Today at 8PM is the deadline that Major League Baseball teams have for adding players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
A quick primer on this is that players who were signed to minor league contracts (either drafted or signed as international free agents) who were under 19 when they signed, are eligible for the Rule 5 and have five years of professional play if not placed on the 40-man roster. Players who were 19 or older are eligible after they have four years of professional play and not placed on the 40-man roster. For domestic players, that means college players drafted in 2016 or earlier, and high school players drafted in 2015 or earlier. International players you need to use their age and contract signed.
Players who are left unprotected and drafted by another organization must remain on that teams Major League roster all season. If they are not the player will be placed on waivers and any other team can claim them with the stipulation that they also must abide by those Rule 5 rules. If the player clears waivers then they must be offered back to their original team.
Over the last week I have written about 25 players in detail that are Rule 5 eligible from the Cincinnati Reds farm system over at RedsMinorLeagues.com who the team has probably had at least some sort of conversation about protecting. I’m not going to regurgitate that here at Redleg Nation – but you can check that all out if you’d like to. What I do want to do here today is look at the players that I do expect the Reds to protect today.
The current 40-man roster has 35 players on it. The Reds could protect up to five players today without removing someone currently on the roster. My belief is that they will add five players, filling up the roster. That won’t come into play for more than two weeks when it comes to free agency or trades as I believe the team will trim the roster with non-tenders on or before the December 2nd deadline that will clear some roster spots. There’s also a chance that they place players on waivers today to try and sneak them through after teams begin to fill up their rosters with their own moves.
Let’s get into the players that the team will protect.
The Pitchers the Reds Will Protect
This year is a bit light on the pitchers that are likely to be protected. My expectation is that the Cincinnati Reds will only protect two pitchers – one starter and one reliever.
The starter is an easy choice. Tony Santillan was a Top 100 prospect during the season, even though his 2019 season was a bit down from his breakout 2018 campaign between Advanced-A and Double-A. The 2015 2nd round pick out of high school will show three plus pitches at times, along with a solid fourth offering. His 2019 season was mangled by a few non-serious injuries that he pitched with, but also saw some injured list time with. He’s currently rated as the Reds 5th best prospect.
The reliever isn’t much of a tough decision in my mind either. Ryan Hendrix was the 5th round pick out of Texas A&M back in 2016 and he’s dominated since being signed. His career ERA is 2.55 in the minors – and it’s been under 1.90 in each of the last two seasons while pitching in Advanced-A and Double-A. In 2019 he only threw 19.1 innings for Double-A Chattanooga – missing three months with an injury before returning for the final month of the season. When healthy he’s got two plus pitches and perhaps the best two-pitch combo of any pitcher in the organization not named Hunter Greene. He is currently rated as the Reds 16th best prospect.
Other names to keep an eye on
If you clicked on the link at the top of the story for all of the player write ups you are probably aware of these guys. As I said, I don’t want to rehash all of that here, though. But there are some guys that have an outside chance of being selected if they go unprotected, meaning the Reds could use a spot to add them if they think they could lose them. Tejay Antone had some success in Triple-A this season after having lots of it in Double-A this year. He’s a ground ball machine who could have a 2-pitch arsenal play up out of the bullpen after starting for his entire minor league career. Jhon de Jesus has only pitched in Low-A for his highest level, and his ERA wasn’t good this season while there. But he’s got real stuff, and real size. It only takes one scout to believe and sell their brass – and there have certainly been worse selections in the long history of the Rule 5.
On the reliever side of things you’ve got a guy like Aneurys Zabala who has been up to 102 MPH with his fastball, but has control issues. Then there are guys with solid, but not elite stuff but big results in Advanced-A ball this year in Connor Bennett, Dauri Moreta, and Diomar Lopez – the latter two who spent time in the Arizona Fall League and showed their stuff to scouts all over baseball as a result. Wild card Alexis Diaz has some stuff and good secondary stats, but did post an ERA of 5.18 in Low-A Dayton this year. And then there’s Brandon Finnegan, who didn’t pitch this year until late July and only threw a handful of innings this season with uninspiring results. Still, if someone thinks they can fix him, you have seen what’s potentially in there.
The Position Players the Reds Will Protect
For me there are two players that should make the “easy to protect” side of the ledger. That third spot is reserved for plenty of debate.
The first name on the list is 2015 1st round pick Tyler Stephenson. The catcher has worked his way up the farm system, topping out in Double-A this past season where he was above-average at the plate while being one of the younger players in the league. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .353/.421/.549 in his 51 at-bats. Stephenson has the tools and the production has followed as he’s remained healthy over the last two seasons. Easy, easy selection for the Reds 3rd rated prospect.
