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Who should the Oakland A’s protect in the 2018 Rule 5 draft?

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Tuesday is the deadline to add top prospects to the roster.

Richie needs a roster spot.

The 2018 Rule 5 draft won’t take place until Dec. 13, but an important deadline is coming up tomorrow. On Tuesday, teams must choose which of their eligible prospects to protect by adding them to the 40-man roster.

If you’re not familiar with the Rule 5 draft, then here’s a brief description. If a prospect has been in the minors for a few years but hasn’t made it to the 40-man roster, then he can be stolen away by another team, with the caveat that the new club must keep him on their 25-man roster for the entire next season. That’s all you need to know for this discussion, but you can click here if you’d like to read all the details. Every so often a future good player is unearthed via this process, from a role player like Mark Canha up to a star like Johan Santana.

This winter, the cutoffs for eligibility are as follows: drafted out of college in 2015, drafted out of high school in 2014, or signed as an under-19yo international free agent before the end of the 2014 season. Here are the top names who must either be protected by tomorrow, or exposed to the draft.

  • RHP Grant Holmes
  • RHP James Kaprielian
  • RHP James Naile
  • SS Richie Martin
  • OF Luis Barrera
  • OF Skye Bolt

After them come RHPs Sam Bragg, Jake Bray, Angel Duno, Kyle Finnegan, and catcher Jonah Heim. Unless some team is enamored with Finnegan’s raw velocity, I can’t imagine any of them are in danger of being selected. Let’s stick with the list of six above.

RHP Grant Holmes

He’s one of the A’s top five pitching prospects, but he essentially missed all of 2018 to a shoulder injury and didn’t even make it back in time for the Arizona Fall League. He’s never pitched above Double-A and at best he’ll be returning from a long layoff, but surely another team would take a chance on stashing his talent. Even if he spends time on the DL next summer, he’d only need to be active for 90 days in order to stick with his new club.

RHP James Kaprielian

Same story: One of Oakland’s best pitching prospects, but missed 2018 as part of a particularly lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery. He has even less pro experience than Holmes, but also a higher ceiling.

RHP James Naile

The opposite story. He’s nowhere near the level of Holmes or Kap as prospects, but he just spent a full season as a starter in Triple-A. The ceiling is low as a soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact type, but if you’re a rebuilding team looking to fill out a cheap 2019 rotation then hey, free lotto ticket starter to try out.

SS Richie Martin

He’s a former 1st-round draft pick whose climb up the ladder was slowed by injuries, but he finally showed signs of life last year in Double-A. His draft pedigree gives him some name power, his bat is no longer a lost cause, and his speed and middle-infield defense make him the easiest type of player for a team to stash on their bench as a Rule 5 pickup.

OF Luis Barrera

He’s a long-time sleeper who began to awaken last summer at age 22. His speed and arm are top-notch, and he’s coming off some national recognition after being named to the AFL Fall Stars team a couple weeks ago. He’s not a finished product and he’s barely played above High-A, but like Martin his skill set is easy to stash on a bench for a rebuilding team willing to burn roster spots on acquiring talent.

OF Skye Bolt

He’s also coming off some national attention, after playing in front of scouts at the AFL and even putting up fairly big numbers. And like Martin and Barrera, he could also profile as a speed-and-defense bench stash. Compared with fellow outfielder Barrera, Bolt’s ceiling might be lower, but he’s got more experience and significantly more power and so he might be closer to an MLB-ready finished product who could hang in the bigs all year.

Whom to protect?

The A’s roster currently stands at 34 players (see the full list below), and even a couple of them could go if absolutely needed. There’s room for all six prospects, so logistics are not an imminent concern. The question is simply who is worth spending a spot on.

Complicating things is the fact that two of these prospects are injured pitchers. Oakland is already spending a ton of roster space on just that, including four starters who might not throw a pitch in 2019 and another who will probably miss the first half at least. Can they afford to use two more places in such a fashion?

Personally, my answer to that question is yes. I’m not willing to risk losing Holmes or Kaprielian for nothing, and so I’d protect them. If anything, a logjam of injured pitchers would make me more likely to consider non-tendering Kendall Graveman than exposing a legitimate top prospect, though preferably none of those options will be necessary. I’d also add Martin and Barrera, because I see them as high risks to get picked and they’re worth holding on to.

However, I’d leave Naile and Bolt up to fate. I’m a big fan of both and have followed them closely since they were drafted, and I would be bummed to lose either. But roster spots are valuable this early in the offseason, and the line must be drawn somewhere. I also think they are at lower risk of being picked by other teams anyway, so there isn’t the same urgency I feel with prime candidates like Martin or Barrera.

I’d use four spots on Holmes, Kaprielian, Martin, and Barrera. When spring begins, if either of the two pitchers are still injured, they can move to the 60-day DL if needed, so the logjam of roster deadweight won’t have to last all season. I could also see any of these four being traded during the winter (like Heath Fillmyer was last year after being added to the roster), so remember that protecting a Rule 5 prospect doesn’t have to be a permanent commitment.

This is the point where I should note that I am hilariously, outlandishly wrong about my Rule 5 picks basically every year, so be prepared for something totally different than whatever I guess.

The current 40-man roster, featuring 34 players. Those with asterisks** are eligible for arbitration and must be tendered a contract by Nov. 30.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Mike Fiers (R)**
Daniel Mengden (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Frankie Montas (R)
Sean Manaea (L)**
Paul Blackburn (R)
Andrew Triggs (R)
Jharel Cotton (R)
Kendall Graveman (R)**
Daniel Gossett (R)

Relievers

Blake Treinen (R)**
Fernando Rodney (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)**
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Cory Gearrin (R)**
Emilio Pagan (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)**
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Ryan Dull (R)**
Aaron Brooks (R)
Catchers

Josh Phegley (R)**

Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)**
Matt Chapman (R)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Jorge Mateo (R)

Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)**
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Nick Martini (L)
Mark Canha (R)
Chad Pinder (R)
Dustin Fowler (L)