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Who will the Giants protect in the Rule 5 Draft?

Marco Luciano will be selected. Who else?

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Marco Luciano standing on the basepaths Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

In about a month, the San Francisco Giants are going to have to go through the time-honored ritual of adding prospects to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

Before they go through that exciting process, they’ll have to do something less fun: clear space. Due to an abundance of injuries, the Giants have 49 players on their 40-man roster. Impending free agencies will cut that number a bit, but the team will still need to waive some players, and non-tender some arbitration-eligible talents in order to free up space for the 40-man.

Rather than go through the standard procedure of placing eligible players into tiers of likeliness, I’m going to do a scatter-brained ramble of various Rule 5 thoughts.

Let’s start at the very beginning, which Julie Andrews informs me is a very good place to start.

Who is Rule 5 eligible?

Just so we know who we’re working with, here are the players who will be eligible in the Rule 5 Draft:

Pitchers:
Nick Avila
Tristan Beck
Seth Corry
Jose Cruz
Jake Dahlberg
Matt Frisbee
John Gavin
Joey Marciano
Nick Morreale
Blake Rivera
Julio Rodriguez
Michael Stryffeler
Kai-Wei Teng
Keaton Winn
Jake Wong
Chris Wright

Catchers:
Ricardo Genovés
Brandon Martorano
Rayner Santana

Infielders:
Carter Aldrete
Victor Bericoto
Tyler Fitzgerald
Abdiel Layer
Marco Luciano
Shane Matheny
Edison Mora
Sean Roby
Luis Toribio
Frankie Tostado
Simon Whiteman
Will Wilson
Logan Wyatt

Outfielders:
Hunter Bishop
Michael Gigliotti
PJ Hilson
Harrison Freed
Luis Matos
Jairo Pomares
Armani Smith

Still with me? Let’s move on.

My prediction: a mild organizational strategy

The Giants protected three players last year, including two pitchers. But those two, Sean Hjelle and Randy Rodriguez, are worth noting. Worth noting because neither player was a top prospect. Hjelle was putting up awful numbers, but at least close to the Majors, while Rodriguez was putting up electric numbers with no proximity to the Majors.

I don’t say this to criticize the Giants. Those are exactly the type of players that get swooped up in the Rule 5 Draft, and if we can create a hypothetical world where A) those two went unprotected and B) the eventually-canceled draft actually occurred, I’m guessing at least one, if not both players get selected.

There are parallels for each player this year. On the surface, Beck cuts a similar profile to 2021 Hjelle, and you can throw Teng and Frisbee in there, too. And there are at least half a dozen relievers that fit Rodriguez’s bill: exciting, promising, not yet ready to contribute, possibly worth drafting.

But I think the Giants will go light. You could probably make a case for nearly 10 players this year to be protected, and I think something like two is more likely. Three would make sense. More than that? I don’t think so.

I suspect that after the troubles of the 2021 season, the Giants want even more space for roster churn. We saw it last year, when they had minimal spaces to play with, and it hurt them. They traded for Dixon Machado, knowing he’d be DFA’d in a few days, because they didn’t want to have to purchase and then DFA Isan Díaz. They waited longer than they wanted to to promote David Villar because the 40-man was cramped.

26 of the 40 roster spots will go to the Opening Day roster. Two more will go to a pair of protections from last year who aren’t ready, Rodriguez and Heliot Ramos. Let’s assume another two go to this year’s protections. That leaves just 10 spots that the Giants can use to actually play with the roster, and that’s before we get into the players on there that either might not make the Opening Day roster, or for sure won’t, but the Giants might want to keep. We still have Hjelle, Gregory Santos, Thomas Szapucki, Donovan Walton, Ford Proctor, Jason Vosler, and so many others to get to.

Protecting a lot of players limits one of Farhan Zaidi’s biggest tools for building a win-now roster, and the Giants have made it clear they’re in win-now mode. If it costs them a C+ prospect, then so be it.

With that said ...

