With every MLB offseason (outside of a lockout-impacted 2021) comes the Rule 5 Draft. In this draft, held in December to cap off the year's winter meetings, players without 40-man roster protection are allowed to be selected by clubs who choose to make buy-low pickups in an attempt to help their depth.
If a player is signed to a team at the age of 18 or younger, he needs to be put on the organization's 40-man roster within five seasons to avoid Rule 5 eligibility. Those who sign at 19 or older only have four years before teams have to protect them or else risk losing them to the draft. The deadline for teams to protect players is Tuesday, so the Kansas City Royals have some work to do if they want to avoid potentially giving up one or more of their intriguing talents.
The Kansas City farm system isn't what it once was, yet it still contains numerous important pieces that could benefit from additional time in the minor leagues. With that in mind, only a few can — and will — be added to the 40-man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Who are the top three players to keep an eye on as the deadline arrives? Let's take a look.
1. T.J. Sikkema
The Royals acquired T.J. Sikkema during the season in their trade with the New York Yankees for outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and the 24-year-old was pushed to Northwest Arkansas immediately to close out the year. Across eight starts, the lefty posted a 7.44 ERA with a 7.99 K/9 and 4.13 BB/9 in his first dose of Double-A action.
It wasn't the debut Kansas City had hoped for, yet Sikkema's unorthodox delivery and solid upside make him a clear-cut candidate to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Regardless of whether his future resides in a rotation or the bullpen, there's enough left for the Royals to keep investing time and effort in him.
2. Alec Marsh
Alec Marsh is one of the Royals' more puzzling prospects, as his stuff is filthy when he's at the top of his game . . . but he just isn't always there. Additionally, he allowed an abnormally high .364 BABIP in 114.1 Double-A innings this year, which could indicate that some rotten luck contributed to his 7.32 ERA (his 5.83 FIP and 4.75 xFIP also hint at that).
Marsh averaged 11.57 K/9 with the Naturals and allowed just two runs across a pair of Triple-A starts to round out the year, so there is plenty of reason for Kansas City to keep him around. If health and some positive regression are in store for 2022, Marsh could make a leap up the club's prospect leaderboards. This may be his last shot, though.
3. Anthony Veneziano
In the Rule 5 Draft, left-handed pitchers who can turn the dial up on their fastball velocity tend to be highly coveted. Anthony Veneziano, despite being a 25-year-old who just finished up an underwhelming stint in Double-A (5.72 ERA in 122.2 innings), remains a decent candidate to be added to the Royals' 40-man roster.
His fastball-changeup combination projects to be a plus duo if developed properly and he can rack up the strikeouts at times (12.20 K/9 in 2021 with High-A Quad Cities, 9.46 K/9 this year). The downside with Veneziano is that he has serious command and consistency issues to work out in order to cash in on his potential. He seems like less of a lock to be protected than Sikkema or Marsh, but the odds are still in his favor.