We are mere hours away from finding out which minor leaguers the Brewers are going to protect on their 40-man roster this winter. I’ll leave that in-depth player by player analysis and a full explanation of the rules to Kyle, but I do want to present an overview of the Rule 5 landscape the Brewers are dealing with over the coming years.
At the same time that the Brewers are making their choices about who and who not to protect for the 2018 season, they are consciously planning around the players they will need to protect in 2019 and beyond. We got a peek into this process around this time last year when many, including myself, were somewhat taken aback by the club’s decision not to protect Miguel Diaz from the Rule 5 draft. Diaz was viewed at the time as a top up-and-coming prospect in a very solid Brewers farm system. He would go on to be selected first overall in last December’s draft, lost to the Padres (via the Twins).
The Brewers’ rationale for keeping Diaz, explained at the time by David Stearns, was that Diaz was simply too far away from the big leagues to be able to protect. Which could be read into as either, he wasn’t talented enough to warrant the Brewers gambling a precious 40-man roster spot on him for a few years as they waited for him to develop. Either that or he was talented enough to be in strong consideration, but the Brewers could not afford to lose the 40-man spot for a few years. A proximity issue.
Looking back at 2017, it certainly seems plausible that the Brewers could have kept Diaz on the 40-man roster all season without handcuffing the major league roster. But split milk and all that, regardless of the ultimate outcome for Diaz, the insight was clear. The Brewers made the decision that they needed the 40-man space more than they needed an A-ball pitcher.
Conversely, they made the somewhat surprising move of protecting righty Taylor Williams. At the time, Williams hadn’t stepped foot on a mound in an official game since August of 2014. Williams impressed in big league spring training 2015, complete with effusive praise from none other than Ryan Braun, but an injured elbow turned into two years of rehab and missed time.
And then he was given a 40-man spot. Williams impressed with the Brewers’ instructional league team after the 2016 minor league season, to the point where other teams knew that he was both fully healthy and dealing filth once again. The Brewers were unwilling to risk losing a potential 2017 contributor, despite the obvious injury and layoff risks. Williams could (and did) help soon. A proximity issue.
So what does that teach us about the 2018 class? Had Marcos Diplan been more consistent throughout 2017, maybe it would’ve taught us more. Diplan is the most Diaz-like player from this 2017 Rule 5 crop. But while Diaz was trending up as 2016 drew to a close and was a prohibitive favorite to either be protected or lost, Diplan’s 2017 issues preclude him from being held in that same regard. As a mitigating factor in the opposite direction, Diplan pitched in advanced-A ball in 2017, while Diaz pitched in A-ball in 2016. Diplan has fewer proximity issues, but it also not quite the fire prospect that Diaz was.
If we’re trying to find the 2017 version of Taylor Williams, there’s not a direct comparison, but how about Tristan Archer? While he’s not the sometimes-dominant pitcher that Williams is, Archer has been really good for a few years now, got passed over in the Rule 5 draft last year, and is a step away from the big leagues. A case could be made in the same vein for Jacob Nottingham, though perhaps he’d be a more likely add if the Brewers did not already have three catchers on the 40-man.
The Brewers have built an extraordinarily deep system full of talented players. While they don’t boast the best top level talent in the minor leagues, the system has players set to emerge everywhere. Which is great, but it creates a problem with the limited number of spots they have to protect players.
This “problem” is exacerbated by Stearns and Co.’s apparent penchant for being able to put together a solid major league team. That the Brewers are at the very least on the verge of contention right now makes those last few spots on the 40-man more valuable. Instead of taking a shot on a Miguel Diaz, it might be in Milwaukee’s immediate best interests to keep a lower-ceiling, but MLB-ready player.
Which also colors how we are to look at future Rule 5 protections. If we are to assume that the Brewers will be a good team moving forward, space at the end of the 40-man roster will continue to come at a premium. Skipping down to the 2019 Rule 5 class below, a Brewers team with a crappy 40-man roster might look to protect 6-8 players in that class. As it stands now, the Brewers will not have room for that many players.