There’s only one lock

Luciano will be protected. That’s the only player who will for sure be put on the roster. He’s the organization’s top prospect, and another team would scoop him up in a heartbeat, even if his only experience above High-A is two postseason games in Richmond.

Mark him down and move on.

There’s one gigantic question mark

I have no idea what will happen with Matos. On the one hand, he’s still the consensus No. 3 prospect in the organization, and someone the team remains incredibly high on, for good reason.

On the other hand, Matos isn’t an elite prospect. Someone of Luciano’s stature would be swooped up immediately, with a dozen bad teams happy to have him bat ninth for 162 games while he puts up negative WAR, just so they can get him in the system.

Matos isn’t that guy. It’s no guarantee that a team — even a really bad team — would damage their roster with 162 games of someone who very clearly is not ready for the Majors, just for the upside of what he might develop into a few years down the road.

He’s coming off a 73 wRC+ season in High-A. He’d quite possibly be the worst hitter in the Majors next year. I don’t think the reward is high enough for a team to commit to that. But are the Giants, so desperately trying to revamp their farm system, willing to take that risk?

The probable player basket

I mentioned the Giants have numerous players who fit into the Rodriguez basket this year. Avila. Wright. Cruz. Stryffeler. Winn (who’s been starting, but still fits the mold).

I think the Giants will keep one of those dudes. They’ll identify one guy that they really don’t want to risk losing, and he’ll stick around. I’m not smart enough to know who that is.

I have a weird feeling about Will Wilson

Wilson feels like a player they might protect. He made his AAA debut last year, and can play both middle infield positions. That makes him a relatively safe pick for another team, who could at least try him out for a month or two.

More importantly, it also makes him someone that the Giants are fairly likely to give an MLB debut to next season. Adding Wilson doesn’t really block a 40-man spot, so much as it commits him into the emergency infield depth role that someone else would’ve taken (see ya, Vosler?), while also protecting someone that they made a major investment in a few years ago. It makes sense.

No one knows how to feel about Ricardo Genovés

If Genovés were a non-catcher position player, he wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar. But as a catcher who has already spent a good chunk of time in AAA, and is seen as a strong defensive player, he’d be an easy player for another team to stash. Will he hit at the Major League level this year? Absolutely not! But most backup catchers don’t, and he can give you 40 games a year of decent defense before heading to AAA in 2024 to develop his bat further.

But I lean towards the Giants not protecting him. They don’t like wasting roster spots on third catchers, and protecting Genovés would mean committing to having three catchers on the 40-man until he’s ready ... which may not be until 2025, or ever, for that matter. And with Patrick Bailey, Andy Thomas, Brett Auerbach, Adrian Sugastey, Juan Perez, and Santana giving the Giants a lot of prospect depth at the position, the team can take a risk at the catcher position.

The Tyler Fitzgerald situation

I’d been putting this article on hold for a few weeks, and I’ll be transparent about my reason why: I wanted to see what The Athletic’s Melissa Lockard had to say when she released her article on Rule 5 protections. Specifically, I wanted to see her thoughts on Fitzgerald.

I trust two people in Giants prospecting, and two people only: Lockard, and MCC alum Roger Munter. A while ago, Munter was quoted as saying that Fitzgerald would have to be protected or else he’d be selected.

I was shocked, because I thought he was an easy “no.” Sure, he provides quality defense in the middle of the infield, and a lot of pop, but he also hit only a hair better than the garden variety AA batter a year ago, with a massive strikeout problem. If he were an upper-echelon prospect, he’d be scooped up immediately. But he’s a C+/B- prospect, and with position players being so rarely taken in the Rule 5 — only three were selected in the last draft — I just didn’t see it.

So I waited to see what Lockard said, and when she placed Fitzgerald is the “other notable eligible prospects” bin, I felt comfortable holding onto my opinion.

That’s part of what makes this fun. We never know where the organization’s head is at. Prospecting is the definition of in inexact science ... not just with regards to drafting, but also with regards to how the organization (and the 29 other ones) view players.

We’ll find out soon enough.