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Who’s joining the 40-man?

Time for our annual guessing game of who will be protected from the Rule 5 draft.

We’ve reached one of the signature dates of the baseball calendar for young players: in the next four or five days some few Giants’ minor league players will have their lives changed when the club protects them from the Rule 5 draft by adding them to the 40 man roster.

It’s a move that gives players an automatic invite to major league spring training camp with daily access to the major league coaching staff and teammates (a great time to make an impression or pick up a career changing tip!) and comes with not a few financial benefits that can make a huge life difference for your average (criminally underpaid) minor leaguer — oh, and, of course, being a 40-man member is an Opportunity Super-Highway to a big league debut when those inevitable DL stints start hitting the major league roster.

Yeah, it’s a really big deal!

So, who’s going to get this Golden Ticket? The question is complicated this year by the presence of new President of Baseball Ops, Farhan Zaidi. As a new honcho on the scene, Zaidi brings no particular allegiance to players who have worked their way up the system, judging everybody with a fresh eye. In addition, Zaidi is justifiably famous for his insistence on strengthening every corner of the 40 man. As he recently told Alex Pavlovic:

When you have soft spots on the 40-man roster that probably means that you’re leaving value on the table somewhere.

So the borderline cases will have a tougher time making the cut this year than if Bobby Evans, or even David Bell, was still making the calls. “We invested a top pick in you” won’t be enough this year — nor should it!

Just to review the rules of this game, a quick primer: players are eligible to be selected from another organization in the Rule 5 draft IF they are not on the 40 man roster AND:

  • They were 18 or younger on the June 5 PRECEDING their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft since then; or
  • They were 19 or older on the June 5 PRECEDING their signing and this if the fourth Rule 5 draft since then.

Important to note:

  1. This really messes with teams that have a bunch of Grade A, upper level prospects.
  2. That’s not the Giants!

So essentially, we’re looking at college players from the 2015 draft (or earlier if not on 40-man and still in org), high school players from the 2014 draft or earlier, or most international free agents signed in 2014 or earlier, as they are usually signed at 18 or younger (though not always! SPOILER: We’ll be discussing one of those rare cases!).

Quick tangent: the development of international players is totally hosed by these rules — they aren’t allowed to begin playing until the season following their signing but that Rule 5 draft that occurs between their signing and their first pro game still counts against them. In addition, their development clock is started at the exact same place as a U.S. high school draftee despite the facts that they are normally two years younger when they sign and they’ve had a great deal less game experience. Tangent Concluded.

The list of potentials is actually a bit on the short side this year, as the top college players from the 2015 draft are mostly either on the roster already (Andrew Suarez, Chris Shaw, Steven Duggar), or out of the organization entirely (Phil Bickford, Jose Vizcaino). As for High School players from the 2014 draft... well... there’s really only one worth discussing — and we’ll meet him in a second! Between the team’s new leadership and the relatively smaller pool of candidates I’d guess we’re going to have a small group this year.

Obvious players to protect

Melvin Adon, RHP, International Free Agent, Signed 02/15.
DOB: 6/9/94
Highest Level in 2018: A+
Adon is one of those rare late signees from the Dominican Republic, signing his first pro contract with the Giants when he was just four months shy of his 21st birthday. The exceptionally raw, arm strength kid was soon gaining renown for a triple digit fastball, which he held pretty well for multiple innings. Adon’s iffy repertoire and control have long made observers think he’d have a better chance to succeed out of the bullpen, but the Giants have kept him as a starter at every level.

Though he’s shown flashes of potential, he’s never posted particularly good numbers stateside. Indeed, after missing the second half of 2018, there were some who doubted he was headed for the 40-man at the end of this year at all (your humble narrator was not among those skeptics). However, working strictly in relief, Adon has had a huge coming out party in the Arizona Fall League the last two months and solidified his position. If the Giants choose to move him to the pen in ‘19 the soon-to-be 25 year old could well replicate Ray Black’s rise in 2018.

Logan Webb, RHP, Giants 4th round pick of 2014 draft out of Rocklin High School
DOB: 11/18/96
Highest Level in 2018: AA
In High School, Webb was better known for his exploits as the star QB of Rocklin’s football team than as a baseball prospect. But that QB arm strength showed up in the spring of his senior year with a big velocity boost and the Giants took the pop up senior with their 4th round pick. Until 2018, Webb’s development had been extremely slow going, as he had just 40 IP outside of short season ball over his first four years as a pro. Tommy John surgery wiped out most of his 2016 season, and he went back to short-season Salem-Keizer in 2017, pitching just one inning stints in relief.

