Diamondbacks return Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Diamondbacks have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to the Yankees, both teams announced earlier today. That means Jones, a right-handed reliever, cleared waivers and was removed from the 40-man roster. The Yankees have assigned him to minor league camp.

Jones, 27, signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason. He had a 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings last summer. This spring he allowed five runs (three earned) in 6.2 innings with Arizona. Jones fanned eight and walked none.

The D’Backs aren’t particularly deep in the bullpen and I thought Jones had a chance to stick as a middle reliever. Arizona would have had to carry him on their 25-man big league roster all season as a Rule 5 Draft pick, otherwise put him on waivers and offer him back to the Yankees, which is what happened.

The Yankees still have three other Rule 5 Draft picks out there: catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) and lefties Caleb Smith (Cubs) and Tyler Webb (Pirates). Webb has the best chance to stick with his new team, I believe. Torrens and Smith are almost certainly coming back at some point before Opening Day.

Yankees lose Torrens, six others in 2016 Rule 5 Draft

Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)
Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)

Thursday morning, the 2016 Winter Meetings unofficially wrapped up with the Rule 5 Draft. Traditionally everyone heads home after that. The Yankees were not able to make a Rule 5 Draft pick this year because their 40-man roster is full, though their incredibly deep farm system was raided pretty good, as expected. So it goes. Here’s a recap of the damage:

Major League Phase

2. Reds: C Luis Torrens (traded to Padres, according to Jonathan Mayo)
7. Diamondbacks: RHP Tyler Jones
9. Brewers: LHP Caleb Smith (traded to Cubs, the team announced)
13. Pirates: LHP Tyler Webb

Triple-A Phase

4. Rays: RHP Ty Hensley
15. Royals: RHP Kelvin Magallanes
30. Cubs: IF Kevin Cornelius

As a reminder, players selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft have to stick on their new team’s 25-man active big league roster all next season, or be put on waivers and offered back to the Yankees. The Triple-A phase works differently. That’s just a straight draft. The players are gone. They don’t have to be offered back.

Torrens is the big name here. He was New York’s top catching prospect now that Gary Sanchez has graduated to the big leagues, though he’s been beset by shoulder injuries the last two years. He missed the entire 2015 season with labrum surgery and was slowed by a setback earlier this year. When healthy this past season, Torrens hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers and nearly as many walks (11.9%) as strikeouts (15.0%) in 55 total games for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston.

The chances of a 20-year-old catcher who has played 49 career games in a full season league, all at Low-A, sticking in the Major Leagues next season are so incredibly small. It’s hard to hide a catcher all season, especially in the National League, plus sitting on the bench most of the year and getting maybe 200 at-bats isn’t good for Torrens’ development at this point either. (The Padres are also going to be developing Austin Hedges, their own top catching prospect.) The $1.2M bonus baby from 2012 will almost certainly be offered back in Spring Training. If not, then, well, good luck to him. Torrens will have missed a lot of development time from 2015-17.

Webb, 26, was a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft as a southpaw with some velocity and a history of missing bats at Triple-A. This season he had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.1% strikeouts and 7.6% walks in 72.2 innings at Triple-A Scranton, his third year at the level. The Yankees didn’t have the 40-man space to protect him. Webb, a tenth round pick in 2013, has a pretty good chance to stick with the Pirates all season, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll probably be claimed on waivers before being returning to the Yankees. Lefties get plenty of chances.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

Smith, like Webb, is a lefty with a good fastball. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts and 7.2% walks in 63.2 Double-A innings this year, his second season at the level. It’s going to be really tough for the 25-year-old to stick all season with a championship team, but apparently the Cubs are going to try. Smith was New York’s 14th rounder in 2013. Jones, 27, had 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings in 2016. The Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent last offseason.

In the Triple-A phase, the most notable name by far is Hensley, the Yankees’ first round pick in 2012. He’s thrown only 42.1 professional innings total due to all sorts of injuries, including hip and hernia surgery, and a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Hensley is currently rehabbing from his second elbow reconstruction. He was still rehabbing from the first procedure when his new ligament gave out. Rough. The Rays have nothing to lose but a low level roster spot, so they’re going to roll the dice and see what happens.

Magallanes and Cornelius are a pair of organizational depth players. The Royals and Cubs are just plugging some minor league roster openings. Magallanes, 22, has yet to make it out of rookie ball. He has a 6.89 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 160.2 career innings. The 24-year-old Cornelius smacked 15 dingers in only 63 games with Rookie Pulaski and High-A Tampa this year. He hit .292/.383/.584 (172 wRC+) overall and was way old for both levels. New York selected him in the 31st round of the 2013 draft.

