Reviewing my previous 40-man previews, I discovered I called the 2018 situation “weird” after using the identical description the previous year. That’s some sloppy writing. In 2017, the Rangers had ten (!) open spots, affording the rare opportunity to protect players at will, and I'd written "I think he's protected" or something similar for all six selected. Last year, I said I "[didn't] have a strong feel for how many players Texas [would] protect, much less the actual names," but
when put on the spot by MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, I correctly guessed Taylor Hearn, Wei-Chieh Huang, Scott Heineman and Edinson Volquez.
This year, the Rangers have several borderline selections, and unlike 2017 and 2018, they lack sufficient room to protect them without jettisoning one or more existing 40-man members (likely all pitchers, given the roster makeup). They have only four open spots at present, actually just three if they wish to participate in the Rule 5 draft themselves. Also, teams can carry 26 active players in 2020, perhaps making clubs more inclined to take a chance in the Rule 5. So this, this is the weird year, I promise.
A brief summary of the rules and process: Clubs are allowed to stash most of their minor leaguers on a reserve list, but eventually (five years post-signing for those 18 and younger, four years for the 19-and-older crowd), clubs must protect them on their 40-man rosters. Unprotected players are available in the Rule 5 draft, which allows other clubs to claim them for a nominal fee. Drafted players must remain on the active roster of the club the entire season (with some exceptions) or be run through waivers and then offered back to the original club. Last year, for example, the Rangers
lost reliever Reid Garrett (a borderline case for addition) to Detroit, but by mid-May the Tigers decided they couldn’t wait out Garrett’s struggles, so he ended up back in AAA Nashville.
OF Leody Taveras – The player the Rangers would protect if they could protect only one. The offense isn’t there yet, but the defense probably makes him a replacement-level player right now.
RHP Demarcus Evans -- Not the highest non-Taveras prospect on this list, but the one most likely to find success through an entire Major League season if unprotected and drafted.
RHP Joe Barlow -- Barlow has never shown good or even average control, but he's been so difficult to hit (career .178 oppo average) that the walks wither on the bases. Upon promotion to Nashville, his control completely derailed, forestalling what seemed a likely September in Arlington. With pitchers throwing harder than ever, I think we’re going to see a relative glut of flawed flamethrowers on the R5 market come December, so perhaps Texas could entertain the hthought of exposing him. But ultimately, I expect him to make the list.
RHP Tyler Phillips – Phillips reached AA this season and projects as a back-end starter with impeccable control, so his selection appears obvious. That said, Phillips would have an awfully hard time sticking in the Majors if unprotected and drafted. Phillips throws strikes at will but not necessarily good strikes, and AA hitters took him deep at an unprecedented rate. Still, exposing him seems a needless risk.
3B Sherten Apostel – Mmm, the Kela trade. Taylor Hearn’s MLB debut was a multi-level catastrophe, of course, but he’s got good stuff and hopefully will be displaying it in 2020. As for the “second” guy in that trade, the 20-year-old Apostel overcame slow starts at both Hickory and Down East to become one of Texas’s best offensive prospects. Is he ready for the Majors? Heavens, no. Is he even ready for AA? I’d say so, although more time in Down East wouldn’t be outlandish. Do the Rangers protect him anyway? I think they have to.
IF Anderson Tejeda – Maybe the toughest decision. Tejeda missed most of the 2019 season, is a project at the plate and afield, and will probably begin 2020 in high-A. He’d be swamped in the Majors. The potential, though, is a starting shortstop with power, someone you’d really rather not dangle in front of your competition.
RHP Kyle Cody -- In 2017, the Rangers protected lefty Joe Palumbo only five months removed from Tommy John surgery. Before his own surgery, Cody was regarded just as well as Palumbo, and he’s much farther along in his rehab. This time, however, I think the number of players ahead of him plus the lack of roster room make him available to teams in December.
IF Yonny Hernandez -- Nobody is pitching around the 5'9", 140-pound Hernandez, but he’s walked in 16% of his plate appearances thanks to a laser-precise batting eye. Still 20 when last season started, he posted a .413 OBP between Down East and Frisco. Hernandez also has a career batting average of .268 and rivals the early years of Isiah Kiner- Falefa for utter lack of power, so we must be cautious. Sometimes, as these guys advance to face more pitchers with MLB-level command, they don’t have the physical ability to respond adequately. Hernandez has spent most of his career at second but can handle short ably. I don’t think he’s added, but keep him in mind down the road.
IF Eli White – When Texas acquired him last winter, I expected White to be added to the roster come November 2019, with perhaps even a shot at a September call-up. White is versatile, and the Rangers played him at shortstop and center field extensively. Unfortunately, White backslide offensively even as AAA hitting reached absurd new heights thanks to the hyper-bouncy MLB ball employed at that level for the first time. He didn’t set himself up for a utility role in 2020, so I
don’t think he makes the 40 this time. He’s still on the depth list, though.
1B Curtis Terry -- Writing up Terry in a Rule 5 preview would have been unfathomable two years ago. While he was never a mere brute-force hitter, he’s shown surprising plate coverage and bat speed as he advanced two levels this season. Terry's not a bad defensive first baseman, but for practical purposes he's purely a bat. That complete lack of positional versatility and no experience above high-A combine to make him an unlikely Rule 5 pick.
IF Andy Ibanez – Ibanez had a nice year in AAA and has acquired unexpected defensive versatility. If you only saw him in Frisco, particularly his early misadventures at third base, know that he’s much better now. Still, he doesn’t offer much upside, and there’s not much reason to choose him over any number of role players who already have MLB experience.
OF Miguel Aparicio – The Hickory OF took a step forward this year, upping his extra-base hits from 24 to 41 and showing better plate awareness, although that didn’t translate into an improved walk rate. He may yet restore his once-lofty prospect status, but he’s nowhere near MLB-ready.
Others: Pitchers Reid Anderson, Blake Bass, Wes Benjamin, Hever Bueno, Scott Engler (who I perhaps should have written up), Brady Feigl, Jake Lemoine, and Mike Matuella, catchers Josh Morgan and Yohel Pozo, infielders Charles Leblanc and Michael De Leon, outfielders Ledarious Clark, Eric Jenkins, Pedro Gonzalez and Hunter Cole.