But like Adon, Webb picked a perfect time for his breakout. He showed up in spring of 2018 with improved command of three (and sometimes four) pitches, and earned an assignment all the way up to San Jose. There he posted a minuscule 1.82 ERA with a strikeout per inning. While the Giants were still keeping a tight reign on his workload (he didn’t pitch more than 4 innings in a start in the first half of the season), when he was on the mound he was sensational. He ended the year with a solid debut month in AA Richmond. Over the course of six months, he had gone from a guy who didn’t make Baseball America’s “Prospect Handbook” last winter, to one of the 3 or 4 best pitching prospects in the system.

Strong Likelihood

Juan DePaula, RHP, Acquired from NY Yankees in trade for Andrew McCutchen, 8/31/18
DOB: 9/22/97
Highest Level in 2018: A
DePaula is a perfect example of the way the rules are stacked against international players. Signed by the Seattle Mariners as a 16 year old, he’s had a fairly normal development arc thus far, spending a year in the Dominican Summer League, a year in the AZL rookie league, and then two years in short season New York Penn League (where he was the #4 prospect in the league this year on Baseball America’s NYPL list). Repeating a low level for a 20 year old pitcher isn’t that abnormal or suggestive of slow development (more likely it’s suggestive of the pace of physical maturation). But now he’s a player who has yet to perform as a 21 year old, who’s still a long way from full development, and whose options clock is on the verge of starting. DePaula is going to be one of the tougher decisions of the winter. He’s probably a top 10 prospect in the Giants’ system, and along with Webb, Shaun Anderson, and Gregory Santos (there’s something interesting about that group!) he’s among the cream of the system’s starting pitcher prospects. But he’s a long way from being developed and if they add him now they have just three years to get him as far along as they can.

Still, two major factors argue for adding him to the roster now in my mind: 1) he’s exactly the type of pitcher who gets taken in the Rule 5 draft. Despite the protestations of some beat guys, Tyler Rogers is not the type of player who teams grab in the Rule 5. Teams take pitchers who can throw hard, just as the Giants did last year with Julian Fernandez (who had spent the previous year in the A-ball South Atlantic League). Last year, 11 pitchers were taken in the Rule 5 draft and the thing that united the group was a fastball that pushed into the upper 90s; and 2) DePaula was, along with new 40 man player Abiatal Avelino, just acquired in the only trade the Giants made in their lost summer. They acquired him knowing this choice was waiting a couple months down the line. Even though Bobby Evans isn’t around to follow through, I still don’t see the club risking losing really the lone high upside talent they were able to acquire on the trade market so soon after getting him.

Possible players to protect

C.J. Hinojosa, INF, 11th rd pick in 2015 out of Univ. of Texas
DOB: 7/15/94
Highest Level in 2018: AA
Despite missing 50 games last year due to a “drug of abuse” suspension, Hinojosa appeared ticketed to take Kelby Tomlinson’s spot on the 40-man as a depth MI piece. But the emergence of Alen Hanson combined with the acquisition of Avelino makes that move more questionable. Hinojosa has no real standout tools other than the ability to make contact. He has average to below average speed, is slightly stretched at SS, and has bottom of the scale power. That’s not a package that teams jump at in the Rule 5 draft, and his poor showing in the AFL makes it more likely he could pass through unprotected. Another really tough choice.

Sam Coonrod, RHP, 5th rd pick in 2014 out of S. Illinois Univ.
DOB: 9/22/92
Highest Level in 2018: A+
Once a top pitching prospect in the system, he was moved to the bullpen in 2017 and then went down with Tommy John surgery. He threw just 11.2 IP this year coming back from TJ. He’s a reliever going forward with good but not great velocity on his fastball and questionable secondaries.

Sam Wolff, RHP, acquired from Texas Rangers in deal for Matt Moore, 12/15/17
DOB: 4/14/91
Highest Level in 2018: AA
Wolff was rehabbing from a flexor tendon surgery when the Giants acquired him last winter. He didn’t appear in 2018 until late June, and appeared to be shaking the rust off most of the season. But he’s been sharp in the AFL posting a 0.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning, and features a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a sharp mid-80s slider. He could play a role in a 2019 bullpen if he stays healthy.

Also, if you didn’t catch Carmen’s video interview of Wolff yesterday, then you should definitely check it out!

