What does future hold for Royals' Rule 5 eligible prospects?

November 14th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers' Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals have a real roster crunch.

The offseason is officially underway after the GM Meetings finished up last week and free agency has begun. On Tuesday, teams have to add Rule 5 Draft-eligible players to the 40-man roster to protect them from being selected by another club next month. Friday is the deadline to tender players a contract for 2023.

The Royals’ 40-man roster is full after the moves they made on Thursday, reinstating lefties and and infielder from the 60-day injured list and selecting lefty and infielder/outfielder to avoid having them become Minor League free agents. Catcher was designated for assignment to clear space.

More moves will come on Tuesday. The Royals have several Rule 5 Draft-eligible players, but will only protect a few. That’s because clubs that pick a player in the Draft must pay $100,000 to the club from which said player was selected. Rule 5 Draft picks are assigned directly to the drafting club's 26-man roster and must be placed on waivers to be removed. Should the player clear waivers, he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000.

Players signed at age 18 or younger are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft within five seasons of being signed. Players who signed at age 19 or older need to be protected within four seasons.

Here’s whom the Royals could protect:

RHP Alec Marsh
2022 season stats (Double-A and Triple-A): 6.88 ERA, 124 1/3 innings, 27 starts, 156 strikeouts, 59 walks

Marsh, the Royals’ competitive balance pick in 2019, had somewhat of a confusing season in Double-A, along with a short stint in Triple-A. The good thing was that he was healthy the entire year after missing most of 2021 with injuries after the ’20 pandemic season. He also struck out batters at a 27.4 percent clip at Northwest Arkansas, displaying the elite, filthy stuff he’s possessed since his days at Arizona State. His 10.1 percent walk rate in Double-A was good to see, too, but he just got hit around a lot, leading to the inflated numbers. Marsh had a 1.62 WHIP in the year, and batters hit .279 off him.

The Royals’ No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline finished the season with a 1.80 ERA across two starts (10 innings) in Triple-A, a nice finish to an up-and-down year. The 24-year-old still has loads of potential the Royals won’t want to lose, so he seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man roster ahead of Tuesday.

LHP Anthony Veneziano
2022 season stats (Double-A): 5.72 ERA, 122 2/3 innings, 26 appearances (25 starts), 129 strikeouts, 66 walks

Veneziano looked like he was on a fast track to the big leagues, likely in the bullpen, after his 2021 season in High-A Quad Cities, where he struck out 127 batters in 93 2/3 innings. But the Royals kept him in the Double-A rotation this season, and he struggled more at the new level. His strikeout rate went down (22.8 percent in ’22) while his walk rate went up (11.7 percent).

While he still has development ahead of him, mainly with his strike-zone command, Veneziano is a tall lefty with a fastball in the mid-90s. He has the kind of upside teams might not want to ignore -- including the Royals.

LHP T.J. Sikkema
2022 stats (High-A and Double-A): 4.83 ERA, 69 innings, 19 appearances (18 starts), 83 strikeouts, 24 walks

Sikkema, a Missouri graduate and Iowa native, was one of three pitchers the Royals acquired from the Yankees in the trade this July. The 24-year-old had some injury history when he joined the organization, but he went to Double-A and made eight starts for Northwest Arkansas.

Sikkema, ranked as the No. 16 prospect in the Royals’ system, varies his arm angle and manipulates his pitches with high spin. He has a funky delivery that might make him a bullpen piece, but the club sees starting potential in him, at least in the near future. Sikkema’s different look from the left side might make him susceptible to being taken in the Rule 5 Draft, so Kansas City could add him to the 40-man to avoid losing a pitcher they just picked up.

OF Diego Hernandez
2022 stats (High-A and Double-A): .284/.347/.407, 21 doubles, nine home runs, 40 stolen bases

The Royals protected then-21-year-old last year because of his defense and bat, and while Hernandez isn’t in the exact same situation, it is similar. Hernandez is 21 years old and the organization’s No. 20 prospect, using plus-plus speed and impressive center-field defense to fuel his early rise through the ranks.

Hernandez’s speed, range and impressively strong throwing arm would play in the Majors right now, and a team could use him off the bench. Despite a jump in power that gave him nine homers this year after entering the season with two career homers, his bat still needs more time. But the Royals wouldn’t want to lose a promising talent like Hernandez.

Others to consider: OF Tyler Tolbert, OF John Rave, OF , LHP Josh Dye