added 11/16/2016 by Greg Thurston
Friday is the deadline for adding players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from December's Rule 5 Draft. In recent years the Houston farm system has been loaded and a number of talented prospects have been left unprotected. For instance, last year Chris Devenski and Teoscar Hernandez could have been lost to the draft but, luckily, both players went unclaimed.
In addition to Devenski and Hernandez, the Astros had 14 players make big league debuts last season. That leaves only a few hot prospects in the system who could be lost to Rule 5 this year.
With Wednesday's signing of right-handed starter Charlie Morton, the roster currently stands at 38. That leaves two open spots that could be filled by prospects that Jeff Luhnow and company want to protect from Rule 5. However, Luhnow has openly stated that he is looking to add veteran players through trades or Free Agency sooner rather than later. That means the likes of Kevin Chapman and Brad Peacock could be outrighted from the 40-man to make more room.
The Astros have approximately 30 players in the minors who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, but only a few should be in danger of being selected by another club.
Lefty Kent Emanuel and first-baseman Conrad Gregor were selected by Houston in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, in the 2013 draft. But both collegians have had their struggles and do not appear to warrant a spot on the 40-man at this time. Right-handers Kevin Comer and Kyle Smith, both acquired in trades, have also seen their stock drop and probably don't figure into the Astros' immediate plans.
Starting pitchers Mike Hauschild and Brian Holmes seem closer to being ready for the big leagues. Hauschild is 26 and has pitched to a 3.50 ERA in 565 minor league innings. Holmes is a 25-year old lefty with a career strikeout ratio of more than one per inning. Starting pitchers aren't typically targeted in the Rule 5 Draft and the Astros may take their chances and leave both unprotected. Right-hander Edison Frias is another hurler who fits into this category.
Angel Heredia, originally signed as a shortstop but converted to reliever in 2012, is a bit of a wildcard. A 5-foot-9-inch, 170 pound right-hander with only a handful of games above A-ball, Heredia is unlikely to garner much attention. But the 24-year old has posted stellar strikeout numbers and a low batting average against in his 156 innings of minor league work.
Catcher Tyler Heineman was left unprotected last year and his .690 OPS in 129 games at the AAA level may not be enough to warrant being protected this time around either. The Astros seem more likely to look outside the organization to add help at what has become a thin position.
The two Houston prospects who seem most likely to be drafted, if available, are reliever Jordan Jankowski and outfielder Jon Kemmer. Jankowski, a 27-year old righty, enjoyed an outstanding 2016 season at Fresno and has career marks of 10.8 strikeouts and 2.9 walks per 9 innings. Kemmer, 25, wields power from the left-handed batter's box. Jon owns a .282/.355/.493 slash line in 1465 career plate appearances. If the Astros decide to protect a player (or two) these guys seem to be the most likely candidates.
Unlike years past, the Astros don't figure to be shopping for talent in this year's Rule 5 Draft. But, you never know. If the right player becomes available, that $50,000 price tag might be worth the risk.