If you haven’t noticed it recently, the Mets have made some minor roster moves, removing players like Manny Alvarez, Dale Thayer, Val Pascucci, Nick Evans, Jason Pridie, and Taylor Buchholz from their roster, in addition to the seven players that have filed for free agency. Part of the reason for this is to prepare for the rule-5 draft, which takes place at the winter meetings. The Mets roster currently sits at 31, which gives them a little flexibility to protect a few of their eligible players while also adding free agents and possibly taking a shot on a rule-5 pick of their own, as they did with Pedro Beato last year.
The rules of rule 5 can be a little confusing, but here’s the basic gist: if a player is 19 or younger when they sign, they have five years to be put on the 40-man roster or they will be eligible to be selected during the rule-5 draft. Players that are 20 or older when they sign have only four years to be put on the major league roster. In layman’s terms, the Mets prospects that are now eligible in addition to the players that weren’t protected last year are college players drafted in 2008, high school players drafted in 2007, and international signings from 2007. If selected, that player must stay on the major league roster throughout the entire season or be offered back to his old team. The list of Mets prospects that are technically eligible is well over 50 players long; many are low-level minor leaguers that no major league team will even consider taking. So here are the notable prospects that are rule-5 eligible this year that the Mets will consider protecting and other teams may consider taking: Mark Cohoon, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Robert Carson, Jeurys Familia, Reese Havens, Brad Holt, Juan Lagares, Collin McHugh, Juan Centeno, Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte, and Cesar Puello. So, who should be protected and who should be left unprotected?
Cohoon – He had a fantastic 2010 season, but was slow to figure out AAA in 2011. If the Mets had wanted to protect him, he would have been called up in September instead of Chris Schwinden. He doesn’t have the upside to make him attractive for other teams to take him, but with a good start in 2012 he can get himself on the radar as minor league depth for the starting rotation.
Nieuwenhuis – It may be too risky to leave Nieuwenhuis unprotected. He missed the second half of 2011 with a shoulder injury, which will prevent him from having any hope of playing for a roster spot in spring. That injury may also scare off some teams from drafting him, but rebuilding teams with roster space would certainly take a look at him.
Carson – This could be a tough call and may come down to who else gets protected and how many roster spots are open. Carson has the arm and plenty of potential but the results have not been there; not even close. The southpaw has not even been adept at getting lefties out so he may not even be a contributor as a LOOGY, which will make it difficult for a team to keep him on the roster the entire season, so the Mets may be able to get away with leaving him unprotected this year.
Familia – Is he major league ready? No. Is he a guy you can afford to lose? No. The Mets will certainly do their due diligence to asses the likelihood that he gets selected and act accordingly.
Havens – This is a no-brainer; Havens must be protected. If not for so many injuries he may already be on the major league roster. The Mets are hopeful that the surgery he had last offseason will be a long-term solution to his oblique and rib injuries, although he also had a back issue in 2011 that kept him out of the Arizona Fall League. Regardless, is still the optimistic choice to be the second baseman of the future, and the Mets will undoubtedly be protecting him from the rule-5 draft.
Holt – Holt is the classic example of a guy who becomes a rule-5 pick: a high draft pick that has yet to perform up to expectations, but who may still be able to reach expectations. The Mets have to make a decision about him regardless of where he was drafted. If they think he can regain the form he had in 2009, he should absolutely be protected, but after two straight disappointing seasons, his current projection is nothing more than a middle reliever. Like Carson, whether he can be protected will come down to the space available on the roster, but if he’s left unprotected and gets selected it may not be as big a loss as you might think.
Lagares – Lagares will certainly be protected and may end up playing a role on the major league club before 2012 is over. Lagares did nothing but hit in 2011, in A-ball, in AA, and in the Arizona Fall League. He has great athleticism and defensive versatility, which makes him the type of player that a team can afford to carry throughout the season and he’s made a big enough splash in 2011 to get picked if left unprotected, so the Mets should add him to their roster.
McHugh – McHugh was a pleasant surprise in 2011 and definitely put him on the Mets radar. However, he doesn’t have the ceiling that would warrant him being protected or being selected by another team. He will be worth watching in 2012, but there’s not enough space to protect him, and Carson and Holt should be ahead of him when it comes to being protected.
Centeno – The Mets have been burned on an A-ball catcher before, so they must give some thought to Centeno. He hit for a high average in A-ball in 2011 and is solid behind the plate, but he doesn’t provide much else and he is undersized. Centeno is arguably the Mets second best catching prospect and if the Mets think he could contribute in the majors this year if there was an injury or two at the major league level they may add him to the roster, but most likely he is neither protected nor selected in rule 5.
Flores – It’s amazing how quickly a player can become rule 5 eligible when they get signed at 16. Still, don’t expect Flores to be protected or selected. He is a player without a position and his stock has dropped with people outside of the organization. So there’s no reason to think a team would want to carry him as their 25th man for the entire season.
Marte – Like Flores, Marte is too young to be a serious candidate to be selected in rule 5. He is yet to play above A-ball, he is a defensive liability, and is nowhere close to ready to play in the majors.
Puello – Like Flores and Marte, Puello is too young and too raw for teams to seriously consider taking in rule 5.
With the winter meetings coming up on December 5, we should find out soon whom the Mets have chosen to protect from the rule-5 draft. The list of candidates that may need protecting is far more plentiful than it has in recent years, which is a small sign that the Mets farm system is slowly improving from the bottom up. There may be as much as three to five players protected, depending on whether or not the Mets try to free up some more space on their roster and the decisions they make about certain players. Also, don’t be surprised if Sandy Alderson takes a shot on selecting one or two pitchers to bring with him to spring training in hopes of strengthening the bullpen the way he did with Pedro Beato a year ago, but more importantly, it will be interesting to see who gets protected and what Mets prospects may be selected by other teams.