The Yankees and the Rule 5 Draft

The Yankees and Hisashi Iwakuma
What Went Right: Boone Logan's Second Half

One of my favorite events of the baseball year is the annual Rule 5 Draft, which takes place during the Winter Meetings in December (apparently it’s going to be earlier than that this year) and is designed to help advance the careers of players stuck in the minors. The rules are pretty simple; any player selected has to stick on his new team’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to his old club for half the original $50,000 claiming fee. The Yankees have lost a few players to the Rule 5 gods over the years, most notably Kanekoa Teixeira (Mariners) and Zach Kroenke (Diamondbacks) last season.

Last year the Yankees traded Brian Bruney to the Nationals for the player to be named later, though they worked out a deal with Washington that gave them the first overall pick in the R5D. They drafted outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, gave him a look in Spring Training, and ultimately decided to return him to the Dodgers. A few years before that they rolled the dice with Josh Phelps. Rule 5 picks rarely stick and when they do they’re often spare parts like middle relievers or bench players. Every once in a while there will be a Dan Uggla or Johan Santana or Joakim Soria or Josh Hamilton though, which is what makes it so interesting.

For all intents and purposes, high school players drafted in 2006 and college players drafted in 2007 (or earlier, of course) are eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Through the miracle of the internet, Donnie Collins provided us with a full list of Yankee farmhands – confirmed by VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman – eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. For prospect nerds like me, it’s pretty much a gold mine. Jesus Montero, despite signing as a 16 year old in 2006, is not eligible this year. Don’t ask me how, I don’t completely understand the eligibility rules, but all I know is that the team confirmed he isn’t eligible.

There are currently 43 players on the Yanks’ 40-man roster since Al Aceves, Damaso Marte, and Nick Johnson are sitting on the 60-day DL. Johnson, Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, Chad Moeller, Marcus Thames, Javy Vazquez, and Kerry Wood all go away once free agency starts next week. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte will come off the 40-man as well, but they’re coming back or will be replaced by someone. That puts the Yanks at 36 players, and you have to assume they’ll sign a few free agents, so let’s call it an even 40. Cut candidates include Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, and Chad Gaudin, but let’s play it safe and say that two of them will be back. Reegie Corona and Royce Ring can go, ditto Steve Garrison.

That gives the Yankees four 40-man roster spots to use for protecting prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird are absolute no-brainers, so we’re already down to just a pair of spots. I see four realistic candidates for these spots: George Kontos, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, and Craig Heyer. Almost everyone else on the list can be left unprotected for obvious reasons, and I don’t believe Melky Mesa and Bradley Suttle are advanced enough to stick on a big league 25-man roster all season. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of them being returned at some point should they get picked.

Let’s break down the cases for Kontos, Pendleton, Pope, and Heyer…

George Kontos
The Greek God of Pitching returned from Tommy John surgery this June and transitioned from starter to reliever. Kontos pitched well after coming back from surgery (3.37 FIP in 45 IP) and is currently getting his brains beat in (8 IP, 20 baserunners, 13 runs) like every other pitcher in the Arizona Fall League. The 25-year-old righty has firm stuff (low-90’s heat, good slider, eh change) tailored for a relief role, which is realistically the only spot he’d fill for the Yanks. His minor league strikeout rate at and above Double-A is very good (8.6 K/9), but the walks are a touch high (3.5 BB/9) and he’s always been homer prone (one longball for every eleven innings pitched as a pro). The equipment is there for Kontos to be a serviceable reliever.

Lance Pendleton
The Yanks’ fourth round pick in 2005, Pendleton missed the entire 2006 season due to Tommy John surgery (damn Rice pitchers). He’s been an absolute workhorse ever since, throwing a total of 445.1 innings (3.28 FIP) in the last three years, including 154.2 this year. The elder statesmen of this group, Pendleton is already 27, so his solid but not overwhelming rates (8.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.9 HR9) have to be taken with grain of salt since he’s always been older than the competition. I’m not sure if and how much the scouting report has changed through the years, but he was a low-90’s fastball guy with a curve and change back when he was drafted. It’s enough that he can start, and frankly he’s probably no worse than Moseley. At the very least he’s cheaper.

