The fan base is at it again. Call these guys up! Why do they wait so long to bring the kids up? And this year is a banner year for impatient Phillies fans. Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery are the two main targets but the cries could be heard for Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, and Nick Williams earlier in the season as well. Now look, I get it. Completely get it. But there are so many factors that go into these decisions that the fans don’t consider. After a discussion I had yesterday with a friend of mine about how the 40-man roster and Rule 5 draft work, I thought maybe it was time to blog about it.
The first thing to understand is the 40-man roster. Obviously, that roster is limited to only 40 spots. Anyone who you wish to have on your daily 25-man MLB roster must be on the 40-man roster first. If not, you must add them, meaning someone else has to removed from the 40-man roster. If they have option years left it can be as simple as a demotion to the minors. If not, it results in you exposing that player to waivers. The disabled list is another way to “gain” spots as those players don’t count against your 40-man roster while they are “disabled”. It does allow for a team to add a non roster player to the 40-man without opening a spot, but once the injured player returns you have to make room for them. There are more rules that come into play with option years and service time clocks but for our purposes, I think the depth I’ve reached here gets us where we need to be.
One of the wrenches thrown into the traditional 40-man roster make up is the Rule-5 draft. I think everyone understands the First Year Players draft held every summer but the Rule 5 draft is held in December and involves players already in your team’s system. There are a few rules for eligibility that apply, based on your age when you signed your first contract. If you are 18 or under when you sign, you are protected from the Rule-5 draft for five years. If you are 19 or older, you’re safe for four years. And if you are on the 40-man roster you are protected as well. Its risky to select these players as they must remain on your 25-man roster for a full season or they must be offered back, but many teams would love to get their hands on prospects that way.
This is where the Phillies building a strong minor league system makes it tough for 40-man roster construction. Last off season, they decided to protect 11 minor leaguers from the Rule-5 draft. That’s over a quarter of your available spots tied up in one season on non-25 man players. But players like Mark Appel, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Andrew Knapp, Ricardo Pinto, Dylan Cozens, Drew Carpenter, Jesmuel Valentin, and Elniery Garcia would most certainly have been selected and the club wasn’t willing to risk that. You must also consider that this coming off season there is another batch of eligible players and you can see how valuable those 40 spots are. JP Crawford, Cord Sandberg, Tyler Viza, Rhys Hoskins, Brandon Leibrandt, Austin Davis, Franklyn Kilome, Alexis Rivero, and Victor Arano and a few new names eligible this year as well as guys like Seranthony Dominguez, Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin from past years. I’m expecting at least seven players to be protected, which means 18 slots filled over a two year period. That also means 18 slots needed to be cleared over that same time. Until a lot of these protected “kids” become full time contributors to the MLB club, that MLB will continue to struggle. Depth and flexibility are a real problem.
So, lets visit a few players, case by case. I’m going to start with an easy one, Rhys Hoskins. When should/will Hoskins be called up. Hoskins is ready. He sees a ton of pitches, has a good feel for the strike zone, drives the ball well to all fields, and displays above average in-game power. If he stays in the International League, he’s probably the front runner for the league MVP. So, why is he still in Allentown? Tommy Joseph. Joseph has not been great this year but has hardly been a disaster. His power numbers are down a tad but he has collected a number of clutch hits this year. I believe the Phillies will listen to offers for Joseph but until then Joseph and Hoskins can’t be on the same roster. The profiles are too similar. So Hoskins must wait and continue to learn at AAA. I believe the worst case scenario is a September call up after the Iron Pigs season is over. He’ll need a 40-man spot this season anyway.
How about JP Crawford? I know there is a growing number of fans who don’t care about this one but JP has continued to push through a tough season in AAA and show flashes of his limitless potential. And now those flashes are coming more frequently. He also needs a 40-man spot this off season so a September call up seems most likely. Of course all of this depends on what the club does with Freddy Galvis.
How about Scott Kingery? The new, shiny toy in the system. I think the thing keeping Kingery from Philly is that he’s not Rule-5 eligible until after the 2018 season. As impressive as his 2017 has been so far, he’s still a kid with 54 plate appearances above AA. And those 54 plate appearances have seen his walk rate tumble and strike out rate soar. Keep in mind that he has 22 of his 30 career professional home runs this year as well. It looks to me like he’s still a work in progress. Another year in the minors may not be the worst thing for Kingery or the Phillies. Those 40-man spots are just too valuable. Would it be fun to watch? Most definitely. Is it in the best interest of the club or the player? Not likely.
So, there you have it. If you made it this far, I thank you. I just hear these discussions about bringing everyone up on the radio and on social media. For the casual fan, it seems easy to do. The reality though is that there is always more to it. Sometimes its playing time, sometimes it service time, and sometimes its paperwork. But there is very rarely a rush on a decision.