So far, when we’ve talked about roster decisions like whether to non-tender Cliff Pennington or David Hernandez, it’s been in the context of two things: the likely Active Roster in April (the 25-man), and the juice-versus-squeeze question of likely salary. But the D-backs have a different set of 40-man questions coming up in advance of the Rule 5 Draft next month.

Some of these decisions are coming into focus. The D-backs didn’t wait to non-tender Jordan Pacheco, who was outrighted off the 40-man on Tuesday. The team also lost Will Harris to an Astros waiver claim on Monday, who had been exposed apparently for 40-man reasons. As Nick Piecoro reported, GM Dave Stewart considered Charles Brewer and Mike Bolsinger higher priorities. There’s no use crying over spilled milk in this space, so I’ll just cry into a pillow in the privacy of my own home surrounded by my Will Harris posters.

As it stands, there are 36 players on the 40-man, but there are more decisions to make. The D-backs have been deliberate in this process so far, even adding Enrique Burgos, so let’s assume that everyone currently on the 40-man will be staying there, including David Hernandez. We’ll still dedicate a spot to Cliff Pennington, who may or may not get non-tendered or traded in the coming days. So we’ve got 4 spots to play with — and if we find a compelling reason to need more, we can consider outrighting more.

The Rule 5 Draft is a mechanism by which players who are good enough to start somewhere other than their current organization can get that shot. It’s the 40-man (the “Reserve List”) that functions as the limitation on the number of players a team can hoard, and everyone on the Active Roster is on the Reserve List.

Not every player in a club’s organization needs to be protected. Players are automatically shielded from the Rule 5 Draft if the draft is the fourth (or fewer) since he signed (if he was 18 or younger on the June 5th preceding when he signed), or the third since he signed (if he was 19 or older when he signed). The June 5th date is an easy one, as it is just before the Rule 4 Draft (the amateur draft) and before the international signing period that starts in early July. And there are exceptions, most of which have to do with players who bounce in and out of an organization before they would otherwise have been eligible.

The result is that there are, I believe, more than twenty D-backs minor leaguers eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft. There’s no way to protect them all, but there’s also no need; if a team doesn’t think there’s at least a chance a player can hold down a 25-man spot for an entire season, he just won’t get selected (because he’d need to be returned, and the selecting team would lose $25,000 on the exchange).

I won’t reveal the order, but I’ve got an advance list of Jeff Wiser’s complete top 30 prospects, and with the players he had on the bubble in his primer and a couple of names of my own, I think we have enough information to identify some likely protection targets.

Brandon Drury: a no-brainer. I won’t spoil the surprise from Jeff, but let’s just say there’s no chance he won’t be protected. Drafted in 2010 at the age of 17 and traded two and a half years later to the Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton deal, this will be the fifth Rule 5 draft after he was signed, making him eligible for selection unless he’s added to the Reserve List.

Zach Borenstein: a professional hitter and the D-backs’ compensation for Joe Thatcher from the Angels, Borenstein put up a ridiculous .337 average in a full season in the California League in 2013 before splitting the 2014 season with four different affiliates. He might be a Roger Kieschnick in the making, but as we saw with David Peralta this season, minor league numbers like Borenstein’s make him a possible Rule 5 selection and a probable protected guy.

Socrates Brito: this will also be the fifth Rule 5 Draft since Brito was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican in February 2010, he seems like a tough player to lose. Not a no-brainer like Drury, but not that far off.

A.J. Schugel: a footnote to the Mark Trumbo trade, Schugel has done at least something to warrant some consideration. Spending the whole season with Double-A Mobile, Schugel pitched 147.2 innings to a 3.47 ERA. The walk rate (3.0/9IP) and strikeout rate (7.1/9IP) aren’t special, but neither is a liability, and Schugel was very good at limiting home runs (just 3 all season). If the home run rate was fluky, Schugel doesn’t look that valuable. If it was skill-based at all, however, the team might have something worth keeping. He’s no spring chicken at 25 years old, but there is a non-zero chance that some team would consider him worth trying out in the bullpen next year.

Brandon Jacobs: the other footnote to the Mark Trumbo trade, Jacobs has pretty much fallen off the map despite being rated the #46 prospect in all of baseball in the 2011-2012 offseason. It’s a long way to fall, but in the three years since that ranking, Jacobs has muddled around with sub-.250 averages and little power. Old for the California League in 2014, Jacobs was very unimpressive with High-A Visalia, hitting 16 home runs but with a .210 average in 310 at bats in a hitter-friendly league. Jacobs was a decent flier to take as an extra guy last winter, but there’s no risk of a team selecting him in the Rule 5, and no reason to prevent that.

Patrick Schuster: Schuster generated quite a bit of interest last season, being taken first overall in the Rule 5 draft last season by the Astros. But he was quickly flipped to the Padres, who then lost him on waivers to the Royals, who then offered him back to the Diamondbacks. The fact that the D-backs paid $25,000 to get him back so recently suggests that they think he’s worth something. But the D-backs will make money off the deal if he’s selected again, and after bouncing around, Schuster pitched just 44.2 innings in relief last year. It was a decent showing, but as a reliever and with his stint at Triple-A Reno not particularly impressive, this may be a guy that the D-backs may be willing to lose. Maybe he ends up the last guy protected, but his value is not as high as that of Will Harris.

Kevin Munson: this is the toughest decision in front of the D-backs, most likely. Of these four “other” candidates, Munson seems to have the most value; like Schuster, he too was returned after being selected in last year’s draft. But unlike Schuster, Munson had a lot of success when he returned: a 2.60 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, with a full season of 62.1 innings and a high enough strikeout rate (11.8K/9IP) to suggest he could be a strikeout guy in the majors. The walks aren’t a significant concern, and if Munson is left unprotected, he will be selected. The D-backs are very deep in pitchers on the cusp of the MLB bullpen, but at the very least, Munson should get moved for value, not left unprotected and lost for $50,000.

If Schuster and Jacobs are left off and Drury is definitely put on, the D-backs have three 40-man slots left for four players: Munson, Schugel, Borenstein, and Brito. The D-backs do have other depth at outfield in the minors, what with Justin Williams, Matt Railey, Mitch Haniger and others looking like legitimate prospects. It could be that Brito gets moved soon. If not, look for the Diamondbacks to deal from depth and trade a reliever on a small deal to make room, or at least to make a decision on Cliff Pennington sooner rather than later.

4 Responses to Upcoming 40-Man Decisions

  1. Terry Miencier says:

    I recall Patrick Schuster was a tough draft pick to sign. It seems to me that Rule 5 is a process to wake-up players with potential. Dare I say, a pre-arranged transaction? Thank you for your insight and reporting.

    • Daniel says:

      I posted this under the wrong article: With Locante being added to 40 man roster, did you see that coming and does Locante, who has been under the radar, so to speak, make this list? Also, why would they need to protect a player entering his 4th year? He’s not eligible for the rule 5 draft yet is he?

  2. […] taken off that roster, in part because it was before the Hellickson trade. You can still head to that post and/or Jeff’s Top Prospects lists to read more on the first four of those guys; I had […]

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