Ryan Pope
Pope’s always been an interesting case just because he the second player ever drafted out of the Savannah College of Art and Design. A year ago we wouldn’t have even been having this conversation, but the 24-year-old righty put himself on the map this summer after shifting into a relief role. He went from a fringy guy without swing-and-miss stuff (6.9 K/9 before 2010) to a dominant reliever, striking out 9.7 batters per nine while walking just 1.8 unintentionally. The homers are a bit of an issue (0.9 HR/9 as a reliever), but that’s life. We have to be careful with the sample (just 59 IP as a reliever), but Pope’s definitely put himself into the mix as a bullpen prospect.

Craig Heyer
Heyer’s been sneaky good since signing as a 22nd round pick back in 2007, earning the praise of Keith Law recently. Still just 24 years old, his walk (just 14 unintentional walks the last two seasons, or 0.8 BB/9) and homer (0.3 HR/9 career) rates are the stuff of legend, but the problem is that he doesn’t miss many bats (5.1 K/9). Heyer also has yet to pitch above High-A. The Yankees sent him (and Pope) to the AzFL to get a longer look, so you know he’s at least on their minds. The stuff is fine (click the link above for a scouting report), but the experience isn’t.

* * *

Of those four, I’m taking Kontos and Pope. Pendleton will almost definitely be selected since cheap spot starters/long men are always in demand around the league, but that’s the cost of doing business. Heyer might get picked, but chances are he’ll be offered back at some point. Kontos and Pope have by far the best chance of being impact players for the Yankees in 2011, and more importantly have a better chance of sticking on another club’s 25-man roster next year. The Yanks need to keep replenishing their pipeline of young and cheap strikeout relievers, and these two are next in line. If they somehow clear up a fifth 40-man spot, I’d go with Pendleton over Heyer given how much closer he is.

If you’re losing players in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s a good sign, not necessarily a bad thing. It means you have players in your system other teams covet, which is one of the caveats of a deep farm system. The Yanks have some tough decisions to make this year and well definitely lose a player or three, but that’s life. the important thing is that they keep the right ones.

Hoffmann, Kontos photos both courtesy of the AP.

The Yankees and Hisashi Iwakuma
What Went Right: Boone Logan's Second Half
  • Marc

    I hear Rene Tosoni is finally available.

    • Mike Axisa

      Oh shush.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        I saw you out there playing sports… NOT


  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder


    • larryf

      funny-I thought that was Jon Weber. What bus did he ride out of Scranton in?

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    I’m still not 100% certain on how the minor league phase of the R5 works.

    Since Heyer and other moderately desirable guys like Jon Ortiz, Melky Mesa, Bradley Suttle, and the Almonte brothers are just at Tampa, can someone pick them in the AAA or AA portions of the R5 and just stash them in an upper level of the minors for a year? Why wouldn’t teams do this constantly?

    • Clay Bellinger

      I believe a rule 5 pick needs to be kept on your 25 man roster, or you’ll have to return him to the the team that he was taken from…like the Yanks did with Hoffman last year.

      • Clay Bellinger

        oops!…sorry! I read your post a little too quick…didn’t realize that you had said “minor league phase”

    • Thomas

      Per BA (

      “The minor league draft consists of two phases, and teams can continue selecting players until their minor league rosters are at capacity. Any player eligible for the draft is not, by definition, held in high regard by his organization. Each club can shield 78 players from the draft altogether—40 on the big league roster and 38 at Triple-A. An additional 37 can be placed on the Double-A roster and be protected from the big league and Triple-A phases of the draft.”

      There just aren’t any decent prospects available after the shielding (40 ML, 38 AAA, 37 AA protected).

      • Mike Axisa

        There just aren’t any decent prospects available after the shielding (40 ML, 38 AAA, 37 AA protected).

        Yeah no kidding, at that point you’re drafting org players. “Shit, we need a third catcher to bounce between AA and AAA next year! Grab one!”

