Rule 5 Draft: The most interesting prospects left off 40-man rosters

The flurry of MLB transactions Wednesday night can dramatically affect the lives of a number of minor leaguers.

The prospects added to their team’s 40-man roster get a nice pay bump, an automatic invite to spring training, and the move represents another step toward the universal goal of breaking into the majors. 

It also protects them from December’s Rule 5 draft. The final event of the Winter Meetings allows teams to pick from a select pool of players that were left off their team’s respective 40-man rosters. This pool is made up of players signed at 19 years old or older and has played pro ball for four years, as well as any player signed at 18 years old or younger and has played pro ball for five years.

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As expected, most teams opted to protect their qualified top prospects. Below are a list of interesting names left hanging that could be with different organizations after Dec. 12. Some of these players may make an impact in the majors in 2020, and some might be good to select in the Triple-A or Double-A phase and stash in the minors.

The Astros withdrew a $6.5 million offer for Brady Aiken after discovering he had an elbow issue. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Astros withdrew a $6.5 million offer for Brady Aiken after discovering he had an elbow issue. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Brady Aiken | LHP | 2019 Organization: Cleveland Indians

The Astros rescinded a $6.5 million signing bonus offer to Aiken, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, when an oddly disputed elbow issue was discovered after the draft. Houston used the compensation pick the following year on Alex Bregman, and Aiken was selected by Cleveland at No. 17. That elbow trouble didn’t go away though, and he underwent Tommy John surgery before the Indians took a chance on him in the draft, which caused him to miss the entirety of his first pro year. He pitched 138.1 innings from 2016-17 and has been limited to two appearances in the past two years. In 2018, he stayed at the Indians facility in Arizona and avoided pitching in an official game. Aiken reportedly lost a lot of the velocity that made him such an intriguing prospect in 2014. But if he can figure things out, perhaps with a different organization after the Rule 5 draft, he can create a much softer landing for himself.

Wander Javier | SS | 2019 Organization: Minnesota Twins

Viewed as one of the top international prospects in 2015, the Twins signed Javier for $4 million, which was more than their actual bonus pool. He played up to his reputation during his first two seasons in pro ball, then missed all of 2018 after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. Minnesota first attempted to let the shoulder heal, then opted to go ahead with the surgery in May 2018. Javier really struggled at the plate in a little more than a half-season last year with Class A Cedar Rapids. He’s already proven that there’s offensive upside, and he’ll be 21 years old at the start of the 2020 season. The labrum injury had a far greater effect on his bat, considering it’s his non-throwing shoulder, and he still grades out well defensively. 

Zack Brown | RHP | 2019 Organization: Milwaukee Brewers

Brown had a break-out season in Double-A, posting the best ERA in the Southern League in 2018, then got knocked around and saw his walk rate climb in his first year at Triple-A. He was arguably the best pitching prospect in a Brewers organization that could use a few good starters. Brown’s best pitch is his curveball, and he can manipulate his low-to-mid 90’s fastball to show good sinking action or reach back for some extra velocity.  His groundball rate stayed above 50 percent, but he became a victim of the Triple-A home run boom, which, although it isn’t a problem exclusive to Brown, it is a problem he’d have to deal with in the majors. Brown could follow the path of Josh Hader and Corbin Burnes and break into the big leagues as a reliever. Whether or not he’ll do that with the Brewers should be determined in a few weeks.

Seuly Matias hit a towering opposite-field homer in the 2018 Futures Game. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Seuly Matias hit a towering opposite-field homer in the 2018 Futures Game. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Seuly Matias | OF | 2019 Organization: Kansas City Royals

Matias was Pete Alonso’s competition for the minor league home run crown in 2018. But he cut his hand getting his bag off of the team bus, and his season was cut short in August. He played to his profile as a player with big power, low average and a high strikeout rate leading into 2019, but everything plummeted this year. Matias was limited by a hand fracture to just 57 games, and he hit all four of his homers during a three-game span in mid-April. He’s got a very strong arm and, if he can regain his power, should be able to stick in right field. Matias struck out 98 times and batted .148 in a difficult environment in the Carolina League. But with a proven ability to hit the ball out of the park, a team could take a chance on him.

Jordan Sheffield | RHP | 2019 Organization: Los Angeles Dodgers

The brother of Mariners left-hander Justus Sheffield, the 24-year-old completed his transformation into a full-time reliever in Class A Advanced and Double-A this season. The first thing that jumps out about Sheffield is his fastball, which can approach 100-mph. He’s also shown better feel for his curveball this year. He wasn’t a shut-down reliever in Double-A, posting a 3.58 ERA with five fewer walks than innings pitched, but he held opposing batters to a .193 average. Sheffield has the potential to be taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft as a low-cost reliever option in a time where the market is thin. Any team that feels they could help sort out his control issues could have a gem in Sheffield.

Other names to look out for:

Jose Rojas | INF | 2019 Organization: Los Angeles Angels

Rojas is 27 years old, and there’s not much to be desired defensively, but he’s had an excellent minor league career at the plate, including a 31-homer, 107-RBI season in Triple-A last year.

Griffin Jax | RHP | 2019 Organization: Minnesota Twins

An Air Force product and son of former NFL linebacker Garth Jax, the soon-to-be 25-year-old broke into Triple-A for the first time last season after posting a 2.67 ERA over 111 1/3 innings in Double-A.

Shervyen Newton | INF | 2019 Organization: New York Mets

Limited by injuries in his first full season, Newton batted just .213 with a .626 OPS in the South Atlantic League. But he’s a 6-foot-4, 20-year-old that showed power potential.

Cristian Santana | INF | 2019 Organization: Los Angeles Dodgers

The 22-year-old had an excellent year in Double-A, batting .301 with a .756 OPS, and he’s been praised for his range and arm strength at third base.

Buddy Reed | OF | 2019 Organization: San Diego Padres

An excellent athlete and former hockey player, Reed has had a hard time capitalizing on the California League performance that earned him a spot in the Futures Game last year. He batted .228 but swatted 14 homers and swiped 23 bases last year.

Dom Thompson-Williams | OF | 2019 Organization: Seattle Mariners

The 24-year-old had a 20/20 season in the Yankees system last year before being traded to Seattle as part of the James Paxton deal. He still showed some of that power-speed combination in Double-A, but batted .234 with 152 strikeouts in 115 games.

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