Thursday, November 12, 2015

An Updated 2015 Astros Rule 5 Draft Primer

[UPDATE: With today's moves (11/19) and the re-signing of Colby Rasmus, the roster now stands at 34.]

The deadline for protecting players from the Rule 5 draft is next Friday, November 20th, so it's time to update my post from August as to which players in the Astros system are at risk of being drafted if they aren't placed on the 40-man roster by next Friday. The only real substantive change from my August list is that corner infielder Matt Duffy was placed on the 40-man roster during the season and is no longer at risk of being drafted. As of today, there are 36 players on the 40-man roster, but that doesn't mean that there are four available spots since Astros GM Jeff Luhnow will be actively pursuing a free agent signing or two, including the potential re-signing of OF Colby Rasmus.

If you want to know the most likely targets, look no further than the pitchers who finished their seasons at AA and AAA. Joe Musgrove just came off a phenomenal season and is currently the Astros number nine prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, the highest ranking of any of the eligible players. Chris Devenski had a fabulous start and end to his season (MVP of the National AAA championship) with a few mixed results in between. Jandel Gustave turned the corner in 2015 and turned into a dominant closer for the Hooks. He was drafted last year and the Astros were lucky to get him back; if they leave him unprotected this year, they will not be that lucky again.

But a strong case could be made that another team will draft from among several other Astros pitchers as well. Mike Hauschild, Brady Rodgers and Jordan Jankowski spent all or a large part of the season at AAA and are probably as close to major league ready as they're going to get. At the other end of the spectrum, Reymin Guduan isn't as polished and David Paulino hasn't progressed beyond High A, but they will be attractive targets nonetheless. Honestly, I fully expect that the Astros will lose a couple of pitchers in the draft. And that doesn't even consider the position players! Andrew Aplin, Nolan Fontana, Teoscar Hernandez and Danry Vasquez are all on the MLB Pipeline Top 30 Astros prospect list as well. I'm really glad that I don't have to make this decision. Whomever the Astros decide to protect, they will be second-guessed. At the end of the day, one just hopes that a Johan Santana doesn't get away.

With all that said, here is a primer based on my understanding of how the Rule 5 draft works, as well as my list of this year's draft eligible players. The draft will be held in December at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

Joe Musgrove - May 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen


The Rule 5 draft (don't call it the Rule V draft or baseball purists will jump down your throat) has both a major league phase and minor league phases which I'll cover later, but first things first ... eligibility. Those players who are eligible in a given year fall under these guidelines:

[That is directly from the 2008 Major League Rules which can be found here. If it has changed since then, I haven't seen that information.]

What that means in English is that this year's eligible players basically include: 1) any player who signed prior to the end of the 2011 season; and 2) players who signed after the end of the 2011 season and prior to the end of the 2012 season who were 19 years old or older when they signed. That means most 2012 drafted college players are eligible, but high school players (and some community college players) drafted in 2012 are not eligible until next year. For the international free agents, one needs to know when the player signed their first professional agreement and their age at signing to make the determination. There are exceptions, but that is the basic gist of it.


The first phase of the Rule 5 draft is the major league phase. In order to protect an eligible player from being drafted in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, they must be on the major league club's 40-man roster prior to November 20th (if that falls on a business day). Players on the 40-man roster at that deadline are considered "protected."

Obviously not all of a team's best players can be protected on the 40-man roster. That is where the 38-man AAA Reserve List helps. If a player from the AAA Reserve List is drafted in the Rule 5 draft, that player must remain on the drafting team's 25-man major league roster for the full season or 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.

The cost of drafting a player in the major league phase of the draft is $50,000. If the player is offered back to the team from which he was drafted, the original team must pay $25,000 back to the drafting team. If the original team declines, the player will be put on waivers.

Last season RHP Vince Velasquez, RHP Michael Feliz and IF Ronald Torreyes were all added to the 40-man roster in advance of the deadline. The front office made the determination that these three players were the most likely players to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. Presumably, the front office took a calculated risk by not adding players such as OF Delino DeShields, RHP Jandel Gustave, LHP David Rollins and others to the 40-man roster, but only included them on the AAA Reserve List. They made a determination as to which players, if drafted, were more likely to "stick" on a major league roster for a full season. All three of those players were claimed in the Rule 5 draft, but Gustave was subsequently returned.