Mac Marshall, LHP, 4th rd pick in 2015 out of Chipola JC
DOB: 1/27/96
Highest Level in 2018: A+
Famously caught in the fallout of the Astros failed negotiations with Brady Aiken in 2014, Marshall bided his time in Junior College for a year and reentered the draft in 2015, where the Giants made him their 4th-round pick. His pro career has been bedeviled by twin evils — problems staying healthy and a complete inability to throw strikes. He features some solid stuff from the left side, but as Kyle Glazer of Baseball America said of him last month: “Just doesn’t throw enough strikes to really be competitive.”

Jordan Johnson, RHP, 23rd rd pick in 2014 out of Cal St. Northridge
DOB: 9/15/93
Highest Level in 2018: AAA
Possessor of possibly the best changeup in the system, Johnson hasn’t had great statistical success since 2015, can be homer prone, and really struggles with fastball command at times. But he’s reached AAA and represents one of the better SP depth pieces in the system. Still I think he’d represent one of those “soft spots on the 40-man” that Zaidi referred to.

Ian Gardeck, RHP, 16th rd pick in 2012 draft out of Univ. of Alabama
DOB: 11/21/90
Highest Level in 2018: AA
Added to the 40 man roster following the 2015 season, Gardeck lost all of the 2016 and 2017 seasons when he underwent two consecutive Tommy John surgeries. He finally returned to the field in late July and would love to pick up where he left off back in Spring Training of 2016. Before TJ hit, he flirted with triple digits with a fastball just shy of teammate Ray Black’s.

Manuel Geraldo, SS, International Free Agent signed 7/2/13
DOB: 9/23/96
Highest Level in 2018: A
Geraldo has taken a long time developing, failing to stick in the Sally League in both 2016 and 2017. But the athletic, switch-hitting SS really took a step forward this year, in no small part because of an obvious physical maturation that gave him a much better opportunity to stand up to the rigors of the game. A 23-year old SS who hasn’t played above A ball isn’t terribly likely to get popped in the Rule 5 draft (though it has happened), but Geraldo is one of the relatively few position players in the system who looks like he could profile as a big leaguer so leaving him off really is a slight risk.

Don’t Think So

Tyler Rogers, RHP, 10th rd pick in 2013 draft out of Austin Peay
Dillon McNamara, RHP, acquired from NY Yankees for cash in 07/17
Johneshwy Fargas, OF, 11th rd pick in 2013 out of Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Dusten Knight, RHP, 28th rd pick in 2013 draft out of Univ. Texas Pan American
Caleb Simpson, RHP, 21st rd pick in 2013 draft out of Seminole St.
Ryan Halstead, RHP, 21st rd pick in 2015 out of Indiana Univ-Bloomington
Matt Winn, C, 14th rd. pick in 2015 out of VMI
Kelvin Beltre, INF, International Free Agent signed 7/2/2013
Sandro Fabian, OF International Free Agent signed 7/2/2014
Rodolfo Martinez, RHP, International Free Agent signed 9/16/2013
Raffi Vizcaino, RHP International Free Agent signed 2/22/2013

Side-arming Tyler Rogers has been a cause célèbre in certain circles thanks to his eye-popping AAA numbers the last year or two and the legitimate entertainment value of his sidewinding style. As I said above, he doesn’t tend to fit the phylum of a Rule 5 pick to me as his stuff is below average (though his funkiness is an easy 80 grade).

I personally have a soft spot for Fargas, who offers tremendous speed on the bases and excellent defense — sort of a poor man’s Terrance Gore — but the bat has been very slow to develop.

The rest of this list is easily divided between mostly fungible depth reliever pieces who probably top out as up and down profiles at best, and international players who aren’t near developed enough to entice anybody into a Rule 5 pick. Rodolfo Martinez was once upon a time the highest octane arm in the system, but injuries and control problems have turned him into a shell of himself.

Envelope Please:

So with all that said, my guess is that the Giants add these four players to the 40-man:

Melvin Adon
Logan Webb
Juan DePaula
Sam Wolff

That would leave one spot open on the 40-man to make a Rule 5 selection of their own if they’d like, or to add a Free Agent without having to drop a player. Remember, Zaidi (and many of us fans!) wants a 40-man where it gives you heartburn to drop anybody. At this point, I think Wolff is the last player who doesn’t represent a fairly clear soft spot on the 40 man (and he’s on the fence). As for soft spots on the current roster, I think Chase Johnson is likely the first person off at this point, if winter acquisitions necessitate more space. And Derek Law, Steven Okert, and Josh Osich could be in that trouble tier as well.

Let the Winter Games begin!