        • Clay Bellinger

          that leads me to wonder…have there been any minor league rule 5 picks that turned out to be good/decent MLB ballplayers?

          • Thomas

            Not really, per the article “When Jim Callis explored the issue one year ago, he found that the most decorated big league careers among those taken in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft belonged to Jorge Sosa, Aaron Miles, Brian Buscher and Edgar Gonzalez (the second baseman) and Eugenio Velez. But only Buscher and Velez contributed to the clubs that drafted them.”

            • Clay Bellinger

              thanks man…i should’ve just clicked on your link rather than googling it haha. So some MLB contibutors have come from it though…kinda interesting.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Each club can shield 78 players from the draft altogether—40 on the big league roster and 38 at Triple-A. An additional 37 can be placed on the Double-A roster and be protected from the big league and Triple-A phases of the draft.

        Ah, that’s the money quote. We can shield most of those guys from the minor league phase while leaving them vulnerable to the major league phase.

        Thanks, Thomas.

    • Mike Axisa

      I don’t understand the AAA and AA phase either, but from what I understand it has to do with what level a player played at last year. So A players in 2010 will be eligible for the AA phase. Teams just slide the guys up to their AA and AAA rosters during the offseason if they want to protect them. It’s a paper move.

  • vin

    Did the Yanks ever come out and explain the way they used Kontos when he returned to action this season? Wasn’t he the guy who would pitch multiple innings of relief after starting a couple nights earlier? I believe it was him, and the gameplan seemed highly unusual.

  • Clay Bellinger

    I agree…of the four I think they definitely protect Kontos, then I’d say Pope over Pendleton because of him having a little more upside. I’d be a little surprised if Heyer was taken and kept though…A to the bigs is a pretty big jump.

  • mike

    that isnt jamie hoffman, it’s jon webber. jamie hoffman threw right handed.

  • Steve H

    If you’re losing players in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s a good sign, not necessarily a bad thing.

    Agree 100%. While it sucks losing a player, it says a lot about your system. As a Pats fan, during the Bobby Grier era as GM, every guy they cut ended up out of football instead of signing on elsewhere. When the 54th guy on your NFL roster can’t find a job in the league, you know your depth sucks. Having coveted guys that you can’t find room on your roster for is just a strong reflection on the overall depth (and thickness) of the system.

    • Jerome S

      …deep and thick…

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Jesus was signed in 2006, but his contract didn’t start until 2007. So he’s onlt been in the minors for 4 years.

    Also, I think time played in foreign leagues factor in somehow.

  • bottom line

    I’d like to see an updated scouting report on Suttle before I give up on him. Laird could be trade bait and we’re chronically weak in producing third base back-ups. A-Rod’s hip is going to go at some point.

    • rbizzler

      I don’t think that anyone is giving up on Suttle. The expectation is that he can’t/won’t stick on a 25-man roster all year. Being that he hasn’t played a lick over A ball (and he was solid last year, not beastly), I think that it is safe to say he is not ready for the show.

      And I agree on Laird as it looks like he will be moved in the offseason, but could also be a Hinske-type on the ML bench.

  • Shadow Kid

    Think there’s any chance some NL team takes a flyer on Kei Igawa?

    • http://deleted Richard Deegan

      That’s why G invented the Chicago Cubs. Igawa would be a perfect LOOGY for Wrigley, ‘cuz their two-year 7.5MM free-agent signing of LOOGY Grabow ain’t looking too good.

  • Pharryn

    I think consideration needs to be paid to which types of players tend to stick. Middle relievers, players with speed who can come in for defense at multiple positions, and back up catchers seem to be hidden on a 25-man roster more than others. While it’s OK to loose a player, to loose a high upside player could be disastrous. Because if this, I think NYY will protect this year’s breakout player: Melky Mesa. I don’t know how good he’ll be, but there’s plenty of room on the roster this year – no need to take a risk. I would have protected Kontos before his AFL failings, but now would probably keep Pope.