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Who should the Oakland A's protect in the 2016 Rule 5 draft?

Franklin Barreto is definitely about to join the 40-man roster.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Rule 5 draft won't take place until Dec. 8, but an important deadline is coming up soon. By Friday, teams must choose which of their eligible prospects to protect by adding them to the 40-man roster.

What is the Rule 5 draft?

If you're not familiar with the Rule 5 draft, it exists to prevent teams from simply hoarding talent in the minors on a long-term basis. If a player has been around for a few years but not made his way up to at least the 40-man roster, then another team can steal him away in the draft. The catch, of course, is that if you draft a player then you have to keep him on your 25-man roster all season long or else offer him back to his old team.

In other words, if you're holding a prospect back and another team thinks he's ready for the bigs, then they can give him the chance that you're not giving him. There are more details to the process, but that's the important part. The most recent examples on the A’s have been Nate Freiman and Mark Canha, who were plucked away from other clubs and each survived a full rookie season in Oakland. Last year the Brewers picked 2B/OF Colin Walsh from the A’s, but they gave up on him midseason and sent him back.

Who is eligible?

The full answer is somewhat complicated, but here's a summary: if they were selected out of high school in the 2012 amateur draft, or out of college in the 2013 amateur draft, then they are newly eligible this year. So are international guys who were signed (as under-19-year-olds) before the end of the 2012 season.

Below you will find a rundown of the notable A’s prospects who are eligible this year. In reality there are many more players than I've included here, but we don't need to know about every single piece of organizational filler. These guys either made our CPL, or they were included in some of my Prospect Watch posts. The list would have been longer, but the mid/late-season call-ups took care of guys like Ryon Healy, Matt Olson, Chad Pinder, Dillon Overton, and Bruce Maxwell.

The A’s currently have 36 players on their 40-man roster, so they have four spots to work with unless they cut someone to make more space. But you don’t want to just hand out roster spots frivolously -- removing someone isn’t as easy (trade, release, DFA, etc.), and the ones you send back to the minors next spring will burn an option year.

These are not predictions. They are what I would do, and last year my picks were quite different than what the A’s actually went with.

Players I would protect

Franklin Barreto | SS

This one is obvious. Barreto is Oakland’s top prospect (Top 50 overall), and he reached Triple-A last year. He needs to be protected. And he’s got a chance to reach the bigs next season anyway, so he won’t even necessarily be wasting a roster spot while developing in the minors, like Raul Alcantara and Renato Nunez did the last couple years.

Jaycob Brugman | OF

He doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Barreto, but he’s looked good all the way up the system and was above-average in Triple-A last year (109 wRC+). He’s probably MLB-ready and definitely needs to be protected in this draft. He’s even more likely to debut in 2017 than Barreto is, so again, this is a good use of a roster spot in the short-term as well.

Tucker Healy | RHP

The reliever went unprotected in Rule 5 last year, but he’d only pitched well in Double-A at that point. Now he’s got a good year of Triple-A under his belt, including a rate of 13 K/9, and he would certainly be a target -- Bill Moriarity from A’s Farm has mentioned before that Healy has drawn trade interest in the past, and this would be a chance for some team to get him for free. Protect him without a second thought, as part of next year’s MLB bullpen depth.

Bobby Wahl | RHP

He only cracked Triple-A at the end of the year, but he had a great campaign overall. He was the closer in Double-A and posted strong numbers, and then he picked up a few more saves for Nashville in the final weeks. I don’t know how likely he would be to get picked in Rule 5, but I don’t think it’s worth risking him given that he could arrive in 2017 anyway.

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Players I’m on the fence about

Note that this category doesn’t mean I’m on the fence about whether I like these players as prospects. Rather, it means I’m on the fence about whether they are at enough risk of being picked in Rule 5 that they necessitate filling up 40-man roster spots today.

Paul Blackburn | RHP

He’s the guy the A’s got for Danny Valencia. He’s pretty good! But he hasn’t pitched in Triple-A yet. Would another team be desperate enough for a starter that they’d reach down to Double-A to pluck an innings-eater? My hunch is that he’s probably safe, but crazier things have happened.

Sam Bragg | RHP

His season was much better than his overall numbers indicate, and he just put together an excellent showing in the Arizona Fall League. Was his inclusion in the Fall Stars Game enough to put him on someone’s radar? Like with Blackburn, my hunch is that he’s safe because he hasn’t even reached Triple-A yet, especially since Healy made it through in a similar situation last winter. But I’m not certain.

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Players I am not worried about

I still like them! But I don’t think they’re getting picked, so don’t waste a roster spot.

Yairo Munoz | SS

He’s one of the better prospects in the system, a dynamic raw talent. But he’ll only be 22 next year, and he wasn’t very good in Double-A last season (87 wRC+) or in the AFL this fall (.631 OPS). If his upper minors experience had been positive then I could maybe see a team reaching down for him, but I can’t imagine anyone thinking he’s ready for an MLB roster spot yet. I think he’s safe, but this is probably where I’m most likely to be wrong, given the examples of Alcantara, Nunez, and even reliever Jose Torres last year (that is, the A’s playing it safe with their best prospects).

Dylan Covey | RHP

He’s only thrown a couple dozen innings in the upper minors, and his AFL performance was pedestrian overall (4.74 ERA) despite one high-profile outing (the combined no-hitter). He’s not getting picked yet.

Tyler Marincov | OF

He was solid in Double-A last year (115 wRC+), but he’s not close enough to MLB-ready.

BJ Boyd | OF

He spent the last couple years putting up league-average batting lines in High-A, though he did get a couple weeks in Triple-A last summer.

Sandber Pimentel | 1B

Solid in High-A last year (111 wRC+, 21 HR), but not even close to MLB-ready.

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Who to drop, if needed?

As noted, the A’s have 36 players on their 40-man roster. That means there is space for all four of the guys I called for: Barreto, Brugman, Healy, and Wahl. But what if the A’s want to protect more than four players, or leave an open spot to make a Rule 5 pick of their own? Here are a few candidates for removal from the roster, listed in no particular order (not including the chance of a last-minute trade).

1. Josh Smith, RHP: The A’s just picked up the reliever on waivers a couple weeks ago, but it’s not uncommon for a team to add someone and then immediately drop him again. He’s a 29-year-old with MLB experience, but it’s unclear if the A’s see him as part of their plans or just as a warm body on the depth chart.

2. Yonder Alonso, 1B: He’s a non-tender candidate anyway. But if that’s the route the A’s do indeed choose to take (and we don’t know one way or other if it is), then it would be worth trying to trade him over the next couple of weeks before the non-tender deadline. Certainly worked for the Padres last year.

3. Max Muncy, UTIL: He’s got some game, but there are just so many other players at all of his positions. It’s hard to see where there will ever be space for him to play, and it might be worth looking toward the future at this point.

4. Rangel Ravelo, 1B: He has raked in the Venezuelan League the last two winters, but done nothing stateside in that time. He’s worth keeping around next year if possible in case he puts it all together at age 25, but there are a lot of 1B prospects ahead of him and he’ll be in his final option year in 2017. If absolutely necessary, he could go.

5. Brett Eibner or Jake Smolinski, OF: They both serve the same role (right-handed platoon outfielder), but both were below replacement-level last year and both seemed stretched in CF. Smolinski has the better MLB track record, but he’s also closer to arbitration (potentially after 2017). The point is, Oakland probably only needs one of them in the long run, assuming they plan to add more outfielders this winter.

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Which prospects would you add to the roster this week? And, if necessary, who would you drop to make room? To the comments!