You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know that the Rays have the deepest system filled with tremendous talents. But a closer look at how much time they have remaining to evaluate those talents while sorting out who they may want to keep – or not – tells us a tale of heavy decision making in 2021.
THE 65 RULE 5 ELIGIBLES
While making up top prospect lists and brushing up on the Rays system, I happen to come across the fact that the Rays will have somewhere near 65 prospects available in the 2021 Rule 5 draft. First, let’s list them all, and then we can make an attempt to see how many are most likely to warrant a 40-man roster position. That will provide a glimpse at how much pressure the front office might be under to make significant trades this season.
C (7): Blake Hunt, Ford Proctor, Brett Sullivan, Rene Pinto, Chris Betts, Roberto Alvarez, Michael Berglund
1B (4): Dalton Kelly, Kaleo Johnson, Dillon Paulson, Jim Haley
2B (3): Esteban Quiroz, Alberto Figuereo, Johan Lopez
SS (4): Wander Franco, Tyler Frank, Abiezel Ramirez, Jelfry Marte
3B (2): Connor Hollis, Tristan Gray
OF (14): Tanner Dodson, Nathan Lukes, Miles Mastrobuoni, Garrett Whitley, Michael Gigliottii, Jordan Qsar, Grant Witherspoon, Michael Smith, Niko Hulsizer, Ruben Cardenas, Alexander Ovalles, Diego Infante, Aldenis Sanchez, Yunior Martinez
RHP (26): Joe Ryan, Shane Baz, Tobias Myers, Tommy Romero, Alan Strong, Caleb Sampen, Easton McGee, Miller Hogan, Mikey York, Simon Rosenblum-Larson, Jack Labosky, Alex Valverde, Joel Peguero, Brian Shaffer, Phoenix Sanders, Tyler Zombro, Mathew Peguero, Victor Munoz, Zack Trageton, Michael Mercado, Austin Franklin, Chris Muller, Nathan Witt, Jordan Brink, Carlos Garcia, Angel Felipe
LHP (5): Kenny Rosenberg, Dalton Moats, Trey Cumbie, Jose Lopez, Franklin Dacosta
With a 40-man roster already filled with young, affordable, controllable talents, who’s going to stay, and who’s going to be moved pre-Rule 5 draft?
Now, obviously these lists will be subject to health issues and potential underwhelming seasons. We’re also going to heavily weigh those higher in the system since it’s more likely they’d be kept by an acquiring team who has to roster any Rule 5 selection for the entire 2022 season. If not, the prospect must be offered back to the Rays.
With that in mind, who’s likely to be kept?
THOSE WHO STAY
These are subjective, but for now, these are the players you can bet will have a spot made available, or be moved if they can’t find one because they’d be almost certainly taken in Rule 5 draft (in no certain order).
- Blake Hunt
- Wander Franco
- Joe Ryan
- Shane Baz
- Caleb Sampen
- Ford Proctor
Those are the players that would likely be deemed MLB ready and able to push other 40-man rostered players for playing time and depth roles. Barring disastrous 2021 season, they’ll need to find 6 spots on the 40-man roster.
One thing you’ll note from the list of 6 above is that none are outfielders, first basemen, or LHP. There are also players noted with the 65 that we definitely be making a significant push with a tremendous season at the upper levels of the minors. Those who we could anticipate to make decisions even tougher include:
- Chris Betts
- Dillon Paulsen
- Tristan Gray
- Abiezel Ramirez
- Grant Witherspoon
- Alan Strong
- Tobias Myers
- Tommy Romero
- Simon Rosenblum-Larson
- Kenny Rosenberg
- Austin Franklin
- Michael Mercado
- Ruben Cardenas
- Nathan Lukes
- Garrett Whitley
- Miles Mastrobuoni
With strong seasons and continued progress, that’s 16 names that could feasibly be seasoned and strong enough to attract a lot of attention in the next Rule 5 draft. How many of these guys can the Rays truly leave exposed without any return, and would it be more prudent to consolidate some of these players before we reach that point?
LOOKING BACK AT PREVIOUS TRADES
If we take a look back at previous seasons, we can get a feel for how many trades were possibly Rule 5 exposure motivated. We can’t know for certain, because organizations rarely come out and say that was the reason for a trade, but we can reasonably assume it in some cases.
You can make an argument that the Rays have built the vast majority of their pen through trading of prominent prospects:
- – Ronaldo Hernandez & Nick Sogard for Jeffrey Springs & Chris Mazza
- – Jesus Sanchez & Ryne Stanek for Nick Anderson & Trevor Richards
- – Nick Solak for Pete Fairbanks
- Then it can get a little more complicated, but still results in controllable talents gained. You can argue that the Rays in these cases are simply adding maximum talent, but in truth they’re creating room for other talents to step in – most times at a more affordable rate and in a role they’re interested in solidifying:
- – Chih-Wei Hu & Hunter Wood for Ruben Cardenas
- – Jose Alvarado for Dillon Paulsen
- – Jaime Schultz for Caleb Sampen
- – Nate Lowe, Jake Guenther, Carl Chester for Osleivis Basabe, Heriberto Hernandez, and Alexander Ovalles
- – Justin Williams & Roel Ramirez for Tommy Pham (original deal is roster number related), then Tommy Pham & Jake Cronenworth for Xavier Edwards & Hunter Renfroe (also roster number related as Rays gained more control time of Edwards over Cronenworth)
The above are just some of the many examples. The point being that they’re not afraid to move MLB proven talents for controllable youth, and are not afraid to move controllable youth for the right MLB talents.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
Taking a look at the talents above, you can argue that the Rays will move anywhere from 10-20 rule 5 eligible and/or rostered players in 2021. That would ensure we don’t experience an even worse loss of talents than Rays experienced in 2020. These were the Rays prospects taken in Rule 5, 2020:
- RHP Paul Campbell, #Marlins
- 2B Amador Arias, #Mariners
- LHP Matt Krook, #Yankees
- RHP Nicholas Padilla, #Cubs
- RHP Jhonleider Salinas, #Twins
- OF Roimer Bolivar, #Dodgers
- RHP Justin Marsden, #TexasRangers
That’s a total of 7 prospects they received no return for, and 2 that likely could have had an impact on the 2021 season. Obviously, you can’t keep all prospects, but the Rays are a team that generally seems to maximize the value of every single asset.
Of course, there is a bright side in that they did collect a few talents as well, including this guy:
The Rays are not the only team that will feel the need to consolidate talents this season. But if my hunch is right, the Rays may be one of the most active trading teams in MLB this season as they try to get ahead of the Rule 5 roster crunch while simultaneously attempting to find room for the next draft class (21 players).
It’s going to be a very active year for Erik Neander & Co. And I’m sure they wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s no better problem to have than having “too much” talent to worry about!!