Which players do Nats need to protect?

Which players do Nats need to protect?
November 20, 2012, 2:30 pm
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One of baseball's many obscure deadlines strikes tonight at midnight, when players eligible for the Rule 5 draft must be added to their club's 40-man rosters or else risk being snatched away by other organizations.

Rarely do these decisions result in total disaster for teams -- how many people even remember the Nationals lost Brad Meyers and Erik Komatsu in last year's Rule 5 draft, and how many of those remember both players were ultimately returned to the organization? -- but there's always a chance a team could make a major miscalculation and lose a top prospect.

So general manager Mike Rizzo and his player development folks have some important decisions to make before the end of the night.

For the uninitiated (or the confused) here's a quick refresher course on how this all works...

-- Any players in the Nationals' organization who signed at age 18 and have played in parts of at least five seasons, plus any who signed at age 19 and have played in parts of at least four seasons, must be added to the 40-man roster by tonight.

-- Any players who meet those qualifications and aren't added to the roster are free to be selected by another club in the Rule 5 draft (which is held on Dec. 6).

-- Those players must then remain on their new club's 25-man roster (or disabled list) an entire season or else be offered back.

As things stand at this moment, the Nationals have 36 players on their 40-man roster:

PITCHERS (16) -- Tyler Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, Cole Kimball, John Lannan, Ryan Mattheus, Yunesky Maya, Ryan Perry, Matt Purke, Henry Rodriguez, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann

CATCHERS (5) -- Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Jhonatan Solano, Kurt Suzuki

INFIELDERS (8) -- Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Marrero, Anthony Rendon, Carlos Rivero, Chad Tracy, Ryan Zimmerman

OUTFIELDERS (7) -- Roger Bernadina, Corey Brown, Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Eury Perez, Jayson Werth

So, in theory, the Nationals have room to add four Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster today. But they probably want to keep at least one or two open slots for free agents or trade acquisitions, lest they be forced to release someone else to clear space.

What minor leaguers are Rule 5 eligible? Basically, it's anyone drafted out of high school in 2008 or earlier and anyone drafted out of college in 2009 or earlier. Here's a partial list of the more prominent names...

RULE 5 ELIGIBLE PLAYERS
1B Justin Bloxom
RHP Paul Demny
OF Destin Hood
RHP Nathan Karns
2B Jeff Kobernus
OF Erik Komatsu
RHP Jeff Mandel
RHP Brad Meyers
LHP Danny Rosenbaum
RHP Rob Wort

Here are the pertinent questions: 1 )Which of those players would have a chance sticking in the big leagues for a full season with another organization? 2) From that group, which players are worth protecting?

Only a handful of the names appear like strong Rule 5 candidates: Rosenbaum, Karns and Kobernus. Rosenbaum, 25, has put together a nice minor-league career, pitched well last season at Class AA Harrisburg and could possibly hold down the fifth rotation spot or a long relief role on a big-league club in 2013. Karns, 24, hasn't pitched above Class A but was dominant last season and earned organizational pitcher of the year honors. And Kobernus, 24, has got blazing speed and a little bit of pop for a second baseman (though he battled injuries this season at Harrisburg).

The rest are either too raw to stick in the big leagues (Hood) or unlikely to make a major impact (Meyers, Mandel) so the Nationals can probably afford to leave them unprotected.

The educated guess here: The Nationals will add Rosenbaum and Karns to their 40-man roster before the end of the night but take their chances and leave Kobernus unprotected.