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. It all comes down to another team's ability to find room on their 25-man roster for a full season. It's simply not that easy to do and that's why so very few players are drafted in the Rule 5 draft and stick with a team.

It's also the case that often minor league fans overvalue prospects. We may think much more highly of a player than the other teams' front offices do. When all is said and done, the Astros front office will take some risks in leaving players unprotected, but it will be a highly educated guess based on many factors, including future needs.


There are two minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft as well. The players on the 40-man roster and the 38 players on the AAA reserve list aren't eligible to be taken in the minor league phases of the draft. So, in essence, you are protecting your top 78 players from the minor league phases. (As far as I know, AAA Reserve Lists are not made public so we are left to guess who the Astros will be shielding from the minor league phases of the draft.)

In the AAA Phase of the draft, a player who is on the AA Reserve List or lower can be drafted for inclusion on the drafting team's AAA Reserve list for a cost of $12,000. In the AA Phase of the draft, players at all of the levels lower than AA can be drafted for inclusion on the drafting team's AA Reserve List for a cost of $4,000.

The kicker on the minor league phase of the draft is that the drafted player basically becomes that team's property. There is no requirement to offer the player back if he doesn't work out. He can be traded, released, etc. at a team's discretion. In the minor league phase of the 2014 Rule 5 draft, the Astros lost OF Ariel Ovando to the Cubs, for whom he became a pitcher, pitching in the Rookie level Arizona League in 2015.


The following are those players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December if they are left unprotected. I have organized them by the level at which they finished the season. Players who are first year eligible have been #'d and those who are on MLB Pipeline's current Top 30 list are in bold. Obviously, there will be some tough choices ahead.

AAA Position Players
#OF Andrew Aplin
#IF Nolan Fontana
#C Tyler Heineman
#IF Joe Sclafani

AAA Pitchers
#RHP Travis Ballew
RHP Chris Devenski
RHP Jandel Gustave
#RHP Mike Hauschild
#RHP Jordan Jankowski
RHP Tyson Perez
#RHP Brady Rodgers
LHP Tommy Shirley

AA Position Players
#OF Teoscar Hernandez
SS Chan Moon
C Roberto Pena
OF Danry Vasquez

AA Pitchers
RHP Edison Frias
LHP Reymin Guduan
#LHP Brian Holmes
#RHP Joe Musgrove
RHP Gonzalo Sanudo
#RHP Aaron West

Position Players at High A or lower
#C Marlon Avea
#OF Rodrigo Ayarza
#3B Randy Cesar
2B Jose Fernandez
#IF Arturo Michelena
#IF Luis Reynoso
#IF/OF Marc Wik

Pitchers at High A or lower
#RHP Harold Arauz
RHP Agapito Barrios
#RHP Kevin Comer
#RHP Samil de los Santos
#RHP Yeyfry del Rosario
LHP Evan Grills
RHP Angel Heredia
RHP Jose Montero
#RHP David Paulino
#RHP Christian Powell
#LHP Edwin Villarroel
RHP Andrew Walter

Disabled List
#RHP Kyle Smith

#First year eligibility for Rule 5 Draft

In addition to the above, the following players became minor league free agents at the conclusion of this season; they are free to explore free agency if they are not re-signed by the Astros.

Minor League Free Agents
RHP R.J. Alaniz
C Alfredo Gonzalez
IF Jio Mier
RHP Juan Minaya

Here is some basic information from MLB about the Rule 5 draft.


  1. Thanks for this - really good explanation. With Rasmus in the fold, the 40 man roster is now at 37. I'm assuming they can move a couple of players off the roster - Wojciechowski, Cruz, Grossman. I would also move Straily, Oberholtzer and Hoes but these guys had good AAA seasons last year. Let's just say they move 3 of these guys in total....leaving the roster at 35. I would then protect Musgrove, Devenski, Gustave, Guduan, Paulino. All had outstanding years last year and with exception of Devenski are all flame throwers. The one position player I'd want to protect is Fontana, due to his high OBP, but not worth giving up a pitcher on the 40 man. Either way, they'll probably lose 4-5, maybe more, really good minor leaguers. And if they sign a couple of free agents, they may need to trade or non-tender some guys.

  2. Great work, as usual, Jane! Thank you.