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November 15, 2022 at 4:45 PM

Scouting Scratch: Red Sox 2022 Rule 5 Preview

By 6:00 p.m. tonight, the Red Sox must decide which prospects to add to their 40-man roster to protect them from selection in the Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled for December 7.

Currently, the 40-man roster is at 37 players, and if necessary, players such as Caleb Hamilton, Yu Chang, and Jake Reed can be removed from the roster in order to create more space. The Red Sox also have to make non-tender decisions by Friday, so if they know they are non-tendering someone like Franchy Cordero, Ryan Brasier, or Josh Taylor, for example, they could choose to open a spot by making that move today. 

Here is a short list of players who are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft and one man's opinion regarding their likelihood of being added to the roster.

Locks to be protected:

2022 Highest Level: Portland
After a breakout 2022 in which he hit .299/.342/.539 across High-A and Double-A while playing elite defense, Rafaela is a lock to be protected. Although his numbers were exemplary across the board, there are still areas he needs to work on. After his promotion to Portland, his walk rate went up and his strikeout rate went down, which seems good, but his chase rate increased and his exit velocity data got worse, indicating he was making worse contact on pitches outside the zone and getting himself out that way. Rafaela's defense will carry him to the big leagues, but his ceiling will be determined by how his hit tool develops. 

2022 Highest Level: Worcester
Walter carried over his strong 2021 to Portland this year, where he dominated in 50 innings, putting up a 2.88 ERA and 0.78 WHIP with 68 strikeouts and 3 walks. He was promoted to Worcester, where he made two starts, but before his third start, he felt soreness in his neck eventually diagnosed as a bulging disc in his upper back that ultimately ended his season. Walter is reportedly going to have a normal off-season, and he will enter next season as potential MLB starting depth.

Good chance to be protected:

2022 Highest Level: Worcester
Murphy was excellent in Portland (2.58 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 29.8 K%, 10.2 BB% in 76.2 IP), but struggled after getting promoted to Worcester (5.50 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 17 K%, 12 BB% in 75.1 IP). Even with those struggles, he still has talent, is left-handed (an area in which the Red Sox lack depth), and is close to the big leagues, which makes him likely to be protected.

2022 Highest Level: Portland
Ward made his return from Tommy John surgery and put up good numbers, especially after he returned to Portland, with a 2.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 29.5 K% and 10.1 BB% in 33 1/3 innings. He then went to the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 2.84 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 15 strikeouts and 6 walks in 12 2/3 innings. He missed three weeks there with a strained oblique, but showed that his stuff is close to back. Given his proximity and that we could see him take another step forward after a normal off-season, he is also likely to be protected or if not to be selected. 

Wild card:

2022 Highest Level: Greenville
Gonzalez is a very tough one to call. He is still several years away from the major leagues but made significant progress as the season went on. In spring training and early in the season, his stuff and delivery had backed up, but by the time he was promoted to Greenville, his delivery was a lot cleaner and his stuff was back. When I saw him, he was up to 97 mph with two potentially above-average secondaries. Though his ultimate home might be in the bullpen, I think there is too much upside to risk leaving him unprotected, but I wouldn't be that surprised if they chose to go that route. Other teams have taken high-upside arms from A-ball in the Rule 5 draft in the past, and all it takes is one team that really likes him and is willing to take that risk for the Red Sox to lose him. Given they don't really have a developmental player on the 40-man roster right now, and all the other players I think they will add could be MLB depth next year, they can afford to carry Gonzalez even though he is still a few years away.

Tough decisions:

2022 Highest Level: Worcester
Politi is the toughest decision of the remaining players, as I think there is a decent chance he will be selected if not protected. He is major league-ready right now, and even though there isn't much upside he could be a solid depth arm. At the same time, there are several other arms already on the 40-man roster who I have ahead of him as depth relievers, and over the past two years, the Red Sox have shown a willingness to take their chances with a player like him and hope that he makes it through without being selected.

