Yesterday I took a look at some of the players who may need to come off the 40-man roster in order to provide room to protect current Astros players who are now Rule 5 eligible and to give Jeff Luhnow room to add one or two Rule 5 draftees of his own (keeping in mind that the Astros have the first selection). Let's take a look at some of the higher profile players who will merit consideration for a 40-man roster spot.
Since players taken in the Rule 5 draft have to remain on the drafting team's 25-man roster for the full season*, pitchers are taken much more frequently than position players simply because it's fairly easy to use a pitcher sparingly out of the bullpen. Position players can't be tucked away quite so neatly if they struggle. With that said, here are five pitchers who are newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft who merit consideration for a roster spot.
RHP Jarred Cosart/Starter - Cosart projects as a front of the rotation starter with his high octane fastball and "electric stuff." Despite some blister issues, he had a successful 2012 season and handled his promotion to AAA well. For the season, he was 6-7 with a 3.30 ERA and a 1.395 WHIP. I cannot see any scenario in which he is NOT placed on the 40-man roster.
LHP Brett Oberholtzer/Starter - Oberholtzer had the most experience at AAA of any of my candidates and he will certainly be in the mix for a possible spot in the rotation as he heads to spring training next February. Despite the infusion of talent into the Astros system in 2012, Oberholtzer is still on Jonathan Mayo's top prospect list, albeit he dropped to number 20 out of 20. Between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City in 2012, he was 10-10 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.356 WHIP and he was a workhorse, throwing the second most innings in the Astros minor league system. I don't think Jeff Luhnow added so many lefties via trade this year just to let one slip away via the Rule 5 draft. I think he will be protected, but then I thought he would be a September call-up, so what do I know?
RHP Jose Cisnero/Starter - Cisnero isn't a high profile name for most casual Astros fans, but he had a very good season at Corpus Christi leading to a call-up to Oklahoma City for eight games. For the season, he was 13-7 with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.409 WHIP. He didn't pitch as strongly at Oklahoma City as Cosart and Oberholtzer, and I don't see him quite as close to major league ready as those two, but someone may see his strong strikeout numbers and take a chance on him in a bullpen role. I wouldn't be surprised if the Astros protected him in the Rule 5 draft, but I also wouldn't be too terribly surprised if they didn't. It will be a calculated risk.
RHP Ross Seaton/Starter - Despite strong steps forward in 2012, Seaton is the least major league ready of these four starters (in my opinion). He only started four games at AAA in 2012 and, although he pitched well there, I can't really see him being taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. He ended the season with an 8-9 record with a 3.93 ERA and a 1.281 WHIP. I don't think he'll be protected on the 40-man roster, but will be put on the AAA reserve list.
RHP Jason Stoffel/Reliever - Stoffel led the Astros minor league system in saves (27) and appearances (56) while compiling a 2.33 ERA and an extremely stingy WHIP of 0.983 at AA Corpus Christi. I think the only reason Stoffel did not get promoted to AAA during the 2012 season was because Corpus was in a pennant race and he was too valuable to lose. Personally, I would absolutely protect Stoffel on the 40-man roster because I think he's the most major league ready reliever in the organization who's not already on the 40-man.
As I noted above, position players are not taken as often as pitchers in the Rule 5 draft. Those who are taken are usually very close to being major league ready. But even if a player isn't ready for the bigs, leaving a top prospect unprotected could prove too tempting for other teams. Here are four players who are newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft who may merit consideration for the 40-man roster.
SS Jonathan Villar - Villar is still raw and is most decidedly not ready for prime time, but he is still one of the top prospects in the organization. Add to that the broken hand he suffered last season which limited him to 86 games. If he is not protected on the 40-man roster, he will at least be put on the AAA reserve list so that he would have to be taken in the major league portion of the draft. Are the Astros willing to take a chance? I don't think so, but we'll soon see. Villar hit .261/.336/.396 with 39 stolen bases. He also had a .938 fielding percentage and committed 24 errors.
OF Marc Krauss - Krauss was a top 20 prospect in the Diamondbacks organization coming in to the 2012 season. He had a great season with AA Mobile and AA Corpus Christi before stumbling at AAA Oklahoma City. His overall batting line for 2012 was .271/.397/.491 with 31 doubles, two triples and twenty home runs. Although there are some doubts about his bat, the lefty has a very high upside. It might be a risk to leave him unprotected.
CF Robbie Grossman - Grossman hasn't played beyond AA yet, but he was one of the top 10 prospects in the Pirates organization coming in to the 2012 season. In 2012, he hit .266/.376/.410 with 28 doubles, six triples and 10 home runs. I don't particularly think he's in danger of being taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft as he hasn't played beyond AA yet, but I think he will be given consideration and at least placed on the AAA reserve list.
C Carlos Perez - Although Perez has not played one game above High A, I would think twice about leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Currently listed as #18 by Jonathan Mayo in the Astros system, Perez profiles to have the highest upside offensively and defensively of any catcher in the organization. I know it's unlikely that anyone would take him in the major league portion of the draft, but if there is even a remote possibility I would protect him.
There are some other interesting players who are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft this year, one or more of whom may need to be protected on the 40-man roster, including RHP Chia-Jen Lo, RHP Carlos Quevedo, RHP Josh Zeid, SS Ben Orloff, OF Jake Goebbert and others. Obviously, not everyone can be protected on the 40-man roster. Some players will be added to the 38-man AAA reserve list so that they will not be subject to the minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft. If those AAA reserve players are drafted, it will have to be in the major league phase of the draft in which case the players will have to remain on the drafting team's 25-man roster for the whole season*. So the Astros will have to determine which players are more likely to "stick" with another team as they make those decisions.
Rosters will have to be set by November 20th in advance of the Rule 5 draft. And for the first time in while, it may be a difficult proposition for the Astros to protect all of the players who are potentially going to be a part of this team's future. And that, my friends, is not a bad thing. Not at all!
*If the player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster, he will have to be put through waivers. If claimed, the new team will be subject to the same conditions regarding that player. If not claimed, the player will be offered back to the team from which they were drafted.