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Toolshed: Top 2016 picks meet Rule 5 protection

Gauging which prep selections will be added to 40-man rosters
Matt Manning has struck out 410 over 331 2/3 career innings in the Minor Leagues. (Paul Sancya/AP)
November 13, 2020

Next Friday will be an important day on any prospect lover's calendar. Nov. 20 is the date by which Major League clubs have to add eligible players to their 40-man rosters or leave them unprotected for this year's Rule 5 Draft, which will take place on Dec. 10. Rule 5-eligible

Next Friday will be an important day on any prospect lover's calendar.

Nov. 20 is the date by which Major League clubs have to add eligible players to their 40-man rosters or leave them unprotected for this year's Rule 5 Draft, which will take place on Dec. 10. Rule 5-eligible players include those signed at age 18 or younger who have been in pro ball at least five seasons or those signed at 19 or older who have been in pro ball at least four seasons. Even though there wasn't a Minor League season in 2020, this calendar year still counted as one of those four or five seasons necessary for Rule 5 eligibility.

For those yet to do the math, that means most high schoolers selected in the 2016 First-Year Player Draft will be eligible for this year's Rule 5 Draft. The 2016 class is especially interesting to look back on now, specifically when it came to prep picks. Not much had come out of the early selections until Ian Anderson looked like a potential ace for the Braves down the stretch. Later picks such as Gavin Lux, Carter Kieboom and Dylan Carlson surged into prospect stardom but haven't found their sea legs in the Major Leagues yet. Mickey Moniak hasn't aged well as the No. 1 overall pick, but at least he got to make his big league debut in 2020. There are still some who have become more prominent Minor Leaguers but remain off 40-man rosters with the Rule 5 Draft looming and others who have fallen from grace almost entirely but are worth remembering at this time in their careers.

This edition of Toolshed revisits high schoolers taken in the first round and Competitive Balance Round A of the 2016 Draft and evaluates the chances they will be added to their organization's 40-man rosters ahead of the deadline. (A more in-depth team-by-team Rule 5 protection preview will come Tuesday.)

4. Riley Pint, RHP, Rockies

Chances: 15 percent

Reasoning: Moniak and Anderson made their Major League debuts in 2020, leaving Pint as the top prep pick from 2016 who has yet to be placed on a 40-man roster. To put it lightly, it's been a rough four years for the former Kansas high schooler. A forearm strain and oblique injury limited him to only 26 innings combined between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. When he did pitch, he walked 42 batters over those 26 frames that include a move to the bullpen at Class A Asheville in the latter campaign. Pint is still capable of throwing in the high 90s with his fastball and features a curveball that can get plus-plus grades on a good day. The stuff is there. The control is not. Even after some progress at this fall's instructs, the road is simply too long for Pint to get to a place where a Major League team would consider giving him even very limited time in the bullpen. The only reason his chances here are a non-zero number is out of respect for the stuff and the previous reputation. It isn't often a fourth overall pick is available for as little as a Rule 5 pick, and that could scare the Rockies, who are always in need of pitching, into adding Pint next Friday. But look at 2014 second overall pick Tyler Kolek for comparison. He also suffered serious injury and control concerns in the early days of his career, then went unprotected and unpicked in the last two Rule 5 Drafts -- a sign that original Draft position isn't everything.

9. Matt Manning, RHP, Tigers

Chances: 100 percent

Reasoning: Take this to the bank.'s No. 20 overall prospect had a good chance to make his Major League debut in this shortened season -- as fellow Detroit pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal did -- but he was shut down with a forearm strain in late August. The Tigers maintained at the time that Manning's injury was "mild" and the pitcher even resumed throwing at the club's facility in Lakeland this fall. In other words, don't let the injury scare you from thinking the Tigers would leave the 22-year-old unprotected in a Rule 5 Draft. The 2019 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year can show three above-average pitches with better control than similar pitchers of his size at 6-foot-6. He even could jump over Mize to become the club's future ace as early as 2021 and ought to be Detroit's first call when they announce 40-man additions.

12. Jay Groome, LHP, Red Sox

Chances: 70 percent

Reasoning: On the day, this felt like a steal for Boston. Groome was considered one of the top talents in the Draft -- even had him ranked at No. 1 -- but he fell due to concerns over a high bonus asking price. (He eventually signed for $3.65 million.) It's been a bumpy ride since, mostly due to injuries. The 6-foot-6 southpaw missed all of 2018 and much of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and was previously limited by lat and forearm issues in 2017. As a result, he has thrown only 66 innings in the Minor Leagues, none of which have come above Class A. That said, the Red Sox did get a healthy Groome some time at the alternate site in Pawtucket and came away pleased with his progress. He was touching the mid-90s in terms of velocity. His curveball shows flashes of its former brilliance. The changeup is a solid third pitch. Unlike Pint, the pieces are there for Groome to make a jump in prospect status when he can get on a Minor League mound with regularity again. As things stand, the 22-year-old is the No. 7 prospect in the Boston system, and the rebuilding organization won't want to risk losing one of its biggest names so easily, even if he is still two years away from reaching Fenway.

13. Josh Lowe, OF, Rays

Chances: 100 percent

Reasoning: All the pieces are there to make Lowe an easy addition. He has upper-level experience, having played 121 games at Double-A Montgomery in 2019. He has the production, having hit a career-high 18 homers and stolen another best 30 bases with the Biscuits. He brings added value beyond the plate as arguably the best defensive outfielder in the deep Rays system, both with the arm and the glove. Shoulder surgery that kept him out of Spring Training is the only concern here, but Lowe was healthy enough to be included in Tampa Bay's 60-man player pool. His plus speed and defensive work will be things the Rays definitely will want as 40-man options in 2021 and beyond. If he can maintain the 2019 power surge, all the better.

