This a great season to a Yankees minor league fan. For the first time in a long time, the Bronx Bombers come into the season with arguably the best farm system in all of baseball. Part of that was due to working out the kinks in their drafting process, signing international free agents but the biggest part was the massive fire sale they had acquiring many top-level prospects in exchange for some of their older players.
The Yankees have not only a farm system that has some of the top talents in the game, but they have a system that has such incredible depth that you can take a guy that is ranked in the #30-40 range and they could be in the Top 20 of another system. But such depth means that there will come a time when the Yankees must decide, can we realistically keep them in the farm system? That time is going to be coming fast. We did a preliminary count, and the Yankees have over 50 players that will find themselves eligible for the 2017 Rule 5 draft.
Now not all the minor leaguers are top prospects, in fact, some have never even played above Class A yet. If a player that signed when they were 19-years or older has played for four years before they are eligible for the annual draft. If they were 18-years-old or younger, they have five years before they either must be protected or left exposed. In 2017 we will see the 2012 International Free Agent class reach the point where they must be added to the 40-man roster. In addition, 2013 high school-level draftees and college players from the 2014 draft are eligible for the first time.
So just who in the New York Yankees system will be eligible this year? The top name on the list is easily outfielder Clint Frazier who recent met fans and New York media at the Yankees Winter Warmup event. Frazier was acquired by the Yankees this past season in the trade that sent Andrew Miller to the Indians. He is one of a few newer Baby Bombers who are eligible, a list that includes Billy McKinney, Zack Littell, Stephen Tarpley, and J.P. Feyereisen.
A lot has been said about the Yankees tremendous depth at shortstop and this offseason the Yankees had to add Jorge Mateo who was the first of the middle infielders they had to add to their 40-man, but in 2017 they will have to make the decision to keep or trade a few more. Tyler Wade headlines the list of middle infielders they need to make the decision on, followed by the underrated Thairo Estrada and Abiatal Avelino as well as lower level prospect Angel Aguilar, Vince Conde, and Yancarlos Baez. Let us be honest here; we pretty much know the last three are not getting protected. Avelino is borderline; it depends on if he takes that next step in his career in 2017.
The majority of the minor leaguers that will be eligible in 2017 are pitchers, headlined by right-hander Domingo Acevedo, but also includes 2013 first-round pick Ian Clarkin, Jordan Montgomery, newcomers Stephen Tarpley and sleeper prospect Eduardo Rivera.
What are the Yankees to do with all of these prospects? There is no way they will be able to protect as many as fans would like. I advocate the opposite; this season will be the time to trade someone. Is there a team out there that will have the 40-man roster space and could use a Brady Lail-type, or even a guy like Nestor Cortes who could be a valuable pitcher for a small market team? Outfielder Dustin Fowler will likely be protected but what about a guy like Mark Payton who could make a decent fourth outfielder?
If Miguel Sulbaran comes back healthy and pitches more like the 2013-2014 version than 2015 one will he force the Yankees to find a space for him or is he another prospect that might be better off in another organization? What about Simon De La Rosa, will he finally have that breakout season this year and become a valuable trade chip? While it is fun to speculate what the Yankees might do the truth is a lot could happen between now and then.
There is a lot of baseball to be played between now and the time those decisions need to be made. In the meantime, take a look at the list we put together below of players that will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in 2017, please note it is not complete just what we have been able to confirm so far. Tell us in the comments section, who do you want to see the Yankees protect?[table “22” not found /]