All of the Yankees’ wheeling and dealing in the last few days came with a purpose. The team added six players to their 40-man roster Monday to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
The team protected RHP Albert Abreu (No. 7), RHP Domingo Acevedo (No. 6), INF Thairo Estrada (No. 17), RHP Jonathan Loáisiga, OF/1B Billy McKinney (No. 23) and INF Gleyber Torres (No. 1). I expected everyone with the exception of Loáisiga to be protected, since Loáisiga has no experience above Low-A ball.
The Yankees acquired Abreu in the trade that sent Brian McCann to the Houston Astros. He pitched well in 2017, putting up a 2-3 record and 3.38 ERA across three minor league levels with the Yankees. He displayed strikeout stuff (10.3 K/9) but had command issues (3.0 BB/9) that will have to be ironed out in the lower minor leagues. Abreu impressed in the Arizona Fall League, finishing with a 2.60 ERA and 23 strikeouts in six AFL starts.
Acevedo signed with the Yankees March 3, 2013, as an international amateur free agent. The 6’7″ right-hander started 23 games across three different MiLB levels, topping out at Triple-A. His lanky frame has allowed him to reach up to 103 mph with his fastball. He finished 2017 with a 3.25 ERA and 9.6 K/9 rate. He has the potential to be a starter if he can manage his mechanics, but also could end up as a potent back-end reliever.
Estrada is another player who put himself on the radar with a strong Arizona Fall League performance. He was second on the Scottsdale Scorpions in average, hitting .342/.381/.430 with a homer and 10 RBIs. A versatile middle infielder, Estrada batted .301/.353/.392 with six homers and 48 RBIs exclusively with Double-A Trenton.
Loáisiga serves as the wild card. The Yankees were bound to protect another pitcher, and they chose the 23-year-old from Nicaragua. In 11 starts with the Yankees organization in 2017, Loáisiga was filthy. He went just 1-1, but had a stunning 1.83 ERA and 9.1 K/9 compared to 0.8 BB/9. To protect a guy who has not pitched above Short Season-A is rare, but Loáisiga showed he deserved it.
McKinney was the 24th overall pick in the 2013 Amateur Draft, selected by the Oakland Athletics. He was traded in 2014 with Addison Russell and Dan Straily to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. McKinney found himself in the package with Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren and Rashad Crawford that went to the Yankees in exchange for Aroldis Chapman in 2016. Once he hit Triple-A in 2017, McKinney turned heads, batting .306/.336/.541 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 55 games. The Yankees sent him to the Arizona Fall League (which foreshadowed his protection), where he finished second with 20 RBIs. He also played first base in the AFL, aiming to increase his versatility.
As mentioned above, Torres came to the Yankees in the Chapman deal during the 2016 “rebuild”. The consensus No. 1 prospect in MLB, Torres’ 2017 season was cut short after he tore his left UCL sliding into home plate in a Triple-A game. He missed the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was on a rotation of playing third base, shortstop and second base in order to find a position for him in the major league lineup. He was hitting .309/.406/.457 in 23 Triple-A Games prior to his injury. The Yankees are not allowing him to play winter ball, but Brian Cashman implied that Torres will be able to compete for a job during Spring Training.
The Yankees obviously had very tough decisions to make regarding who to protect. They made many trades, and had to leave a lot of talent unprotected. If a team selects an eligible player from the Yankees who is not on the 40-man roster, they pay the Yankees a fee and must keep that player on their active roster for the entirety of the season. If they are unable to keep that player on the active roster, they must return him to the Yankees and they will get a refund. If another team keeps that player on the active roster for the entire season (like the San Diego Padres did with C Luis Torrens in 2016), they gain ownership of the players rights, and can send them to the minor leagues.