I’m not sure if you’ve been following along with the offseason calendar at the top of the site that’s taking the place of the upcoming schedule for now, but if you have, you’ll notice that Tuesday’s an important date. That’s when the Dodgers (and every other team, of course) have to set their 40-man roster in advance of the December 6 Rule 5 draft. You can still make changes and additions after tomorrow, of course, and they will, it’s just when decisions need to be made about what eligible minor leaguers will be added to the roster, and, potentially, what current placeholders will lose their spots if space becomes an issue.
Last year, that meant that Michael Antonini, Alex Castellanos, Stephen Fife, Josh Wall, & Chris Withrow were added, with John Ely & Carlos Monasterios outrighted off the roster to make room. Ely has since returned to take Antonini’s spot, and the current roster stands at 36. So what the Dodgers need to do is figure out who to protect and who to expose for tomorrow, while also keeping in mind that space is going to be needed for any other additions, like Hiroki Kuroda or Zack Greinke or Hyun-jin Ryu.
This gets complicated for a few reasons. First, there’s almost never an official list of eligible players, so we have to do our best to cobble together lists using the rule of “high schoolers drafted four years ago (i.e. 2008) & college players drafted three years ago (i.e. 2009).” Even then it’s rarely that cut-and-dry, as there’s always some guys who end up being eligible or not eligible for some reason or another. With some assistance from Chris Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner and research of my own, this is the completely-not-official-and-maybe-missing-some-guys list of Dodger prospects I believe to be Rule 5 eligible this year.
The second part of this is that there’s some gamesmanship involved here. Remember, this draft isn’t simply to stock the minor league systems of other clubs, it requires that they keep the selected player in the bigs all season (like the Dodgers did with Monasterios in 2010.) So you have to ask yourself questions on how likely some team will take a chance on doing that with a few of these guys. Sure, you’d like to keep Baez in the system and see if his reported conversion to pitching takes. Are you going to hand him a 40-man spot to do so? Absolutely not, but it’s also very unlikely that any other team would put him in the bigs right now. So you keep him off and move on.
For many of these guys, it’s a no-brainer. No other team is taking, say, J.T. Wise, and putting him in the bigs, and if they do for some reason, you note the loss without a thought. You can say the same for Silverio (who missed all of 2012 after a car accident and will probably be limited in 2013 as well), Dominguez (who seemed intriguing after striking out 87 in 79 innings this year before getting popped with a drug suspension earlier this month), Erickson (who was eligible in 2011 and didn’t get picked after a good year, then was a huge disappointment in 2012), Songco (who had a very good 2011 before being hurt for most of 2012 and disappointing when available) and non-prospects like Guerrero, Johnson, St. Clair, Wallach, Becker, Gallagher, Martinez, and others.
That leaves, for me, only one clear slam-dunk to be added and several “maybes”. All of a sudden, four open roster spots seem like it might not be nearly enough, especially when free agent acquisitions are considered. (Though as we looked into last month, it’s not too hard to find room if you need. Justin Sellers, Ely, Elian Herrera, & even Juan Uribe are still on the roster and can easily be lost if space becomes a problem.)
The only real obvious choice here is the 22-year-old righty Magill, who led the organization with 168 strikeouts (in just 146 innings) while making the Southern League All-Star team. He’ll probably be somewhere around the #6 Dodger prospect – I’m spitballing here and saying that the top five are some combination of Zach Lee, Yasiel Puig, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, & Chris Reed – and while his ceiling is certainly not that of an ace, he’s potentially just a year or less away from being ready for the bigs and is all but certain to get plucked in the draft if available. So, he stays for sure.
Quickly going down the list of maybes…
Steve Ames: It’s hard to ignore the numbers that Ames has put up in four seasons in the organization, compiling a 236/35 K/BB in 172.2 innings. That’s admittedly outstanding, but there’s a lot here that suggests we shouldn’t go overboard in looking at the stats. After all, he’s someone you never hear about, and if he were really that good, we’d all be talking him up more, wouldn’t we?
Ames was only a 17th-round pick in 2009, and as a college graduate he was older than his competition for most of his first two years; despite doing very well in half a season at Chattanooga in 2011, he remained there for all of 2012 despite constant roster turnover in the levels above. He was ranked just 20th on Baseball Prospectus‘ Dodger prospect list headed into 2012, where Kevin Goldstein noted that the “scouting reports are not as impressive as the numbers, but evaluators see a big league future as middle reliever.” Still, it’s easier to stash a Rule 5 pick in the bullpen than anywhere else, and with numbers like that, some talent-starved team would take a chance. Yes.
Tony Gwynn. It’s been difficult to find confirmation on this, but I believe that as a member of the organization who is not on the 40-man roster (and obviously isn’t a recent draftee), Gwynn is eligible to be selected. He’s kind of intriguing, because he’s a lot easier for some team to keep on their roster than some Double-A prospect. Then again, he’s still not very good. Nah.
Aaron Miller. Miller was a supplemental first round pick out of Baylor in 2009 and was expected to move quickly, but injury problems (he pitched only 36 innings in 2011 due to a groin injury) and increasing control issues (a career-worst 5.3 BB/9 in 2012) have slowed his ascent. He at least managed to stay healthy, starting 25 games, and showed a decent ability to miss bats, but it was far from the breakout season he needed. Still, he’s got just 318 innings under his belt, and lefties who aren’t Clayton Kershaw often need a little longer to develop. Not a guarantee, but probably.
Blake Smith. Smith was a second round pick in 2009 out of UC Berkeley and had a breakout 2011, hitting .294/.359/.539 in half a season for Rancho Cucamonga. Goldstein listed him as a sleeper “with plenty of tools”, but his .267/.358/.432 line for the Lookouts didn’t do much to keep the excitement going. I still like him, but it’s tough to hide a corner outfielder in the bigs who isn’t ready to be there. It’s probably worth the risk that he’s not going to get selected in the Rule 5 draft to not have to use a spot on him. Doubtful.
Rafael Ynoa: The 25-year-old has been in the system for seven years and only managed to reach Double-A this season, hitting .278/.364/.352 while splitting time between second & short for the Lookouts. He didn’t make the top 20 on the BP list, and normally a guy like this wouldn’t even merit a mention. That said, Ynoa found himself as part of the Dodger contingent headed to the Arizona Fall League and has been a surprising star there, even gathering some mention from Baseball America as a potential Rule 5 pick. That might just be enough to gain him a spot. Could go either way, but leaning no.
So let’s say Magill, Ames, & Miller all get added, along with one other name that I’m wrong about being against here. That’d put the roster at an even 40, and assuming that at least three free agents – at a minimum – are still on their way, the Dodgers would need to make some moves to clear out space. Justin Sellers, the bell tolls for thee…