The Yankees did made two picks of their own in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft: C Jorge Saez from the Blue Jays and RHP Colten Brewer from the Pirates. Does Webb-for-Brewer qualify as the annual Yankees-Pirates trade? Eh, whatever. Anyway, the 26-year-old Saez hit .260/.314/.495 (126 wRC+) with 12 home runs in only 58 games between High-A and Double-A this past season. He’s a defense first catcher who is probably going to be the backup at Double-A Trenton this year. Saez fills a roster need, that’s all. He was Toronto’s 32nd round pick in 2012.

Brewer, 24, pitched to a 4.09 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 70.1 innings across 13 starts and five relief appearances at High-A in 2016. The Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, so he was kind of a big deal at one point. Brewer is a low-90s sinker guy who is still trying to figure out secondary stuff. The Yankees found gold in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last year with Yefrey Ramirez. I wouldn’t get my hopes up with Brewer. Minor league Rule 5 Draft success stories are extremely rare.

So, after all of that, the Yankees lost seven players and gained two in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Torrens is, by far, the most important one to follow in Spring Training. The history of catchers sticking as Rule 5 Draft picks is pretty terrible, but Torrens is really talented, and the Padres might be determined to keep him around long-term. The Yankees simply didn’t have enough 40-man roster space to protect him (or Webb). We’ll see how it shakes out.

Sorting out the projected 2016 Triple-A Scranton roster

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons Triple-A rosters have become extensions of the 25-man big league roster. There is no better example of this than last year’s bullpen shuttle. Teams use their Triple-A rosters not only to develop prospects, but also to stash depth players at each position should they be needed due to injury or poor performance. And they will be needed. Baseball always makes sure of it.

Brian Cashman has already said the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door based on their needs at the time. If they need an extra bullpen arm, they’ll call up a pitcher. If they need an extra outfielder because someone is banged up, then they’ll call up an extra outfielder. It sounds like a great plan. Will it work as well in reality as it does on paper? We’ll see.

So, with that in mind, let’s sort out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster as it sits right now. After all, these guys are the backup plans for the big league team. I have zero doubt we’ll see several of these players in the Bronx this coming summer, including guys none of us would ever expect. Remember Kyle Davies? Matt Tracy? Yeah. Let’s start with the position players. Asterisks (*) denotes players on the 40-man roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Greg Bird* Slade Heathcott* Tyler Austin
Carlos Corporan Rob Refsnyder* Mason Williams*
Eddy Rodriguez Pete Kozma Ben Gamel*
Sebastian Valle Donovan Solano Lane Adams*
Jonathan Diaz Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

There are 25 roster spots in Triple-A and, believe it or not, that is relatively new. Triple-A and Double-A teams had 24-man rosters as recently as 2011. It’s pretty common for Triple-A teams to carry three-man benches and eight-man bullpens because of workload limits and whatnot, especially early in the season before guys are fully stretched out. I’ve got 16 position players in the table there, so three or four won’t make the cut one way or another.

Catchers: All signs point to Sanchez being the big league backup catcher, though that’s not set in stone just yet. The Yankees could send him to Triple-A for regular playing time and to work on his defense. As an added bonus, sending Sanchez down for 35 days or so will delay his free agency another year. Assuming Sanchez makes the MLB team, Triple-A catching duties will belong to Corporan and either Rodriguez and Valle. They’re all defense-first guys who can’t hit.

Austin Romine, Sanchez’s primary competition for the backup job, is out of minor league options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he has to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears, which I imagine he would do in an effort to find a better opportunity. There appear to be only two ways for Romine to remain in the organization beyond Spring Training: he gets the backup catcher’s job, or he gets hurt in camp and is placed on the MLB DL.

If Sanchez doesn’t make the big league roster, he’ll be the starting catcher in Triple-A with either Romine or Corporan backing up Brian McCann. If Romine backs up McCann, Corporan will be in Triple-A. If Corporan backs up McCann, Romine will be gone and either Valle or Rodriguez will be with Sanchez in Triple-A. For now, I’ll say Sanchez makes the big league roster. The Yankees leaned on their prospects a lot in 2015 and I think that’ll continue in 2016.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Infielders: Barring injury, Bird and Refsnyder will start the season with the RailRiders. “That’s the optimal” according to Cashman, at least when it comes to Bird. The Yankees lost Ronald Torreyes on waivers earlier this week but still have Kozma, Solano, and Diaz on minor league contracts. I expect them to compete for a big league bench job in camp, and hey, one of them might win a spot.

In that case, Bird and Refsnyder will hold down the right side of the infield while the other two guys handle the left side. That means the RailRiders still need a utility infielder. There are going to be five infielders on the roster no matter what. Cito Culver and Dan Fiorito are the best candidates for that job right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees brought in one more minor league infielder these next few weeks. A minor league contract or waiver claim, something like that. One pulled hamstring in camp and the Yankees could be real short on upper level infield depth.

Outfield: The Triple-A outfield picture is crowded and yet crystal clear. Judge, Slade, Williams, and Gamel will be the four regular outfielders. They’ll rotate around the outfield and at DH. Simple, right? Puello, who played exactly one game in 2015 due to a back injury, is an obvious candidate for Double-A. Between the two catchers, the five infielders, and the four outfielders, we’re already at eleven position player spots.

