Good morning, folks.
The Texas Rangers are still the World Series champs.
You probably already knew that, but I just wanted to mention it again, in case you forgot.
Oh, and I really enjoy typing that.
The deadline for adding players to the 40 man roster for the Rule 5 Draft is on November 10. That is just four days away. Normally, I would have probably done a post or two about it. This year, though? I’m on Scott Lucas’s wavelength:
“Justin Slaten might have figured it out. Think there’s any chance he’ll be 40’ed?” Me: “don’t know don’t care”— Scott Lucas (@scottrlucas) November 4, 2023
There’s part of me that just wants to say, you know what? The Rangers will announce who they’ve added to the 40 man roster in four days, and we’ll find that out then, and so there’s no need to think about it when instead we can think about how the Rangers won the World Series just nine days ago.
Nine days ago! Barely a week! The Rangers! Champions!
That’s less time than the minimum stay on the injured list. Why are we having to think about who is being protected from the Rule 5 Draft this soon after we saw Our Texas Rangers win it all?
I guess we don’t have to. Its not like Vox Media or SBN is going to come scold me if I don’t do it. I am not entirely sure that they remember we exist over here (well, except for the fact that we were the highest trafficked baseball site on the network for a much of the end of October/beginning of November, surpassing sites that are manned by full time staffers).
However, if I didn’t at least make a token effort to talk about this, I would let myself down. Thus, we will talk about the decisions the Rangers have to make in advance of November 14.
If you want to read the rules about who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, you can click here. The short, not exactly correct but close enough version is that college players drafted in 2020 or earlier, high school players drafted in 2019 or earlier, and international signees signed in 2019 or earlier are generally going to be eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft this year if they are not added to a team’s 40 man roster by November 14. A player selected in the Rule 5 Draft generally has to stay on the major league roster of the drafting team all year. Again, click on the link above for more details.
Currently, the Rangers have 33 players on their 40 man roster. Well, the Rangers’ website says 34, but they still have Austin Hedges on there for reasons I’m not clear on, other than maybe he just likes being a Texas Ranger so much he just decided not to file his free agent paperwork. Or maybe his agent forgot. Except his agent is Scott Boras, so probably not.
Normally, at this time of year, there’s also a fair number of guys who are potential 40 man roster casualties, or on the 40 man bubble. However, what with the Rangers being in a playoff race and then the playoffs and making moves to add players to the active roster who weren’t necessarily already on the 40 man roster, many of those guys were jettisoned during the 2023 season.
Thus, we don’t have to debate the fate of Spencer Howard, or Glenn Otto, or Bubba Thompson, or Joe Barlow, or Alex Speas. Those guys were DFA’d prior to season’s end. Which is why the Rangers had just 33 players on their 40 man roster when their season ended and players became free agents, when usually the number is higher.
The Rangers are unlikely to add more than seven players to the 40 man roster on Tuesday, so there’s not an immediate need to do 40 man roster pruning. However, the Rangers are likely to add several players either via free agency or trade who one would expect to be contributors to the 2024 major league team, and thus who will need 40 man roster spots to be available. I’d guess 4-6 of those types of additions — a starting pitcher, an OF/DH type, some relievers, maybe a backup catcher. Thus, when deciding who to protect from the Rule 5 Draft, you have to keep in mind the need to earmark 40 man spots for potential additions.
You can see who all is eligible in the Rangers’ system, and when, by looking at Scott Lucas’s handy-dandy Rule 5 eligibility spreadsheet here.
The one guy who is a lock to be added to the 40 man roster is Justin Foscue. The Rangers’ first round pick in 2020, Foscue put up a .266/.394/.468 slash line in 563 plate appearances for Round Rock this year, playing primarily second base and third base. He’s Rule 5 eligible for the first time, and a no brainer.
The three players I see as near locks, but not slam dunks like Foscue, are pitchers Jose Corniell and Marc Church, both of whom are Rule 5 eligible for the first time, and Antoine Kelly, who is eligible for the second time. Corniell is a 20 year old righthanded starter who put up a 2.92 ERA between Hickory and Down East in 101.2 IP, striking out 119 and walking 31. He’s one of the Rangers’ best pitching prospects, and the only reason he might not be added is because he hasn’t pitched in AA and only has a half-season in high-A. Texas may feel the value of an open 40 man roster spot, and the flexibility of not having to use an option on Corniell this season, outweighs the risk he would be selected.
Church, who turns 23 right before the season starts, is a righthanded reliever who was an 18th round draft pick out of Atlanta in 2019. He’s moved quickly through the system, splitting 2023 between AA and AAA. He has terrific stuff and misses bats, but his command is very much a work in progress. I think he most likely is added to the 40 man roster — he’s performed in the upper minors, he could be a contributor in the majors in 2024 for the Rangers, and he’s the type of player who could be stashed in a bullpen all year as a Rule 5 pick. The flip side is that there are a lot of hard throwing relievers out there who will not be protected, and so I guess there’s a chance Texas exposes him and takes their chances.