One way to solve this is to use some of them now to trade for talent at the big league level. Stearns has made no secret of his desire to improve the big league club, and one of the more obvious tools available at his disposal is the minor league depth. While Isan Diaz or Luis Ortiz won’t be a centerpiece for a Jacob DeGrom or Chris Archer, the addition of prospects like that can push a deal over the edge to completion. The 2019 depth could also be used individually for smaller trades - a reliever here, a utility player there.
So, however the Brewers’ future 40-man decisions shake out, keep in mind that those decisions are being made in part based on everyone in the lists below, and on the 40-man roster now.
2016 or earlier (Already Eligible More Than Once)
RHPs: Aaron Brooks, Preston Gainey, Jorge Ortega, Braulio Ortiz
LHPs: Frank Lopez
Catchers: Tyler Heineman, Natanael Mejia, Fidel Pena
All of these players have been passed over for protection at least twice, and for all them it’s going to be at least a third time. Which is not to say none of these players will ever see the big leagues (or the big leagues again, in Brooks’ case).
2017 (Already Eligible Once)
RHPs: Tristan Archer, Rodrigo Benoit, Victor Diaz, Yosmer Leal, Daniel Missaki, Tyler Spurlin, Josh Uhen
Infielders: Javier Betancourt, Nate Orf, Angel Ortega, Yerison Pena, Jorge Quiterio, Wendell Rijo
Outfielders: Carlos Belonis, Clint Coulter, Johnny Davis, Tyrone Taylor, Kyle Wren
I mentioned Tristan Archer above, though he is a long-shot to be added. Three years ago if you would have told me Tyrone Taylor would be in his second winter of being eligible for the Rule 5 draft, I would have called you crazy. Four years ago for Clint Coulter, the same thing. In a weaker system, Orf might be added. But the Brewers will hope to keep him around as an if-needed 2018 depth piece.
2018 (Need to Protected By December 2017)
RHPs: Jesus Brea, Joaquin De La Cruz, Marcos Diplan, Nattino Diplan, Nelson Hernandez, Alec Kenilvort, Carlos Luna, Freddy Peralta, Devin Williams
Catchers: Carlos Leal, Jacob Nottingham
Infielders: Luis Aviles, Dustin DeMuth, Mauricio Dubon, Franly Mallen, Julio Mendez, Tucker Neuhaus
Outfielders: Nic Pierre, Joantgel Segovia
I will again defer to Kyle’s piece, to say only that given last year’s protections by Stearns, I’d be surprised to see more than three guys added. And not surprised at all to see only two.
RHPs: Phil Bickford, Colton Cross, Bubba Derby, Jordan Desguin, Nate Griep, Conor Harber, Carlos Herrera, Jon Olczak, Luis Ortiz, Josh Pennington, Jon Perrin, Michael Petersen, Cody Ponce, Wuilder Rodriguez, Trey Supak, Jordan Yamamoto
LHPs: Jake Drossner, Nate Kirby, Brad Kuntz, Kodi Medeiros, Drake Owenby, Quintin Torres-Costa, Christian Trent
Catchers: Mitch Ghelfi, Kevin Martir, Max McDowell, Moises Perez, Yoel Vasquez
Infielders: Blake Allemand, Jose Cuas, Isan Diaz, Jake Gatewood, George Iskenderian, Gilbert Lara, Jonathan Oquendo
Outfielders: Jay Feliciano, Monte Harrison, Troy Stokes
With the caveat that the prospects of this group may look quite different a year from now, egads. If the Brewers do trade prospects for MLB talent, they may very likely come from the 2019-eligibles class. At this point, you could make a 40-man case for any one of 15 or more of these guys. Certainly, Luis Ortiz, Isan Diaz, and Monte Harrison are near locks for the moment.