Another possibility is the Red Sox make a trade before the deadline. Certain Rule 5-eligible prospects, like Brainer Bonaci or Eddinson Paulino, have little 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 players on the 40-man roster for several years until they could make an impact at the MLB level, it might be easier for a rebuilding team to do so. As a result, we could see the team make a trade like they did in 2020, when they traded Yoan Aybar, who was actually already on the 40-man roster, to the Colorado Rockies for Christian Koss, who was not eligible until this year. Although that technically was not a deal made for the Rule 5 Draft in particular, the concept would be the same.

2022 Highest Level: Portland
After he was acquired from the Astros at the trade deadline, Abreu struggled, hitting .242/.399/.375 in 168 plate appearances, and was even worse in the AFL, hitting .167/.275/.204 in 54 at-bats. He does have some strong underlying metrics though, with a 20% chase rate, strong numbers against fastballs 94 mph and up, and solid-average exit velocities. I would lean that he is not close enough to MLB and lacks the upside to warrant using a 40-man spot on him at this point, but I wouldn't be shocked if they did protect him.

High-minors depth

2022 Highest Level: Portland
Fernandez was a pop-up arm this year, with his velocity increasing from 92-95 mph to 96-98 mph. He also revamped his secondary pitches and was flashing a plus cutter as well. Unfortunately, Hernandez went on the injured list on July 30 with elbow soreness and made just one appearance in August before heading back to the IL for the rest of the season. If he was healthy and pitched like he did in the first half for the last two months of the season, he would have been a difficult decision, but given the uncertainty with his injury, I think the Red Sox will leave him unprotected. 

2022 Highest Level: Portland
When he is throwing strikes, Wallace has some of the best stuff of any relief arm in the system. He can run his fastball up to 100 mph and will flash a plus-plus breaking ball. His delivery is very volatile, however, and he has yet to show consistency from outing to outing and the ability to hold his command and control for extended stretches. It would not surprise me if a team took a shot on him if he is left unprotected given his pitch characteristics.

2022 Highest Level: Portland
Koss had a solid year in Portland, putting up a respectable .260/.309/.430 line with 17 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He is a steady defender and has added versatility to his game (he is seeing a good amount of time in left field in Puerto Rico right now), but at the plate, his approach limits him. He rarely walks and has too much swing-and-miss in his game. His underlying metrics are also rough, as he has a high chase rate, low hard-hit rate, and really struggled against fastballs 94 mph and up. 

Stephen Scott, C/1B/LF
2022 Highest Level: Portland
Scott has played his way into this conversation by adding positional versatility at catcher, where he spent all of his 2022 defensive innings, and showing a very advanced approach. After struggling in Greenville, he was moved up to Portland and showed improved results, hitting .238/.371/.403 in 256 plate appearances. He had almost as many walks as strikeouts during that time, and his underlying metrics were pretty strong, sporting a low chase rate and solid-average hard-hit rate and exit velocities. He carried that over to the AFL, where he was named to the Fall Stars Game and an AFL All-Star by MLB Pipeline. 

Talented, but still requiring development

2022 Highest Level: Salem
Paulino had a great season, but he is so far away from the big leagues that I think it is unlikely a team would select him and that if they did, that he would stick on their roster. He is a highly ranked prospect on our rankings, but with the lost 2020 season, a lot of teams have similar players who are well-regarded but so far away they are unlikely to be protected just yet.

2022 Highest Level: Salem
See above with Paulino.

Others to watch:
2022 Highest Level: Portland
Hamilton does one thing really well, as his speed is among the best in the entire system. He makes a lot of contact, stole 70 bases this year, and has some positional versatility. That combination is enough to give him a chance to be protected even if he doesn't hit the ball very hard and struggles with secondary offerings.

2022 Highest Level: Portland

Photo Credit: Ceddanne Rafaela, Chris Murphy, AJ Politi and Ryan Fernandez by Kelly O'Connor.

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