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Who should the Oakland A’s protect from the 2019 Rule 5 draft?

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The protection deadline is coming up tomorrow.

Mesa Solar Sox v. Scottsdale Scorpions Photo by Jennifer Stewart/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2019 Rule 5 draft isn’t until Dec. 12, but the protection deadline is tomorrow at 5 p.m. PT. This means that teams have a little over 24 hours to add eligible players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the draft.

In a nutshell, the Rule 5 draft helps prospects make it to the big leagues. Once a player reaches either four or five seasons of minor league service (depending on their age when signed) they must be added to the 40-man roster or else they will become eligible for the draft. At that point, any other team can select the player. However, they must either remain on their new team’s MLB roster for the entire season or be offered back to the original organization. For more details on the process, click here. While Rule 5 draftees often don’t amount to much, they do occasionally turn into a solid player, as was the case for former A’s pick Mark Canha.

Last November, the A’s chose to protect four prospects, RHPs Grant Holmes and James Kaprielian and OFs Skye Bolt and Luis Barrera. They left SS Richie Martin unprotected and the 2015 first round pick was selected first overall, but he struggled mightily in his first MLB season with the Baltimore Orioles, posting just a 50 wRC+.

This winter, the A’s list doesn’t have as many big names, but still features a few interesting cases the team will have to make decisions on:

  • RHP Daulton Jefferies
  • RHP Wandisson Charles
  • LHP Jhenderson Hurtado
  • RHP Jesús Zambrano
  • OF Tyler Ramírez
  • LHP Zack Erwin
  • RHP Eric Mariñez

Some other players of note are eligible, but unlikely to need protection. Righties James Naile and Matt Milburn are older depth arms that are likely to be seen as non-prospects, while lefty Dalton Sawyer looked solid in his pro debut and has real upside but hasn’t pitched since undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2018 and is about to turn 26. Infielders Mikey White and Edwin Diaz have each popped onto the prospect radar at one point or another, but neither has shown the offensive ability to warrant a selection.

As for the others ...

RHP Daulton Jefferies

Jefferies is the only lock to be protected. The former 37th-overall pick battled injuries to start his pro career, including Tommy John Surgery of his own in 2017, but he was phenomenal in his return to action in 2019. He posted a 3.42 ERA in 79 innings between High-A and Double-A with a ridiculous 93:9 K:BB rate. Now seen as one of the A’s best pitching prospects, the 24-year-old would almost certainly be selected by a pitching-hungry team like the Orioles or Mariners, and I’d all but guarantee he’s added to Oakland’s 40-man before the deadline.

RHP Wandisson Charles

He’s exactly the type of relief arm that often gets selected: insane stuff, but almost zero command. One of the hardest throwers in the A’s system, the 23-year-old struck out 93 in just 62.1 innings last season, but walked 43. Given the A’s bullpen struggles, I think if they can make room for Charles, they will — you don’t just let an arm with that kind of upside walk away.

LHP Jhenderson Hurtado

The 23-year-old southpaw was a relative unknown entering 2019, but he impressed, posting a 2.28 ERA over 16 games (seven starts) across four levels. In the Arizona Fall League, Hurtado allowed only seven baserunners over 11 scoreless innings. He doesn’t light up the radar gun like Charles, but with the A’s bullpen looking thin on lefties, they might take a chance here and see what they have.

RHP Jesús Zambrano

Zambrano had a strong year out of the bullpen in 2019, and like Hurtado, the righty continued his success in the AFL. He doesn’t miss as many bats as you might like, but his velocity reportedly ticked up near the end of the season. I still don’t think it’s likely he’d get drafted, but it wouldn’t surprise me too much.

OF Tyler Ramírez

Coming into 2019, Ramírez looked like he was on track to carve out a solid MLB career as a fourth outfielder. But he struggled mightily in Triple-A despite playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game and was demoted back to Double-A after only 38 games. To this point, he’s mostly gotten by thanks to his above-average walk rates and solid glove. He doesn’t look like a major leaguer — not at this point, at least — but there’s always the chance another team sees something we don’t.

LHP Zack Erwin

Originally acquired from the White Sox in the Brett Lawrie deal, Erwin was moved to the bullpen for the first time in 2019 and he thrived. He posted a 3.22 ERA with 68 strikeouts against just 15 walks over 58.2 innings. At 25, he’s a bit old for a prospect and he doesn’t throw all that hard, so he’s probably safe.

RHP Eric Mariñez

Here’s the wild card. A converted infielder, Mariñez has the stuff to be an impact reliever, but he’s still raw and hasn’t gotten past High-A. As Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs put it in August:

He moved to the mound late in 2018 and looked so good during instructs — 93-95, up to 97, with surprising changeup feel and high curveball spin — that I thought he was a Rule 5 dark horse even though he’d barely thrown a pro inning. Now that he has a year of productive relief work on his resume, he’ll likely either be added to the 40-man or be in teams’ Rule 5 mix this winter.

I lean toward protecting Mariñez. But the Oakland’s roster crunch may force them to make a tough decision, and he could be the odd one out.

Whom to protect?

The A’s 40-man roster is currently full, meaning they will have to make trades or DFA current players to make room for any of their prospects. Righty Daniel Mengden, who struggled in 2019, is out of options and seems like the obvious choice to lose in favor of Jefferies, but the A’s will have to get creative if they want to protect others.

Ryan Buchter is a non-tender candidate, as the LOOGY might not have much use due to the new three-batter minimum rule. The team has also indicated a willingness to move on from Josh Phegley, though with catching thin around the league they might prefer to find a trade partner for the backstop. They could also cut ties with recently-claimed lefty T.J. McFarland or AAAA righty Paul Blackburn, but the former is an interesting enough relief arm while the latter has an option remaining.

The A’s could surprise us as well. Blake Treinen is a non-tender candidate, as is Jurickson Profar, and it’s unknown whether the team has come to decisions on them yet. They could also risk sneaking a younger player like Dustin Fowler or a TJS case like Daniel Gossett through waivers. And of course, there’s always the possibility of the team completing a significant trade prior to the deadline.

To me, Mengden, Buchter and Phegley are the obvious choices to cut (or trade) and make room for Jefferies, Charles and Hurtado. I don’t think any of the former are likely to make an impact on the 2020 roster, while the young arms could debut down the stretch. I’d also try to make room for Mariñez, but I could see the team prioritizing optionable MLB depth in Fowler or Blackburn (or the additional time to make decisions on Treinen and Profar) over a High-A reliever.

Here’s the current 40-man roster. Players in italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB. Players with asterisks** are eligible for salary arbitration (non-tender deadline is Dec. 2).

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)**
Sean Manaea (L)**
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)**
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Blake Treinen (R)**
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)**
T.J. McFarland (L)**
A.J. Puk (L)
Jharel Cotton (R)**
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Josh Phegley (R)**
--Jonah Heim (S)

Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Jurickson Profar (S)**
Marcus Semien (R)**
Matt Chapman (R)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
Franklin Barreto (R)
--Jorge Mateo (R)

Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)**
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)**
Chad Pinder (R)**
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)