Rule 5 candidate Matt Sauer just gave Yankees 17 reasons to keep him


This offseason, the New York Yankees will have to get back into the Rule 5 swing of things after a brief reprieve in 2021 when the event was canceled (they protected people anyway, but that’s beside the point).

In recent years, the Yankees’ system has been so deep that they’ve been forced to leave plenty of viable pitchers unprotected at both the MLB and minor-league levels of the Rule 5. Kaleb Ort recently went to Boston in the MiLB portion, but more famously, Garrett Whitlock found himself at Fenway, while Trevor Stephan went to Cleveland. Both men have established themselves as big-league weapons.

This year, the Yankees’ talent pool isn’t quite so deep. Hayden Wesneski, Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina and JP Sears were all traded at the deadline (and Sears was someone the team went out of their way to protect last time around). There are still a few names, though, who might be stolen in hopes that they could stick on MLB rosters for the entirety of 2023, lest they be returned.

Triple-A closer Greg Weissert was likely atop the list before he got the 40-man bump this week (after all, what’s better than an upper-level reliever?). Just behind him is hurler Matt Sauer, a big-time bonus baby from the 2017 draft who battled injury and ineffectiveness in recent years to become an afterthought.

After he overcame a vacant 2020 and walked a few steps down the road to recovery in 2021, Sauer has flashed his elite curveball plenty this season, and made by far his biggest impact of the year on Thursday night with Double-A Somerset. The 23-year-old snapped off 17 strikeouts, the most of any full-season minor-leaguer in 2022. It would also be the most strikeouts any major leaguer has posted, if Sauer had been in the bigs.

Yankees prospect Matt Sauer dominated at Double-A on Thursday with 17 strikeouts

And on only 95 pitches, too!

Though the Somerset Patriots were unable to snag the win in extra innings, Sauer’s gem was no doubt the biggest exclamation point yet on his comeback season. The righty’s been healthy, reaching 106.1 innings across 21 carefully-managed starts.

With the reins finally off, Sauer shined — and potentially attracted enough headlines to force the Yankees to protect him rather than leave things to chance this offseason.

After the game, a humble Sauer talked about attacking the zone relentlessly with his fastball and breaking stuff. Whatever “it” is, he clearly locked it in after a difficult summer (6.46 ERA in July, 6.00 mark in Aug. capped by Thursday’s brilliance).

Sauer has officially shown off what his ceiling might look like, and has just as much swing-and-miss stuff as the Yankees system’s current headliners in Will Warren and Luis Gil.

With so much exceptional depth skimmed off the top this summer, Sauer could certainly get a chance to shine next year, and the Yankees are now highly incentivized to keep him and provide that chance.