SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Even as he meets with rival executives and player agents in search of upgrades from outside the organization, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and his aides are busy evaluating young talent that is already in the system as they try to determine who should be shielded from next month’s Rule 5 draft.
The deadline for teams to set their 40-man rosters is just 10 days away — Nov. 18. Players on the 40-man roster are protected from being selected by other clubs in the Rule 5 draft.
At the moment, the Phillies have eight open spots on their 40-man roster. In some years, that was more than enough room to add prospects worth protecting.
But the Phillies’ farm system has improved greatly in the last 18 months and the team probably has more than eight prospects that are worthy of being added to the 40-man roster.
Klentak pruned the 40-man roster at the end of the regular season last month. He admitted Tuesday at the GM meetings that he will probably have to make more cuts to protect as many players as he can before the Rule 5 draft.
“We're at 32 right now and we’ll probably [need] more [spots] than the eight we have open right now,” he said.
Klentak said he has a handle on what players he wants to protect, but will wait until the last moment to make his decisions just in case the team added a player in the coming days.
“I have a pretty good idea of what we would do if we had to make the decision today,” Klentak said. “But if we make a trade or sign a free agent and that creates depth or lack of depth in a certain area, that could change things for certain [prospects] who are on the bubble. I'm not projecting that we're going to make a ton of transactions between now and the 18th, but I'm going to wait until the 18th so I know exactly what we're operating with before I have to make those decisions.”
The Phillies have a slew of players worth talking about protecting. Pitchers Ben Lively, Mark Appel and Nick Pivetta, outfielders Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams and catcher Andrew Knapp appear to be slam dunks. Pitchers Ricardo Pinto, Elniery Garcia, Hoby Milner, Miguel Nunez, Alberto Tirado and Drew Anderson are all worthy of serious consideration, as are second baseman Jesmuel Valentin and outfielders Andrew Pullin and Carlos Tocci. And there are even more worth talking about than this.
“It's a pretty positive sign for the organization,” Klentak said. “Not only do we have players that are worthy of being protected, but they are pretty close to reaching the big leagues.”
Having so many young players on the 40-man roster could impact the Phillies’ ability to select the contract of a veteran who was signed as Triple A depth when a need arises in the majors.
“There will come a point in the very near future where our first line of defense, our depth at the Triple A level, is going to be young prospects,” Klentak said. “That actually poses some challenges, in some respects. You might be in a position where you have to promote a young player to the big leagues sooner than you'd like just because of roster limitations.
“But it's also pretty exciting. Phillies fans are going to start to see more young players being called up in 2017.”
A tight 40-man roster could impact the Phillies in adding a player in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Not only would they need a roster spot to make a pick that day, they’d need to carry that player all season to keep him in the system. The Phillies were able to do that with reserve outfielder Tyler Goeddel in 2016. But doing so with a similar player in 2017 might be more difficult.
“The Phillies have a strong history in the Rule 5 draft and I am keenly aware of that,” Klentak said. “We've done a good job with that over the years. But there's only 40 roster spots and they're precious. It's hard to carry a Rule 5 player for six months without being able to option that player (to the minors.)
“These are decisions that we talk about frequently. We are prepared to react when we need to react. If we don't take a Rule 5 player this year, it doesn't mean we won't take one the following year. We may take two the following year.”
Over the years, the Phillies have landed such players such as Dave Hollins, Shane Victorino, Odubel Herrera and even Ender Inciarte, who did not stay around long and is now a valuable player with the Atlanta Braves, in the Rule 5 draft.