Jake Cave, outfielder, New York Yankees — If Cave’s name seems familiar here, it’s because he was the second player chosen in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft by the Reds. He couldn’t quite cut it with Cincinnati and was returned to the Yankees just before the Minor League season began on April 5. The 24-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder was left unprotected again, but might have a better chance at sticking if taken, given he spent the majority of 2016 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cave showed more pop this year with a career-high eight homers and a .268/.330/.427 line in 116 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His stolen-base total dropped from 17 in 2015 to six in 2016, but with his improving power and his ability to play all three outfield spots, the Yankees’ No. 24 prospect might get the chance to prove himself as a fourth or fifth outfielder once again.
Phillip Evans, infielder, New York Mets — Few, if any, would have thought of Evans as a big-time hitter entering 2016. Even now, his career average only stands at .252. But this year, the 24-year-old infielder made a statement by winning the Eastern League batting title with a .335 average for Double-A Binghamton, beating out more prominent prospects such as Raimel Tapia, Chance Sisco and Dominic Smith in the process. While it’s a much smaller sample, he’s continued to perform well in Puerto Rico, where he has a .311/.386/.446 line in 19 games this winter. As an infielder who was spread almost equally at second base, shortstop and third, Evans could force his way into a utility role if teams have faith in his breakout.
Justin Haley, right-handed pitcher, Red Sox — Haley’s season might have gone overlooked in what was once a crowded Red Sox system, but it was by all measures impressively solid. The 25-year-old was MiLB.com’s choice for the right-handed starter spot in the Red Sox Organization All-Stars after he posted a 3.01 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP with 126 strikeouts and 45 walks in 146 2/3 innings between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. Haley trekked down to the Dominican Republic Winter League in late October and didn’t skip a beat with a dominant five-start run that saw him finish with a 0.38 ERA, 14 strikeouts, four walks and a .156 average-against in 23 2/3 innings. Haley could be a viable option for a club looking for cheap back-end rotation help or a long man in the bullpen.
Andrew Pullin, outfielder, Phillies — What an interesting story this would be. Pullin was officially retired at the start of the 2016 season but returned to the Phillies, the club that took him in the fifth round back in 2012, by May 10. What followed was a breakout campaign for the corner outfielder. He hit .293/.320/.476 with 17 extra-base hits in 36 games at Class A Advanced Clearwater and then absolutely took off at Double-A Reading, where he sported a .346/.393/.559 line with 10 homers and 10 doubles in 46 games. If you think that’s solely due to favorable hitting conditions in Reading’s home park, consider that Pullin had a higher Double-A OPS on the road (.988) than at home (.911) and his 10 dingers were equally distributed between the two. The Phillies added 11 players to their 40-man roster ahead of the deadline, but not making Pullin one of them, another team could benefit.
Bijan Rademacher, outfielder/first baseman, Cubs — Every club will tell you they love versatility, and a solid-hitting, left-handed-swinging outfielder/first baseman like Rademacher can fit a lot of bills. The 25-year-old was especially good at Double-A Tennessee, where he produced a .313/.395/.484 line with nine homers and 17 doubles in 86 games. His numbers trailed off a bit at Triple-A Iowa ( .286/.350/.400 in 22 games), but with an .851 OPS and 11.2 percent walk rate between the two spots, he may have done enough to turn the head of a team in need of jack of a few trades.
Zach Vincej, shortstop, Reds — A career .272 hitter whose pro-best home run total is five, Vincej didn’t look like he’d provide much offensive value until he produced a 1.101 OPS with four homers in this year’s Arizona Fall League. The small sample might not do enough to change his reputation, but it did make him a stronger Rule 5 candidate.
Eric Wood, third baseman, Pirates — Wood more than doubled his career output in home runs by going deep 16 times in 118 games for Double-A Altoona in 2016. (He entered the year with only 15 long balls on his resume.) The 24-year-old was also solid with an .876 OPS and three homers over 23 games in the AFL and has kept chugging with a .748 OPS through 11 games this winter the Dominican Republic. All the while this offseason, he’s moved around from third to first to left field, giving potential suitors plenty of looks. It might be tough to overlook his previous power numbers, but he’s given himself a shot.
Paul Sewald, right-handed reliever, Mets — The Cardinals found a solid arm by plucking Matt Bowman out of Triple-A Las Vegas in the Mets system last year, and there’s a chance another club could make a similar move for Sewald. Unlike Bowman, Sewald is already a reliever, and though his overall numbers were good with a 3.29 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings, his road numbers away from the Vegas hitting environment were stellar: 2.12 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 38 strikeouts and seven walks in 29 2/3 frames.
Allen Cordoba, shortstop, Cardinals — If not for the stickiness requirement, there’s a chance Cordoba could go high. The 20-year-old shortstop has hit above .342 in each of his first two stateside campaigns, but those league All-Star appearances have come in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues. There’s a good chance he sticks at shortstop and that hit tool is enticing, but Cordoba remains too many years away from the Majors to be considered a major Rule 5 player this time around, barring any club feeling like a major roll of the dice.
Yonny Chirinos, right-handed pitcher, Rays — For the second straight season, Chirinos climbed three spots on the Rays ladder based primarily on his control. With only 16 walks in 128 2/3 innings between Class A, Class A Advanced and Double-A, the 22-year-old right-hander posted a 1.1 BB/9 that is difficult to replicate any level. Chirinos has the three-pitch mix to work at upper levels, and there’s a chance a club could take a flier to test that combination of stuff and control out in the Majors this spring.
Wei-Chung Wang, left-handed pitcher, Brewers — Two seasons after the Rule 5 Draft helped garner the 24-year-old left-hander his Major League debut, he posted a 3.78 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 35 walks in 133 1/3 innings between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs. Any team considering Wang in the Rule 5 is likely thinking of him as a southpaw reliever. By that standard, he proved fairly impressive against fellow left-handers with a .220 average-against and 31 strikeouts in 100 at-bats in the Southern League, where he spent most of 2016.