November is the time of year when the Phillies begin to refine their 40-man roster in preparation for the annual MLB Winter Meetings and the corresponding Rule 5 draft. Fans will see players “activated” from the 60-day disabled list, players opting for free agency as well as minor leaguers added to the roster in order to protect them from being scooped up by the competition.
Players are initially eligible for selection in MLB’s Rule 5 draft when they are not on their major league organization’s 40-man roster and 1) were signed to a contract at age 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years, OR 2) were signed at age 18 or younger and have played in pro ball for five years.
Like the annual amateur draft, teams draft in reverse order of the regular-season standings. A team that does not have any vacancies on its 40-man roster may not make a selection in the Rule 5 draft. Once a player is chosen, that player is automatically assigned to his new organization’s 40-man roster.
A Rule 5 player must remain on the selecting team’s 25-man big league roster for the entire next season, or be offered back to his original team.
The Phillies are heavily stocked with players that could be of interest to teams throughout baseball. Individuals that are eligible for the first time this year and are not already on the organization’s 40-man roster include former top draft choice RHP Shane Watson, powerful outfield prospect Nick Williams, rising slugger Jose Pujols, infielder Jesmuel Valentin, hurlers Nick Pivetta, Mark Appel and Elniery Garcia, plus Paul Owens Awards winners Ricardo Pinto, Ben Lively, Andrew Knapp and Dylan Cozens, among many others.
Watson, who was drafted 40th overall by the Phils in 2012, admitted this year that he thinks about his eligibility for the Rule 5 draft, implying that he wants to stick with the team he turned pro with, but like any smart ballplayer he just wants a chance to succeed somewhere. After missing two full years with shoulder injuries, the 23-year-old righty has yet to reach the Double-A level, having tallied a 4-5 record with a 3.93 ERA and a 7.6 K/9 mark in 14 starts with Class A Advanced Clearwater this past season. He likely would not be ready to stick with a team for an entire season at the big league level next year, so the risk of the Phils losing him would be minimal.
Williams, who was one of the big gets in last year’s Cole Hamels trade with Texas, is a lock to be added to the Phillies’ 40-man roster. As a member of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs last season, the 23-year-old lefty batter posted a .258/.287/.427 slash line in 125 games. For a team that had a MLB worst OPS from its outfielders this past season, the Phils will be relying on Williams’ bat, which features plus power, in the near future.
Pujols, a 21-year-old righty batting masher, has begun to creep toward the top of the Phillies’ prospect rankings. With a hefty amount of strikeouts (179) to go along with his team single-season record 24 home runs for Class A Lakewood last season, it’s not likely a team would have confidence with inserting him onto a big league roster for next year’s entire campaign. Pujols is far enough down in the baseball ranks that he’s likely safe to leave unprotected.
Valentin, the son of former White Sox and Mets infielder Jose Valentin, is another player that has spoken of being aware of his need to be on the 40-man roster in order to avoid the Rule 5 draft. In other organizations, it’s possible that Valentin, who wrapped up his 2016 regular season campaign with Triple-A Lehigh Valley (.248 avg, four HR, 14 RBI in 36 games) could end up on the 40-man, but maybe not in this Phils system that is chock full of guys that need protection. The 22-year-old switch-hitter could easily become an instant utility infielder at the top level of the sport, where versatility can often prove valuable.
Pivetta, a 23-year-old righty that sports a mid-90’s fastball, is possibly the best equipped among the players listed here to contribute at the top level starting next April. In 27 combined appearances at Double-A and Triple-A last season, Pivetta, who was acquired from Washington in the Jonathan Papelbon trade in 2015, posted a 12-8 record along with a 3.27 ERA and an 8.4 K/9 mark. A starter throughout his professional career, the British Columbia native could be a prime candidate to see some innings in a relief role in the big leagues next season.
Appel, who was acquired as part of the 2015 Ken Giles trade with Houston, is a former number 1 overall draft choice (2013). The 25-year-old right-hander missed a majority of last season after requiring shoulder surgery. It is unlikely that a team would jump at a health risk like Appel, although the disabled list status and minor league rehab period that goes with it could help him stick on a 25-man roster for some time until a team can test his durability and capabilities next year.
Garcia, a 21-year-old Dominican Republic native, had an excellent season for Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he tallied a 12-4 record with a 2.68 ERA and a 6.9 K/9 mark. The left-hander is already regarded among the Phillies’ top pitching prospects, but should be considered a long shot to stick on a big league roster for an entire season next year.
Pinto represented the Phillies in the MLB All-Star Futures Game this year. A steady strike thrower with an outstanding change up, the 22-year-old righty had a good season in which he posted a 7-6 record with a 4.10 ERA in 27 games with Reading. The Venezuelan could be attractive to some teams desperate for consistency.
Lively is fresh off a remarkable season that saw him lead all of the minors in wins with 18. In 28 starts combined with Reading and Lehigh Valley, Lively sported a 2.69 ERA with a .192 batting average against. If he is left unprotected, the right-hander might be as likely to draw interest as any of the other hurlers listed, however the 24-year-old may not have a ton of believers that his success can translate to the big leagues.
Knapp, a Triple-A All-Star last season, was overlooked for the younger Jorge Alfaro late in the 2016 campaign when the Phils needed an extra catcher. The switch-hitting 24-year-old posted a .266 average with eight homers and 46 RBI in 107 games for Lehigh Valley. I would expect with the upcoming free agency of fellow backstop A.J. Ellis, the team would have room for Knapp on the 40-man.
Cozens, the minor league home run leader for 2016 (40), is a no-brainer to be added to the Phils’ 40-man roster. See earlier notes on Williams for how valuable this lefty hitting powerhouse could be to the future of the team’s outfield.
It’s worth pointing out that not only players who are eligible for the first time this year are subject to the Rule 5 draft. Names like Carlos Tocci, Mitch Walding, Malquin Canelo, Alberto Tirado and Cam Perkins all became eligible in previous seasons and could draw interest from other clubs. Additionally, players with big league experience like Mario Hollands and Darnell Sweeney could also be subject to the Rule 5 draft.
Tocci, a talented outfielder with limited power, is often ranked among the Phillies’ top prospects and could be worthy of protection. Tirado, a 21-year-old righty that can get his fastball up to triple digits, should garner loads of consideration as a future contributor at the big league level.
The Phillies will need to use every single spot on their own 40-man roster to protect as many of these players as possible, so they won’t have any room to select in the Rule 5 draft themselves.
Now that the World Series is over, off-season roster moves will begin. Players will officially become free agents, others will be waived, disabled players will be activated and qualifying offers will be extended. Then soon after, some player options (so long, Ryan Howard) will be bought out. All of that will lead to the additions of several of the players I’ve discussed here to make sure they remain Phillies next year.
Much forecasting and prioritizing will need to be done by the Phillies’ front office. It will all be quite a chore to say the least.