Will Yanks protect prospects ahead of Rule 5 Draft?

Will Yanks protect prospects ahead of Rule 5 Draft?

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are arguably more excited about their farm system today than at any point in recent memory, but with a resulting crunch for available slots on their 40-man roster, the organization must prepare for the possibility that they may lose some talent in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

Every team has until Friday to declare which players to add to its 40-man roster, and the Yankees' is currently full. Those players left unprotected will be exposed to selection by the 29 other teams in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Md., on Dec. 8.

Infielder Jorge Mateo, ranked the No. 18 prospect in all of baseball by MLBPipeline, is one player who needs to be added to avoid being exposed. Other players of note in the Yankees' Top 30 include third baseman Miguel Andujar, catcher Luis Torrens, outfielder Jake Cave and left-hander Dietrich Enns.

Top Prospects: Torrens, NYY

At the very least, the Yankees seem likely to clear spaces on their roster to protect Mateo and Andujar, with general manager Brian Cashman recently saying that the team plans to non-tender right-hander Nathan Eovaldi following his Tommy John surgery. Infielder/outfielder Dustin Ackley is another non-tender candidate.

Cashman recently said that the Yankees have been encouraged by Mateo's play in the Dominican Winter League, where he is dabbling in center field after moving to second base this past season at Class A Advanced Tampa, accommodating the arrival of No. 2 prospect Gleyber Torres.

While Mateo was disciplined by the organization for an unspecified infraction in July, the 21-year-old completed the season batting .254/.306/.379 with 16 doubles, nine triples, eight homers, 47 RBIs and 36 steals in 113 games.

Andujar, 21, is representing the Yankees with the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, coming off a promising season in which he posted a .273/.332/.410 slash line in 130 games for Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

Andujar's RBI single

Torrens bounced back nicely from a labrum tear in 2016, but after playing just 40 games at Class A Charleston, he will likely be unprotected. The Yankees will give more serious thought to protecting Cave and Enns, who jumped in their prospect standings this past year.

The 23-year-old Cave spent most of the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he batted .261/.323/.401 after being selected in last year's Rule 5 Draft by the Reds. The 25-year-old Enns went an impressive 14-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 26 games (22 starts) at Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in his first season as a starter.

Top Prospects: Enns, NYY

Yet another possibility to earn a 40-man roster spot is right-hander Brady Lail, who was 8-8 with a 4.62 ERA in 24 starts across three levels in 2016, but he is one year removed from being listed among the system's better pitching prospects. The Yanks think highly of Lail's makeup, as evidenced by his selection as a "leader" at the team's preseason Captain's Camp.

With 40-man spots in short supply, some appealing players who may be left unprotected include infielder Cito Culver, right-hander Giovanny Gallegos, right-hander Mark Montgomery, right-hander Ronald Herrera and left-hander Tyler Webb.

New York's most recent move to address the 40-man roster was made on Nov. 8, when the Yankees claimed left-hander Joe Mantiply off waivers from the Tigers and designated right-hander Branden Pinder for assignment. The club also has added catcher Kyle Higashioka and right-hander Domingo German to the 40-man roster this offseason.

Players first signed at age 18 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 $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.