The Rule 5 Draft is approaching (Dec. 8), as this Friday, Nov. 19, is the deadline for all 30 MLB teams to finalize their 40-man rosters ahead of the Draft. The Houston Astros, like many major-league teams, have tough decisions to make on who to protect from the Rule 5 Draft.
The Astros’ 40-man roster currently sits at 38 with some notable 2020 Rule 5 protected players still on it in Freudis Nova, Forrest Whitley and Jairo Solis. At the moment, we do not know of any 60-day injured list candidates for the ball club, but with it being the offseason, there is no injured list and every player counts against the 40-man.
Which prospects will the Astros protect in the Rule 5 Draft?
The Astros have two spots currently open on their 40-man roster, and that is before any major-league free agent signings. There could be trades and players designated for assignment this winter, but at the moment, only two spots aren’t filled.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline released an article covering all 30 teams and Which prospects will make 40-man rosters? For the Astros, eight players were listed, as one of them is likely a given to be added.
Jeremy Pena (No. 4 by MLB Pipeline)
With Carlos Correa declining the qualifying offer and exploring free agency, the Astros could rely on Jeremy Pena down the stretch, if they can’t re-sign the Platinum Glove winner.
Pena hasn’t played in the major-leagues yet, and while back in the Dominican Winter League this year, the middle infielder is looking for more resume at-bats following his wrist injury. Pena should be a lock for the 40-man roster this week, and even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, the 24-year-old should still make his major-league debut in 2022.
Joe Perez (No. 9 by MLB Pipeline)
Another infielder that is progressing well is Joe Perez, who snuck into the Astros’ Top 10 prospects this season. The third baseman has never played past Double-A, and at 22-years-old, it could be a tough adjustment for him to stay on a major-league 26-man roster for a full season.
Perez could easily start next season in Triple-A if not selected in the Rule 5 Draft, following the departure of infielders CJ Hinojosa and Miguelangel Sierra. The Astros could also protect Perez like they did with Nova in 2020 and not lean on him to make the majors right away.
Shawn Dubin (No. 11 by MLB Pipeline)
For the pitchers on this list, Shawn Dubin should be the first pitcher on the 40-man roster. The right-hander is almost major-league ready at 26-years-old, and after sporting a 12.5 strike per nine innings in Triple-A, the regular starter could start off as a long reliever if he reaches the majors this year.
Yanier Diaz (No. 13 by MLB Pipeline)
While the second piece in the return for Myles Straw, catcher Yainer Diaz made his way from Low-A to High-A fairly quickly upon arrival. The 23-year-old is on the older end of prospects, and while not reaching Double-A this year, it is hard to believe he stays on an active roster.
But with Diaz showing more value than just a thrown-in, there are other catchers that are possibly in his way of the major leagues in Korey Lee, Michael Papierski, Luke Berryhill and Scott Manea; very much a retooled backstop crop.
Alex McKenna (No. 17 by MLB Pipeline)
While identified as the Astros toughest top prospect 40-man decision by MLB Pipeline, Alex McKenna has yet to play well past High-A. The outfielder clubbed a 1.005 OPS in High-A, compared to .619 OPS in Double-A. Without a true dominant tool, it’s an interesting case whether the Astros protect the 24-year-old, who has lacked success at a higher level.
Scott Manea (No. 18 by MLB Pipeline)
After breaking his hand and missing out on being promoted to Triple-A late into the ’21 season, Manea is now 25-years-old and has yet to play past Double-A.
With the right-hander coming off injury at his age and his minor-league status, I do not believe he will be protected or highly sought out in the draft. His injury would likely not require a stay on the shelf if selected and added to an active roster, delaying an inevitable return if removed from the active roster.
Jose Alberto Rivera (No. 28 By MLB Pipeline)
After not being protected in 2020, Jose Alberto Rivera was selected by the Los Angeles Angels and later returned. The right-hander pitcher never pitched in a major-league game and hit the minor-league 60-day IL in his return. Rivera is likely not protected again.
Jojanse Torres (No. 29 by MLB Pipeline)
While another pitcher to fall to injury in 2021, Jojanse Torres could be in the same boat as a risky Rule 5 selection. The right-handed pitcher is now in Triple-A, and if eyed as healthy, he could be sought out by a few major-league teams.
The Astros can free up 40-man spots in the next few days, but with only two spots open, Pena and Dubin make the most sense to be protected. Other notable Rule 5 players eligible are Papierski, first baseman J.J. Matijevic (former top prospect) and pitchers Brett Conine, J.P. France and Jonathan Bermudez.
The farm system also added two familiar faces back to the crop in right-handed pitchers Nolan Riggs (Double-A) and Jon Olczak (Triple-A), who were both re-signed to minor-league deals. The Astros also added another international prospect to the DSL Astros in right-handed pitcher Pedro Marquez this week.