The Rule 5 Draft, the highlight of any prospect-hoarding team/fan is quickly approaching on December 6th. But before then, each club must add those they wish to protect before 6 p.m. Tuesday evening (today, November 14th). Otherwise, those eligible plyers will become available via the draft in December.
For the uniformed, MLB.com nicely recaps what the Rule 5 Draft entails:
"Players first signed at age 18 or younger must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 26-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000."
Ahead of this year's Rule 5 Draft, the Guardians have four top-30 prospects eligible to be drafted, including RHP Daniel Espino (No. 3/MLB No. 80), RHP Tanner Burns (No. 19), OF Johnathan Rodriguez (No. 24), and 3B/SS Dayan Frias (No. 25). Of the bunch, Rodriguez has already been added to the club's 40-man roster. Last season, the front office decided to add 2B Angel Martinez, LHP Joey Cantillo, and LHP Tim Herrin.
As it stands now, the Guardians' 40-man roster is full, so corresponding moves will be made. The likes of James Karinchak, Michael Kelly, Oscar Gonzalez, Myles Straw, and yes, possibly even prospect Jhonkensy Noel, could all be removed to make room for this year's additions. In addition to removing players from the 40-man roster, if the Guardians intend to add anyone via Rule 5, then the club must have the necessary open spot available on the 40-man; that's how the club acquired Trevor Stephan in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.
So, looking at whom the Guardians may protect, we will stay with a few previously mentioned players. And even though he's injured, look for them to add Espino to the 40-man roster. His future may be that of a back-end bullpen arm due to his injury history, but Espino regularly highlights a list of the best stuff across the entirety of minor-league ball.
Burns also looks like he could be protected, as he spent the 2023 season in Double-A Akron, and savvy teams could probably find a way to keep him on their 2024 MLB roster, likely as a multi-inning reliever (a role many around the game think he may eventually wind up securing). But Burns' ceiling is that of a back-end rotation arm, and if there is one thing the Guardians staff has excelled at, it's their ability to get more out of those types of pitchers.
Now, this last one is a name many may not know about. Relief pitcher Cade Smith, who split time between Akron and Columbus last season, makes a ton of sense to protect. Smith went undrafted during the abbreviated 2020 draft and signed as a UDFA following said draft. Smith pitched with Team Canada last spring as part of the World Baseball Classic, notched 15 saves during the 2023 campaign, and appears to be another high-leverage bullpen arm in the near future for the Guardians.
It's not the most exciting time of the year, but the Rule 5 should offer some insight into the thoughts of the front office this winter.