The next name would be TJ Friedl. The outfielder went undrafted out of Nevada back in 2016, but a lot of teams failed at their jobs and didn’t know that he was draft eligible. After joining Team USA that summer and going on a tear teams began to look at him to prepare for the 2017 draft, only to then realize he was eligible that year and since he went unselected, he was now a free agent. The Reds took advantage of their draft position, which comes with more bonus pool money, and they used what they had remaining before facing penalties of 1st round draft pick forfeiture to sign him to the largest domestic signing bonus ever to an undrafted free agent.
Much like his teammate this year in Double-A Tony Santillan, health was a bit of an issue for TJ Friedl in 2019. An ankle injury would take out his season early in July as he needed surgery to get back to full health. He hit just .235 on the year up to that point, but posted a .347 on-base percentage and slugged .385. When he’s healthy he has always hit better than that. He makes contact, he draws walks, he can run very well, and he can play a quality center field. Friedl may not be Major League ready today, but he will be soon. With a floor of a 4th outfielder and a ceiling as a starting center fielder, the Reds 11th rated prospect is an easy choice to add.
The final player that I believe will be protected today is shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez. The Reds signed him out of Cuba in the summer of 2016. He’s struggled to hit for the most part ever since – but that isn’t surprising given that just about every scouting report suggested that he was a great glove guy who couldn’t hit. He slugged under .300 in Cuba. But in 2019 at Double-A he did have his best offensive season.He hit .286/.325/.347 in 104 games for the Chattanooga Lookouts – all career bests. But for those keeping track at home, that’s still an OPS of .672 for a 25-year-old in Double-A, with a grand total of one home run.
He did move up to Triple-A in August, and with a juiced Major League Baseball in play where teams were decimating offensive records all year he hit .169/.261/.221 in 23 games played. Rodriguez has been playing in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, and through 19 games he’s hitting .309/.351/.324. He has one double – his only extra-base hit of the season.
The call here is interesting. Would a team really take a solid, but not elite defensive infielder who doesn’t have much of any offensive upside to speak of who will turn 26 next year? I don’t believe that they would, and if the decision were left to me, he would go unprotected. It’s just hard to make the argument that a team would take a career .252/.302/.310 hitter who is already 25-years-old. And if someone does, are you really feeling as if you lost out on more than an emergency call up?
But things aren’t always that simple. The Reds spent nearly $9M to sign Alfredo Rodriguez after you include the penalty they paid Major League Baseball to sign him for going over their pool allotment in 2016. That’s a lot of money, and while there’s the whole sunk cost thing, it doesn’t mean that everyone follows that to a T. Telling your owner that the player he spent $9M on isn’t worthy of being protected and someone else can have him for $100,000 and a spot on the 40-man probably isn’t a great conversation to have. For that reason, I expect Rodriguez to be added to the roster.
Other names to keep an eye on
Ibandel Isabel would have been a minor league free agent, but the Reds re-signed him before he tested the waters. In 2018 he broke the Florida State League record for home runs, hitting 35 in just 104 games to break the record that had stood for 71 years. This past season he played in just 91 games, but still led the Double-A Southern League with 26 homers. With that incredible power, though, comes an incredibly high strikeout rate. This season he struck out 42% of the time he stepped to the plate, hitting .243/.307/.518 on the year.
There are a few athletic outfielders with some tools that could be considered, too. Narciso Crook is the most advanced of the bunch and split his time in Double-A and Triple-A this season. In 108 games he hit .277/.332/.474 between the two stops. He can play left or right field, and he’s more than capable of being a back up center fielder defensively – but he’s probably not a guy you start there every day. He’s got some pop, a little bit of speed, and covers three spots. And he’ll be 24-years-old next year – so age is working with him, too.
The other two outfielders are ones with tools at the lower levels of the minors. Andy Sugilio may be the fastest player in the organization, can play center field, and has some upside at the plate. But he also has struggled to show much of that upside at the plate on the field. There’s some power potential, but his incredibly high ground ball rates keep him from getting to it. He hit .294/.331/.360 for Advanced-A Daytona this year.
Mariel Bautista is the Reds 18th rated prospect following a down season. He’s a potential 5-tool player who has plus speed and plus raw-power. And prior to 2019 he had hit at least .320 for three consecutive seasons. But he struggled to find consistency at the plate in 2019 for the Low-A Dayton Dragons, hitting .233/.303/.332 with 19 steals in 103 games. He did miss a month with a shoulder injury early in the season, which may have played a bit into the production issues.