RHPs: Freisis Adames, Luke Barker, Parker Bean, Dalton Brown, Zack Brown, Corbin Burnes, Harold Chirino, Johan Dominguez, Tom Jankins, Karsen Lindell, Jeison Medina, Jenri Montas, Maiker Pinto, Miguel Sanchez, Scott Serigstad, Jake Smith, Matt Smith, Andrew Vernon, Nash Walters, Braden Webb, Chase Williams
LHPs: Dan Brown, Blake Fox, Cameron Roegner
Catchers: Cooper Hummel, Nathan Rodriguez, Jose Sibrian, Bryan Torres
Infielders: Luis Avila, Yeison Coca, Jomar Cortes, Lucas Erceg, Aaron Familia, Ronnie Gideon, Luis Manon, Trever Morrison, Antonio Pinero, Nick Roscetti, Francisco Thomas, Wes Wilson
Outfielders: Ryan Aguilar, Trent Clark, Zach Clark, Bryan Connell, Jose Gomez, Jesus Lujano, Demi Orimoloye, Corey Ray, Caleb Whalen
While not as impressive as the 2019 group right now, give it a year and who knows. Beyond Burnes, Erceg, Ray, and Trent Clark looking like strong 40-man contenders, for the time being, there are a number of promising “depth” players here who could emerge over the next two years. Could be Tom Jankins and his pitchability, Zack Brown/Braden Webb and their tenaciousness, Chase Williams and his raw gas, or any of Antonio Pinero/Zach Clark/Demi Orimoloye/Jesus Lujano for their athletic ability.
RHPs: Daniel Acosta, Nestor Batista, Alec Bettinger, Victor Castaneda, Roberto Delgado, Dylan File, Bowden Francis, Gabe Friese, Juan Gomez, Mike Gonzalez, Cameron Hanes, Matt Hardy, Robbie Hitt, Landon Holifield, Cody Martin, Henry Medina, Branden Nunn, Jose Parra, Wilber Perez, Kody Rock, Jose L. Romero, Jayson Rose, Austin Rubick, Bryan Salaya, Kadon Simmons, Christian Taugner, Brandon Texiera, Tyler Thorne, Victor Vasquez
LHPs: Jose Alberro, Cody Beckman, Luis Cordero, Davison Gonzalez, Blake Lillis, Brandon Presley, Wilfred Salaman
Catchers: Luis Avalo, Kyle Beam, Brent Diaz, Mario Feliciano, Alex Guenette, KJ Harrison, Payton Henry, Tyler Lawrence, Farlyn Manon, Charlie Meyer, Johan Mojica, Roberto Molina, Joel Munoz, Robie Rojas
Infielders: Jean Carmona, Dallas Carroll, Kenny Corey, Jean Cruz, Gabriel Garcia, Devin Hairston, Keston Hiura, Julian Jarrard, Victor Maria, Ernesto Martinez Jr., Chad McClanahan, Pat McInerney, Edwin Sano
Outfielders: Pablo Abreu, Bryan Dimas, Francis Florentino, Yorki Franco, Rob Henry, Anderson Melendez, Jose Pena
2016 high school draftees/international signees and 2017 college draft picks. A number of these players will break out, some expected and some not. And then some of those guys will flame out. Four years is a long, long time away in baseball.
RHPs: Justin Bullock, Leonar Colina, Wilmy De Jesus, Santiago Elizondo, Max Lazar, Caden Lemons, Cam Robinson, Moises Ruiz, Cristian Sierra, Michele Vassalotti, Ricardo Velasquez
LHPs: Karlos Morales, Brendan Murphy
Catchers: Jesus Chirinos, Andres Melendez, Luis Valderrama
Infielders: Jose Arteaga, Rafael Brito, Daniel Castillo, Nick Egnatuk, Alberis Ferrer, Elian Gonzalez, Luis Silva
Outfielders: Francis Casado, LG Castillo, Jeicor Cristian, Larry Ernesto, Juan Frias, Tristen Lutz, Alejandro Marte, Carlos Rodriguez, Alwinson Valdez, Luis Valdez, Je’Von Ward, Vitor Watanabe
RHPs: Kleiber Bordones
Infielders: Francis Gonzalez
Outfielders: Oswal Leones