Before the season ended, a media member asked who I thought Texas would protect on the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft. I threw out six names and haven’t had reason to change my mind. Five of the six aren’t ready for MLB, but to varying extents, the risk of exposure is too great. (At the bottom of the report is info about eligibility and the draft process.)
The Rule 5 draft is scheduled after the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and won’t occur as planned in the event of a lockout. but teams must set their rosters by Friday regardless. Also, in order to fit these players and participate in the draft, the Rangers will have to remove at least three players from the 40-man roster, which currently stands at 36. As I mentioned in a prior report, I don’t have an especially hard time paring the list, but we are reaching the point where some of the removals will raise an eyebrow. My unofficial list of eligible players is in the “Rule 5” tab here.
RHP Ricky Vanasco -- An MLB.com article suggested Vanasco was Texas’s toughest decision. He’s not. He might be the easiest. I understand the author’s reasoning. Because of Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old Vanasco hasn’t pitched since 2019 and has scant experience above short-season Spokane. Still, Vanasco has far too much potential to allow another team to swipe him for virtually nothing.
IF Ezequiel Duran – Duran didn’t need an impressive Arizona Fall League performance to secure a 40 spot, but he’s provided one anyway.
RHP Ronny Henriquez – Yes, I expect Texas to protect a 5’10”, 155-pounder with a 5.04 ERA in AA. He’s more control than command right now (6% walk rate but a homer every 17 batters), and he may not stick as a starter, but when he’s on, he very much looks the part.
LHP Jake Latz – The upside is limited, but he could fill a 5th/long role right now. Latz has a solid grasp of four pitches and struck out 29% of opponents.
LHP Cole Ragans – A tougher decision than most. If you saw him in AA, you’d have justifiable doubts. His velocity dipped and he struggled with walks, homers, and contact in general. In high-A Hickory, he looked worthy of that first-round pick years ago. I tend to cut players some slack given the events of the last 20 months. Ragans, who hadn’t pitched in a real game since 2017, deserves more than most.
OF Bubba Thompson – Thompson got through a season in one piece for the first time, gained some power, made pretty good contact, and started 56% of the team’s games in CF despite sharing bus trips with three other CF-capable outfielders. His ascent is far from assured, but he showed enough to warrant protection. He’s not ready for MLB, but what he does offer in the present (speed, defense) could entice another team if unprotected.
Others under consideration or of note:
RHP Daniel Robert – When evaluating bubble players for the 40, a critical question is whether other organizations have similar players. Here’s what I wrote about Robert in September: “His arsenal doesn't leap off the page: 92-94 fastball, 80-82 slide... He relies heavily on the slider, which has an almost floating quality out of his hand but acquires anger late and doesn't end up where the batter thinks. He generates plenty of misses with it and can also bring it through the front door for a called strike. He offsets that with a fastball that runs up/in to righties.” In an era with so many hard-throwing relievers, Robert’s repertoire does not stand out. What does is his exceptional control: just 13 walks in 59 career innings. I don’t know if that’s enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas selected him, but forced to predict, I’m making a small bet against it.
OF Steele Walker – Among Walker and Thompson, the Rangers aren’t obliged to take none, one, or both, but this does feel the closest to an either/or situation. Walker began 2021 as Thompson’s teammate and advanced to AAA while Thompson stayed behind. Nevertheless, I think Thompson is more likely to be chosen. Walker can play center but doesn’t stand out to Thompson’s extent, nor has the bat compensated for the difference.
IF Ryan Dorow – Dorow played briefly with the Rangers as a covid-rule addition that allowed his 40 removal without going through waivers. He had a strong year and is in the depth mix, but with so many other needing protection, I doubt he’s included.
RHP Cole Uvila – I had Uvila in mind for much of the season, but AAA really treated him poorly. His walk rate jumped, his strikeout rate fell, and for the first time as a pro he was hittable. Uvila has (to my amateur eyes) a complex delivery that impeded him at times. Would another team say “we can straighten that out?”
RHP Hever Bueno – Bueno’s ERA almost doubled compared to 2019, but he was nearly as effective in a two-level jump. 30% of his runs came in one spectacular September flameout. He throws hard and has improved his control. I doubt he’s selected, but after years of intermittent, highly erratic outings, 2021 was at least a step forward.
RHP Scott Engler – Engler has a deeper arsenal than most relievers (fastball, splitter, slider, change) and could reach the Majors with a strong showing in Round Rock, but he didn’t quite cross the threshold in 2021.
OF Julio P. Martinez – The 25-year-old Cuban had a nice year in Frisco, reaching at a .355 clip and stealing 20 bases without being caught. He’s behind the other OFs I’ve mentioned.
C Matt Whatley – Whatley’s defense and leadership are invaluable to Texas’s prospect pitchers. It wouldn’t take much more at the plate for him to advance, but it will take something.
RHP Alex Speas – Speas has been on the radar for years, sometimes as a prospect, sometimes a UFO. Finally able to pitch in real games again, Speas threw hard but missed time with elbow inflammation and walked or hit an astonishing 33% of opposing batters, more than negating his strong points.
RHP Kevin Gowdy – Part of the Gibson/Kennedy trade, Gowdy had a decent showing for high-A Hickory, but I don’t think he’s under serious consideration.
RHP Jason Bahr – A perfect 2021 for Bahr could have included an MLB debut. 2021 was far from perfect. He was as busy as anyone during the alt-site games, began the real season in Round Rock’s rotation and maintained a respectable strikeout rate, but the non-strikeouts featured far too many walks and hard hits. Although never absent for an extended period, he threw only 16 innings during the team’s last 98 games.
IF Chris Seise – So many injuries. 82 games played in four seasons, most of them in 2017. Assuming he’s healing appropriately, I expect Texas will protect him in the minor league phase of the draft, but that’s as far as it goes.
RHP Kohei Arihara – Having signed a two-year deal, he’s still an Ranger. Unlike other Rule 5 prospects, Arihara comes with a $3.6 million price tag.
Rule 5 Info
What is this about?
At the conclusion of every season, teams have a deadline to add certain prospects to the 40-man roster. Unprotected players are eligible to be claimed by other teams in the Rule 5 draft at a cost of $100,000. Leaving injuries aside, selected players must spend the entire following season on the active MLB roster or be placed on waivers, whereupon another team can put in a claim (like Arizona did with reliever Brett de Geus). Unclaimed players are offered back to the original team at half the cost.
Who is eligible if unprotected?
1) Almost everyone signed in 2017 or before. (IF Keithron Moss isn't, to my knowledge, because he signed after the season ended that year.)
2) Anyone 19 or older who signed in 2018. (Again, older free agents who signed late are exempt, but I don’t know of any Rangers.)
The Rangers have around 70 players to consider. Josh Jung, Davis Wendzel, Owen White, Cole Winn, Luisangel Acuna, Dustin Harris, and Josh Smith, to name a few, are not eligible until 2022.
How does the minor league phase work?
In addition to the 40-man roster, Texas and other teams have a reserve list of up to 38 players who are only eligible in the Major League phase of the draft. Once that portion concludes, there is a minor league phase, but players on this extra reserve list are ineligible. The minor phase is usually for filling organizational holes and taking flyers, but once in a while teams strike gold (or at least copper). Last winter, Texas grabbed minor league free agent catcher Yohel Pozo back after he’d signed with the Padres, and Pozo reached the Majors. Texas also lost IF Brendon Davis to the Angels. That transaction didn’t bother me a bit at the time, but Davis caught fire in 2021 and was recently added to LA’s 40-man roster. Players acquired in the minor league phase are not subject to any special roster requirements.