox at this time. Unfortunately, there are only so many 40-man spots to go around, and they had to make some tough decisions. Personally, I would’ve added more with the idea that there are players — Hudson Potts, Jeisson Rosario, Tim Locastro, Jonathan Araúz, Phillips Valdez — I can feel comfortable removing from the roster at some point if need me. But again, these aren’t what I would consider to be egregious mistakes by any stretch. I suspect we’ll see at least one, and perhaps a handful, of Red Sox players taken in the Rule 5 Draft, but whether or not they are actually kept all season is a different discussion.
Right now, the Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for December 9. However, in the likely event there is a lockout, it’s unclear as far as I can tell when the draft would take place.