14. Will Benson, OF, Indians

Chances: 25 percent

Reasoning: If there's anywhere Cleveland needs help, it's in the outfield. Benson possesses some of the best raw power in the entire system and plays capably on the grass. Seems simple when put that way. Of course, it isn't so simple. Sure, Benson combined to belted 44 homers over his 2018 and 2019 seasons, but that also came with 303 strikeouts over 246 games. His last official assignment was at Class A Advanced Lynchburg, where he hit .189/.290/.304 with a 28.6 percent K rate over 61 games. That worked out to a 75 wRC+ at age 21. The former Atlanta prep star certainly takes his share of walks, but the contact issues were just too exaggerated for him to be a Rule 5 threat. What's more, Cleveland only has five 40-man openings as of this week with four prospects ranked higher than Benson (No. 30) in need of protection. They all aren't guarantees either, except for Nolan Jones, but it tells you what Benson is up against. He'll need to show he can make enough contact to get something out of his power before anyone considers him for a Major League spot.

17. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros

Chances: 100 percent

Reasoning: The 2019 season was meant to be the year of Whitley's ascension. Instead, he dealt with shoulder problems and saw a serious downturn in his ability to command the ball where he wanted. No matter, he bounced back with an impressive Arizona Fall League campaign, leading to hopes that 2020 could be the year. Instead, concerns about his forearm caused an early shutdown and allowed Cristian Javier, among other rookies, to pass him on the organizational depth chart. The line in the sand gets drawn here. Now faced with the prospect of leaving Whitley exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, the Astros will -- in all likelihood -- make the easy decision to add their top prospect to the 40-man roster. The No. 17 overall prospect can show five plus pitches at times, and that depth of stuff is more than enough to keep him in Houston's immediate plans. Save the concerns over the necessary improvements for another day.

23. Delvin Perez, SS, Cardinals

Chances: 1 percent

Reasoning: Perez is no longer a top-30 prospect in the Cardinals system, having failed to hit in any of his four Minor League seasons. The Puerto Rico native reached Class A Peoria for the first time in 2019, but produced just a .269/.329/.325 slash line with one homer over 118 games in the Midwest League. His .654 OPS with the Chiefs was actually better than his career mark of .641. Positive reports over his defense have been a saving grace in the past, but won't be enough to overcome the offensive issues here.

24. Hudson Potts, INF, Red Sox

Chances: 85 percent

Reasoning: Boston picked up two different Rule 5-eligible players in Potts and Jeisson Rosario in a deadline deal with the Padres for Mitch Moreland, and that wasn't a coincidence. San Diego, which already hasn't picked up Moreland's option for 2021, is in the middle of a 40-man roster crunch. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have more space as a rebuilding club. In other words, they won't be willing to give up their new No. 20 prospect so easily. Potts got some looks at second base -- where the Sox have a glaring organizational need -- at the alternate site in Pawtucket following the trade, but the majority of his reps came at his natural position of third. Potts' offensive ability will be driven by his power because of some struggles with the hit tool. (He sports just a .216 career average over 129 games at Double-A.) The Sox knew that coming in, and they're not about to let him show off that pop elsewhere a few months after picking Potts up in a midseason trade.

30. Cole Ragans, LHP, Rangers

Chances: 5 percent

Reasoning: Ragans has undergone two Tommy John surgeries in the first four-plus years of his career. The latest came in the middle of the 2019 season and likely would have kept the southpaw out for all of the 2020 campaign, no matter what happened. In positive news, he returned to the mound during fall instructs, and Texas general manager Jon Daniels told Baseball America the organization was pleased with how Ragans' changeup had returned following the second procedure. Still, the last time he pitched in a regular-season game was Aug. 30, 2017 with Class A Short Season Spokane. The only reason his chances aren't zero is that injured pitchers can be easily stashed following a Rule 5 pick, and that could scare Texas into protecting Ragans. However, that length of time away from competition and the unfortunate injury history make it more than likely that the 2016 30th overall pick remains off the 40-man for the time being.

35. Taylor Trammell, OF, Mariners

Chances: 100 percent

Reasoning: Another midseason trade. Another nailed-on 40-man addition, except this one goes to the full 100 because it involves the No. 51 overall prospect. The Mariners picked up Trammell from the Padres on Aug. 31 as part of a six-player deal, thus giving the club six Top-100 prospects in the midst of a rebuild. They also mark Trammell's third organization since the start of 2019. One could argue Trammell is trying to fit into an area of strength for Seattle and that could hurt his 40-man chances. Kyle Lewis just claimed a Rookie of the Year award from the Mariners outfield, Mitch Haniger is a starter when healthy and Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are coming up fast. But organizations undergoing rebuilds can never have too much depth at any position group, and Trammell -- with his plus speed and above-average potential with his hit and fielding tools -- has just as much of a chance to play a big role in Seattle's next contender as the others.

40. Joey Wentz, LHP, Tigers

Chances: 95 percent

Reasoning: Following a midseason trade from the Braves in 2019, Wentz was part of the Double-A Erie rotation boasting Mize, Manning, Skubal, Alex Faedo and himself. That quintet gave Detroit fans real dreams that their future rotation could be almost entirely made up of players coming up through the system. Wentz played his part by posting a 2.10 ERA with 37 strikeouts over 25 2/3 innings in his time with the SeaWolves. Unfortunately, those became dreams deferred when Wentz underwent Tommy John surgery in March. He's likely out for much of the first half of the 2021 season, but that shouldn't stop the Tigers from protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft all the same. Teams can stash Rule 5 picks on the injured list and only need them to be on the active roster for 90 days to make sure they stick the season after they're selected. Detroit won't want to run that risk, especially for a left-hander with an above-average fastball and plus changeup when he's healthy.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.