Kelly, who turns 24 next month, is a lefthanded reliever who was acquired by the Rangers from the Milwaukee Brewers, along with Mark Matthias, in exchange for Matt Bush in the summer of 2022. Kelly, who was a starter at the time, struggled after arriving at Frisco, but still was seen as a likely candidate to be added to the 40 man roster last offseason. The Rangers gambled and won by not exposing him. Moved to a full time relief role, he took strides forward this year, putting up a 2.04 ERA in 57.1 IP over 49 games, striking out 79 and walking just 23. He was talked about as a potential bullpen option for the Rangers in the second half, but never did actually get the nod.
Kelly has had a history of command issues but seemed to turn a corner in June — from June 13 to the end of the season, he walked just 6 of 148 batters faced while striking out 49 of them, allowing opponents a .214/.257/.257 slash line. The arguments for and against protecting Kelly are the same as with Church, and as with Church, I’d be surprised if he were not protected.
Speaking of relievers out there who are potentially Rule 5 eligible...the Rangers have a lot of them in their system. Let’s briefly go over some minor league relief arms who are likely to be exposed, but who might have a shot at being protected.
There is Justin Slaten, a 2019 3rd rounder who struggled as a starter after being drafted, but thrived in a relief role this year, putting up a 2.87 ERA in 59.2 IP over 40 games, mostly for Frisco but with a brief stint at Round Rock at season’s end.
Daniel Robert is a righthander who throws hard but struggles with his command. The 29 year old put up a 4.40 ERA in 43 innings for Round Rock. He was Rule 5 eligible last year and discussed as a possible 40 man addition. I suspect that this year he will once again be exposed, discussed as someone who could be taken by another team in the Rule 5 Draft, and ultimately not selected.
Grant Wolfram is a lefty reliever who was an 18th round pick in 2018. He split 2023 between AA Frisco — where he had a 2.02 ERA in 49 innings — and AAA Round Rock — where he had a 10.80 ERA in 13.1 IP. Not likely to be protected or selected, but someone to keep an eye on as a possible bullpen option, should be make strides in Round Rock in 2024.
Texas signed several high school pitchers after the 10th round in 2019, many of them to overslot deals as a byproduct of failing to sign 7th rounder Brandon Sproat. This group is Rule 5 eligible for the first time this year. We discussed Marc Church above. Other members of that class include Bubba Hoopii-Tuionetoa, Gavin Collyer, Nick Lockhart, Adrian Rodriguez, and Michael Brewer. Brewer, who spent most of 2023 with Frisco (but got knocked around), and Hoopi-Tuionetoa, who missed most of the season with an injury but who has impressed in the Arizona Fall League, are the most notable members of this group. I doubt any of them get added to the 40 man this year, but they are guys who could make a push in the 2024 season.
There are a couple starting pitchers in the system who are Rule 5 eligible, and who one could make an argument for protecting, but who likely aren’t added.
Dane Acker, acquired from the Oakland A’s in the Jonah Heim/Elvis Andrus trade, is a first time Rule 5 eligible guy. He missed most of 2021 and 2022 due to Tommy John surgery, and split the 2023 season between high-A and Frisco, putting up a 2.54 ERA in 67.1 IP over 18 innings. The 24 year old righthander is a starting pitcher, and a team that believes in his potential could possibly pop him in the Rule 5 Draft. I don’t expect the Rangers to protect Acker, but it wouldn’t be shocking if they did.
Winston Santos had a breakout 2022 season at low-A Down East, but struggled with high-A Hickory in 2023. Had he replicated his 2022 campaign, he’d have been a more serious candidate to be protected, but given his struggles, how far away he is, and that his stuff isn’t the sort of loud stuff that teams tend to be drawn to in Rule 5 selections, he’s almost certainly going to be exposed.
Finally, we have a few position players to talk about.
Davis Wendzel was the Rangers’ second pick in 2019 (a supplemental first rounder) out of Baylor, and this is his second year of Rule 5 eligibility. The 26 year old infielder struggled to hit or stay healthy for his first several seasons as a pro, but slashed .236/.361/.477 with 30 home runs this year for Round Rock while playing shortstop and third base. As a guy who can handle all the infield positions and who has some pop and some patience, Wendzel has the profile of an attractive Rule 5 draftee, as he can provide bench depth as a utility infielder for a team that doesn’t need him to play much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rangers either protect Wendzel or trade him before the deadline for adding him. Wendzel would be more likely to be added to the 40 man roster by the Rangers as infield depth if they didn’t already have Jonathan Ornelas on the 40 man roster.
Wendzel’s teammate Blaine Crim is another second time Rule 5 eligible player, a righthanded hitting 1B/DH who was a 19th round pick in 2019. Crim slashed .290/.385/.506 for Round Rock in 2023. However, I can’t see the Rangers protecting him. His being limited to 1B or DH, position-wise, and his limited upside make it hard to see a team keeping him on their roster all season.
Finally, we have Cody Freeman. A fourth round pick in 2019, Freeman is a first time Rule 5 eligible guy who slashed .236/.304/.404 for high-A Hickory. The 22 year old was drafted as an infielder but is primarily catching now, although he also is playing the infield. I would not expect him to be protected or drafted, though I guess a team that really believed in him could take a look at him this spring as a potential 26th man on their roster, the last bench guy who is both your third catcher and a UIF option.