The Red Sox are protecting some of their prized prospects
The Rule 5 Draft allows teams to select non-40-man roster players from other clubs. Players signed at age 18 or younger need to be added to their club’s 40-man roster within five seasons or they become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Players who signed at age 19 or older need to be protected within four seasons.
Teams that make a selection in the draft must keep the player on their 26-man active roster (or injured list) for the entire upcoming season. Otherwise, the player must be offered back to their original team.
The Red Sox had over a dozen eligible players they would risk losing to the Rule 5 draft if they weren’t added to the 40-man roster by Friday’s deadline. With only four open roster spots available, some tough decisions had to be made. The four players they added weren’t necessarily their highest rated eligible prospects but they were deemed the most likely to be snatched by another club in the draft.
All four prospects rank inside the top-25 in the Red Sox system, according to MLB.com.
The list is highlighted by Downs. The club’s No. 5 prospects was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodges in the Mookie Betts trade. Allowing another team to steal Downs away in the Rule 5 Draft would make a controversial blockbuster deal look significantly worse.
Downs struggled in Triple-A this year, hitting .190/.272/.333 in 405 plate appearances. While it was discouraging to see a top prospect perform so far below expectations, we have to keep in mind that the 23-year-old was one of the youngest players in Triple-A this season. Downs spent only 12 games at the Double-A level in 2019 before last year’s minor league season was canceled by the pandemic. Moving up to Worcester was a significant leap that many players his age would struggle to handle.
Downs showed progress during his 16 games in the Arizona Fall League. He hit only .228 but posted a strong .389 OBP while bashing five home runs and swiping four bases.
Bello is the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system and No. 6 overall. His blazing fastball sits in the upper 90s and reached triple digits at times this year. He pairs the heater with a plus changeup with late fade and an improving slider.
The right-hander went 7-3 with a 3.87 ERA, 12.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 21 starts split between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland.
Winckowski was part of the return that the Red Sox received in the Andrew Benintendi deal. The No. 19 prospect in the organization improved as the season went along. After going 8-3 with a 4.14 ERA in Portland, Winckowski earned a promotion to Triple-A where he impressed in two starts, allowing only three earned runs over 12 innings.
His four-seam fastball sits in the mid-90s but he cranked it up to the upper-90s in relief during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. His strikeout rate won’t blow hitters away but he induces weak contact and his two-seam fastball generates ground balls. Winckowski’s best pitch is his wipeout slider and he also throws a splitter, giving him two pitches that can miss bats.
Crawford is the lowest ranked of the new additions at No. 23 but he’s also the closest to being ready for the big leagues. Crawford actually made his major league debut with the Red Sox this year. He wasn’t added to the 40-man roster but MLB allowed him to be called up to Boston temporarily due to the COVID outbreak. It wasn’t exactly a memorable debut, as Crawford was shelled for five runs in two innings.
His minor league track record shows he’s better than the pitcher we saw in that brief call up. Crawford went 6-6 with a 4.28 ERA, 12.5 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 20 appearances split between Portland and Worcester.
The right-hander has a deep arsenal of pitches, including three different types of fastballs – the four-seam, two-seam and cutter. Of course the guy named Kutter throws a cutter. He also has a changeup and curveball to work with.
Downs and Bello probably won’t be ready for the majors in 2023 but they have too much upside to risk exposing to the Rule 5 draft. Winckowski and Crawford should begin the season in Triple-A where they will be waiting in the wings to provide rotation depth. We might even see them work out of the bullpen at some point.
That leaves several valuable assets at risk of being selected in the Rule 5 draft, including Thaddeus Ward, Gilberto Jiménez, Durbin Feltman, Ceddanne Rafaela and Kole Cottam. There wasn’t room to protect everyone so the Red Sox will need to cross their fingers and hope they don’t lose any of these assets. They are betting that teams will view them as unprepared for the big leagues and won’t want to waste a roster spot on them for an entire season. We can’t rule out a rebuilding team gambling on their upside by stashing them on the bench or bullpen though.
Boston should consider trading away some of these players before they potentially lose them to the Rule 5 draft. Imagine that. After years of the Red Sox having a weak farm system, they now have one with more depth than their roster can handle.