So right now there is room for only one more position player since an eight-man bullpen is rather common in April. That last spot comes down to Adams and Austin. Both stunk in Triple-A last season and had to be demoted to Double-A in the second half. Adams is two years older and a better defender, but Austin has the advantage of being able to play a little first base as well. Plus he has seniority in the organization. That can’t hurt.

My guess — and this is nothing more than a guess — is Adams will get the Triple-A spot over Austin. Adams is older and on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees probably want to figure out what they have in him as soon as possible. If he can’t hack in Triple-A, they’ll cut him and move on. In that case Austin would anchor a Double-A Trenton lineup that is a little light on prospect power. He, Puello, Taylor Dugas, and Mark Payton would be the Thunder outfield.

After all of that, the Triple-A roster looks like this on the position player side:

Catchers (2): Two of Sanchez, Corporan, Rodriguez, and Valle.
Infielders (5): Bird and Refsnyder, Kozma, Diaz, and Solano. If one of them lands a big league job, Culver or Fiorito are candidates to fill the spot in Triple-A.
Outfielders (5): Judge, Heathcott, Gamel, Williams, Adams.

Position battles in Spring Training will determine the exact roster, as will injuries and things like that. The last big league bench spot is wide open, and the backup catcher’s job is not Sanchez’s just yet. Now let’s move on to the pitchers.

Starters Righty Relievers Lefty Relievers
Bryan Mitchell* Nick Rumbelow* Chasen Shreve*
Luis Cessa* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren*
Anthony Swarzak Nick Goody* James Pazos*
Brady Lail Kirby Yates* Tyler Olson*
Chad Green Johnny Barbato* Tyler Webb
Jaron Long Vinnie Pestano
Eric Ruth Tyler Jones
Ronald Herrera Mark Montgomery
Caleb Smith

Lots and lots of pitchers. I have 22 names in the table for 12-13 Triple-A spots and three big league bullpen spots, so 6-7 of those guys are going to get stuck in Double-A. Of course, not everyone will get through Spring Training healthy. A handful of pitchers always get hurt in March. (There always seems to be a rash of Tommy John surgeries in Spring Training as pitchers ramp up their throwing.) It’s a vicious part of the baseball calendar.

I honestly think the Yankees will use those final three MLB bullpen spots to take the players they believe give them the best chance to win, regardless of previous role or handedness. If it’s three lefties, so be it. If it’s three guys who are starters by trade, fine. Remember, the Yankees took David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno north as relievers back in 2013 because they were the best options. The team didn’t worry about leaving one or two stretched out in Triple-A.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Trying to predict who will make the bullpen right now is impossible and a waste of time. No one expected Preston Claiborne to come to camp throwing fire three years ago, putting him in position for a big league call-up. Shreve might have a leg up on everyone else because he was so good for the first four and a half months last season. Aside from that, good luck figuring out who starts in MLB and Triple-A. And besides, the shuttle ensures these guys will be rotating in and out all year anyway.

I will say that of those 22 pitchers listed, I believe Ruth, Herrera, Smith, Jones, and Montgomery are mostly likely to be squeezed down to Double-A due to a roster crunch. (Herrera’s the guy who came over in the Jose Pirela trade.) I wouldn’t necessarily call them non-prospects. They’re just low priority prospects in the grand scheme of things. They lack the upside of the other pitchers in the table, relatively speaking.

Among the deep depth arms are lefty Chaz Hebert and righty Kyle Haynes. They’re among the starters who will open the season in Double-A and jump to Triple-A whenever a spot start is needed because of call-ups and whatnot. Ruth, Herrera, and Smith are in that group. There’s no doubt the Yankees have a ton of upper level pitchers, particularly in the bullpen. Now they just have to figure out which of these guys can stick in the big leagues.

Eddy: Yankees sign righty Tyler Jones to minor league deal

(News Press)
(News Press)

The Yankees have signed right-hander Tyler Jones to a minor league contract, reports Matt Eddy. No word whether he received an invite to big league Spring Training. The Yankees usually don’t release their list of non-roster invitees until early-February.

Jones, 26, was an 11th round pick by the Twins in 2011. They released him following the 2014 season and he spent 2015 with the Braves, putting up a 2.50 ERA (2.05 FIP) with a 28.4% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate in 54 relief innings split between High-A and Double-A.

After beginning his pro career as a starter, Jones moved to the bullpen full-time in 2013 and saw his stuff tick up a notch. He’s a classic mid-90s fastball/low-80s slider reliever with spotty command. Fun fact: Jones and Nick Rumbelow were teammates at LSU in 2011.

The Yankees have more than enough righty relievers in the upper levels of the organization at the moment. It seems like Jones is a depth bullpen arm for Double-A more than an actual prospect, but who knows. The Yankees have a knack for identifying scrap heap relievers.