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November 18, 2021 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Red Sox 2021 Rule 5 Preview


By Friday, the Red Sox must decide which prospects to add to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Currently, the Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for December 9, but exactly when it would be held is unclear, should the team owners lock out the players on December 1.

Currently, the Red Sox 40-man roster is at 33 players, and if necessary, players such as Phillips Valdez, Jeisson Rosario and Hudson Potts could be removed from the roster in order to create more space. Because a lockout is possible, I don’t think it is out of the question for the Red Sox to overprotect players now and then figure out what to do after signing free agents later in the offseason once a CBA agreement has been reached. While I currently would not project this to be the case, it also would not surprise me if they ended up protecting eight or more prospects. 

Another possibility is the Red Sox make a trade before the deadline. Certain prospects, like Gilberto Jimenez and Ceddanne Rafaela, have no chance of contributing in the big leagues in the near term. While it could be a little difficult for the Red Sox to keep those developmental players on the 40-man roster for several years until they could make an impact at the MLB level, it might be easier for some rebuilding teams to do so. As a result, we could see the team look to make a trade like they did last year, when they traded Yoan Aybar, who needed to be protected, to the Colorado Rockies for Christian Koss, who does not need to be added until December 2022. 

Here's a short list of players who are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Locks to be protected:
Jeter Downs, SS/2B
2021 highest level: Worcester
Even though he hit .190/.272/.333 this year, Downs has too much upside not to protect him. He did show flashes this year, notably at the end of the season and at the start of the AFL, but he also had long streaks where he was overmatched at the plate and clearly pressing. In the AFL, he is hitting .200/.385/.500 in 64 PA and has shown above-average raw power and the ability to take a walk, but also too much swing-and-miss and a poor approach that leads to him giving away too many at-bats. 
2021 highest level: Portland
Bello had a breakout 2021, establishing himself as the top pitching prospect in the system. Across High-A and Double-A, Bello threw 95 1/3 innings, striking out 132 while walking 31. He had a 3.87 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, while only allowing 91 hits. Bello’s stuff backed up his impressive strikeout rate, with his fastball sitting in the mid-to-high-90s and flashing at least two above-average secondaries. Though he might not be ready to start next year, he’s got the type of stuff that could play really well out of the bullpen during a stretch run, as soon as next year. 

Near-locks to be protected:
Josh Winckowski, RHP
2021 highest level: Worcester
Winckowski has a good combination of proximity and raw stuff and has put himself in a position to make his major league debut next year. As a close-to-big-league ready arm, with a fastball that can run up to 99 mph in short poutings along with an above-average slider and average changeup, he would be a lock to be selected if not protected. He had a solid year across Portland and Worcester, throwing 112 innings with a 3.94 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, while striking out 101 and walking 33. 

Kutter Crawford, RHP
2021 highest level: Boston
In his first season back from Tommy John surgery Crawford excelled, throwing 94 2/3 innings, while striking out 131 and only walking 20. He was homer-prone, giving up 12, which inflated his ERA, but his 1.08 WHIP was impressive. Crawford even made his MLB debut this year when the Red Sox were having COVID-19 issues and should serve as one of their first MLB depth options next year. Even though he doesn’t have the ceiling of some of the other players on this list, since he seems best suited for a bullpen or multi-inning relief role, his combination of proximity and floor makes him likely to be protected. 

Talented, but still requiring development:
2021 highest level: Portland
If he hadn’t had Tommy John surgery, Ward would have been in the first tier with Bello and Downs as a lock. Since he’s had TJ, however, things are a bit murkier, as he is unlikely to pitch in 2022, meaning he will return in 2023 as a 26-year-old with eight career innings above High-A. If the Red Sox protect him, they’d in essence be operating one spot down on their 40-man (since he’ll spend the entire year rehabbing), unless they go the route that they did with Eduard Bazardo and move him onto the 60-day DL if they need a spot. For the same reasons that the Red Sox could be hesitant to protect him, other teams might be hesitant to draft him if he is left unprotected. If he was taken in the Rule 5 Draft, he’d have to eventually spend 90 days on the active roster, but the selecting team could let him rehab on the 60-day and not worry about him taking up a 40-man spot (during the season at least) until next year. 

2021 highest level: Salem
If you’re just scouting the stat line, it would seem like Jimenez had a solid year, hitting .306/.346/.405 in his first season in full-season ball. In reality, however, scouts are down on him based on how he performed this year because he did n't show the ability to impact the baseball, made little progress with his approach and was inconsistent on defense. Even with all that said, the fact that Jimenez is still in consideration to be added shows the type of talent he possesses. Jimenez is an elite athlete and a 70 runner, and he will show some contact skills. Because of his speed, you can envision a scenario where he could stick as a 5th outfielder on a roster of a rebuilding team, but at the same time, that could severely hinder the development of someone who needs consistent at-bats. The Red Sox might be willing to take the risk that someone won’t be able to hide him on their active roster for the season and thus leave him unprotected, but you can also envision them protecting him given the upside he possesses. Another option would be trading Jimenez for a player who can either help the Red Sox sooner or who does not need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason. 

