December's Rule 5 draft is a fantastic source of speculation for a number of reasons. It's fun to play "What-If" scenarios, hoping the Twins select the next Johan Santana. There will be a debate over one or two players that the Twins should definitely "protect", since we don't want to lose the next Johan Santana. Finally, determining how many players the Twins will add helps us in projecting the next season's 40-Man roster.
We started the off-season discussion in earnest yesterday, by speculating over which current members of the roster will be retained over the winter and which players would be cut. With Terry Ryan's belief that the Twins average a 15 to 18 player turnover per season, I came up with a list of 13 players who would be cut.
Whether my projection is too aggressive or too conservative, we'll find out in a few weeks. But once those players come off, those guys that the Twins want to protect from the Rule 5 draft will need to be put on.
The general guideline is that collegiate draft picks must be added by the fourth Rule 5 draft following their selection, while prep picks must be added by the fifth. Forgoing the exceptions, this means that 2010 collegiate draft picks and 2009 prep picks are eligible for the first time.
Here are a few of the more notable players that the Twins will need to consider protecting by adding to their 40-Man roster. I've limited the list to first-time eligibles who I feel are worthy of being in the discussion, so you won't see guys like Deibinson Romero or Angel Morales (who have been eligible before) or the entire list of 2010's collegiate picks.
Alex Wimmers (Ohio State University, 2010): Wimmers was supposed to be polished and fast tracked. Instead he got hurt and had a few other issues that kept him back. He finally made six starts for the rookie league GCL Twins at season's end, but he's far from the path everyone expected he'd be on.
Prediction: Wimmers won't be added. Teams need to keep their Rule 5 selections on the 25-man roster all season, and while clubs may be interested in helping Alex regain his upside I doubt they'd be willing to use a roster spot to make that happen.
Pat Dean (Boston College, 2010): 24 years old at Triple-A for the first time this season. Bad strikeout rates. Amazing walk rates.
Prediction: Achter and Darnell are the only draftee pitchers on this list more likely to be added than Dean, as far as I'm concerned. But he's not a given. If left unprotected, would he be selected?
Nate Roberts (Parkland College, 2010): Roberts spent two season in a row at Single-A which didn't help, but then sat on the disabled list to start the season, was activated and moved to Fort Myers, and then played one game before getting hurt again.
Prediction: In spite of good seasons at Single-A in 2011 and 2012 and strong AFL numbers last autumn, the Twins weren't too concerned with moving Roberts along. Probably won't be added to the 40-man roster, but I could see somebody taking a chance on him (provided he's off the disabled list). He'll be 25 in 2014.
Logan Darnell (University of Kentucky, 2010): As a starter, Darnell hasn't put up impressive numbers but he's been steady. He reached Triple-A for the first time this season as a 24-year old.
Matt Hauser (University of San Diego, 2010): Good but not great strikeout rates, improving command, second extended stint at Double-A this season.
Prediction: He fits the profile, but unless the Twins feel like they need another reliever on the 40-man roster I don't think he'll be added.
Ryan O'Rourke (Merrimack College, 2010): The numbers aren't bad, but he's 25 and was just promoted to Double-A for the first time this season.
Prediction: As a low-profile 13th round draft pick who was too old for his competition levels, there's little reason to add O'Rourke.
A.J. Achter (Michigan State University, 2010): Mentioned as one of our Top 10 Un-Ranked Pitching Prospects to watch. Reached Triple-A this season as a 24-year old, very good at suppressing base hits.
J.D. Williams (Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, 2009): 80 great games at Cedar Rapids earned him a promotion to Fort Myers, where he didn't fare so well.
Prediction: While we just talked about him being a sleeper prospect last week, would a Major League club stash him on their 25-man roster? He was 22 this season and just had his first taste of High-A competition.
Max Kepler (Germany): Kepler signed just three months before Sano, but it puts him on a different schedule.
Prediction: In spite of his enormous talent, Kepler was still just 20 years old this season and wasn't as productive at Single-A as he would need to be in order to make a selection pay off for another team. It's still possible that the Twins add him, just to make sure he doesn't go anywhere, but even if the Twins leave him off the 40-man roster I'd be surprised if someone selected him. Still - I think the Twins play it safe and add him.
Jorge Polanco (Dominican Republic): Polanco was signed five days prior to Kepler. 2009 was a good year for international signings for the Twins! Although he didn't play for Minnesota in '09, this is still the fifth Rule 5 to pass since then.
Prediction: Even though he was just 19 at Single-A this season, he's a very talented young middle infielder. Added.
Kennys Vargas (Puerto Rico): Even though he was 22 this season in High-A, Vargas displayed his typical ability to flat out smash the ball. One of our Ten Un-Ranked Position Player Prospects to Watch.
Prediction: He's incomplete and a few years off of a Major League timetable, but while he's not as sure of an add as some of the other international signings I think the Twins protect him. If they don't and he gets taken, Dalton (D.J.) Hicks will be there to take his place.
Probables: Logan Darnell, A.J. Achter, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco
Possibles: Pat Dean, Kennys Vargas
Unlikelies: Alex Wimmers, Nate Roberts, Matt Hauser, Ryan O'Rourke, D.J. Williams
Of course, that's just how I view them. Depending on how many players you see getting cut after the season and depending on how many of these guys you think the Twins will add to the 40-man roster, my guess is that Minnesota has something like five roster spots with which to add free agents or add players via trade.
Do you see things differently? Is there someone I didn't mention that should be considered, whether they're first time eligible for the Rule 5 draft or not?
It's exciting to see a few of those names added to the 40-man roster, and next season the Twins will need to add players like Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Eddie Rosario. Pardon me while I get a bit giddy at the prospect. (See what I did there?)