2021 highest level: Salem
Like Jimenez, Rafaela spent this year in Salem, where he opened eyes, especially on the defensive side of things. Rafaela has established himself as one of the best defenders in the system and was recently named the organization's minor league defensive player of the year. I saw Rafaela in September and he showed the ability to play plus defense at shortstop, third base and center field. He also got time in left field and at second base this year, and with his defensive skillset and positional flexibility, he might be more likely to stick on a major league roster than Jimenez (for a longer discussion on that, check out the latest episode of the Podcast).  Offensively, Rafaela has sneaky power for someone his size, but has a long way to go in developing an approach. He hit .251/.305/.424 this season with a 5.8% walk rate and 18.3% K rate. Rafaela is several years away from being MLB-ready at the plate, but defensively, I think he could slot in and handle himself right now. This is an interesting situation because of that defensive ability. Ultimately, I do not think Rafaela will be protected, but if he is, it will be because his defensive potential is too high to risk losing him. 

Close-to-MLB-ready pitching depth:
The following four pitchers all were in Double-A or Triple-A this year and had varying levels of success, but they have enough potential and are close enough to the big leagues that they could interest other teams if the Red Sox don’t protect them.
2021 highest level: Portland
The 21-year-old Santos was acquired in July 2021 from the Phillies as the PTBNL for CJ Chatham. He excelled with Portland in 45 1/3 innings, putting up a 2.58 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 45 strikeouts and only 6 walks. Santos does not have overwhelming stuff, but he has plus control of his low-90s fastball and a pair of at least average secondaries. He does not have a high ceiling, but he has the chance to develop into a fringe 5th/6th starter or long relief type. I would put him as most likely to be protected since he has a chance to start, whereas the next three prospects are all relief-only types. If not protected, he fits the bill as the type of player who teams may look to select.  

2021 highest level: Worcester
The Red Sox 3rd-round pick in 2018 is the biggest name of this group and is coming off a solid year, during which he reached Worcester and excelled, throwing 24 1/3 innings with 25 strikeouts, 4 walks, a 2.59 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Overall, Feltman threw 51 2/3 innings with 62 strikeouts, 14 walks, a 2.96 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. While Feltman’s numbers were solid last year, his stuff still is not the same as it was during his pro debut. His fastball was 90-93 mph by the end of the year and he was getting by with deception and command more than raw stuff. Middle relievers like him are often left unprotected, but if the Red Sox still think he is a potential late-inning arm rather than a middle reliever, then they could look to protect him.

Zack Kelly, RHP 
2021 highest level: Worcester
The 26-year-old Kelly was signed as a minor league free agent in January 2021 and had a very impressive showing across Portland and Worcester. In 45 1/3 innings, Kelly struck out 69, walked only 18 and allowed 31 hits. He had a 2.18 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, and allowed only two home runs all year. Kelly has a very heavy fastball in the mid-90s and a pair of averageish secondaries. He has shown the ability to limit hard contact and miss bats, but was also repeating Double-A at the start of the year. The Red Sox did re-sign him Fedor he could even teach minor league free agency again this offseason, which seems to indicate how they value him, but it is unlikely they will protect him, because they could have done so back in October rather than re-signing him to a minor-league deal. 
2021 highest level: Portland
German was acquired along with Adam Ottavino from the Yankees last off-season for cash considerations. He struggled as a starter, but was excellent after shifting to the bullpen at the end of August. In 79 1/3 innings as a starter, he had a 5.33 ERA and opponents hit .296/.356/.471 against him. He struggled to miss bats with a 11% swinging strike rate and only 65 strikeouts, and he could not keep the ball in the yard, allowing 12 home runs. In the bullpen, however, German threw 5 innings and allowed 1 hit, 1 walk and struck out 7. He also had a 22% swinging strike rate. This is a very small sample, but German’s fastball could play up in the bullpen, and his inconsistent secondaries would not be as much of an issue. German is the farthest away of this group, as he only just converted to the bullpen, but he has upside and if a team saw him pitching well in relief at the end of the season, they could look to select him if he isn’t protected.  

Position player depth:
2021 highest level: Worcester
The 27-year-old Fitzgerald was been a jack of all trades on defense this year and has consistently gotten better each year at the plate. This year, a swing change unlocked his power potential and he hit .270/.350/.512 across Portland and Worcester with 16 home runs and a 19.7% K rate and 9% walk rate. Even with strong offensive performance and the ability to play every position except for catcher, Fitzgerald's age decreases the likelihood that he will be protected. At the same time, however, if the Red Sox believe that he could serve as an MLB bench player next year, there is a chance he does get protected, and similarly if another team views him that way they could look to select him. 
2021 highest level: Portland
The Red Sox 4th-round pick in the 2018 Draft has slowly moved up and finally showed his offensive potential this year. He hit .278/.371/.500 with 10 home runs in 276 plate appearances in the regular season and has added three more home runs and hit .275/.356/.510 in 59 plate appearances in the AFL. Cottam, however, had a 35.1% K rate during the regular season and isn’t a lock to stick behind the plate, where he projects as fringe-average at best. With two catching prospects in Connor Wong and Roberto Hernandez already on the 40-man, it is unlikely the Red Sox will add him, and other teams might be scared away because his defense isn’t ready to handle a backup MLB catcher role and his offensive game has too much swing-and-miss.

Other names of note:
It is unlikely any of these players are protected, but they are some other names to keep in mind as they could interest other teams
2021 highest level: Boston

2021 highest level: Portland

Rio Gomez, LHP (pictured)
2021 highest level: Portland

2021 highest level: Greenville

2021 highest level: Portland

2021 highest level: Boston


Photo Credit: Jeter Downs, Brayan Bello, Thaddeus Ward, Durbin Feltman, Ryan Fitzgerald and Rio Gomez by Kelly O'Connor.

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.