While fans wait for the derby that is free agency to get started, the Houston Astros still have some roster housekeeping they have to do. The Astros are going to have to make some decisions about arbitration/nontenders here very soon, but yesterday was the deadline to add players to their 40 man roster if they wanted to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
The Rule 5 draft is basically just a way for MLB to prevent teams from indefinitely stockpiling prospects in their minor league ranks. Depending on how old players were when they originally signed, minor leaguers who aren't on the 40 man roster who have been in the minor leagues for 4-5 years are eligible.
A significant chunk of the Astros' top 30 prospects are eligible for the Rule 5 this year and with very limited room on the 40 man roster, tough choices were going to have to be made. In the end, Houston ended up only protecting one player as Kenedy Corona was added to the roster yesterday.
Astros protect Kenedy Corona from the Rule 5 draft
Protecting Corona was, in all likelihood, the correct choice. While he hasn't played above Double-A yet, Corona's tantalizing combination of power (22 homers in 2023) and speed (32 steals) along with his excellent glove in the outfield would have likely led to him getting selected in the Rule 5 especially with the lack of bats on the free agent market. Corona's addition to the 40 man also means that a significant hurdle to him getting called up to the big leagues has been removed and a 2024 debut looks a lot more possible now.
While Houston did protect Corona, they are still poised to lose some significant talent in the Rule 5 draft. Astros prospects Colin Barber, Justin Dirden, Zach Daniels, Miguel Palma, and others are all eligible for selection. In normal years, pitchers were far more likely to be selected as players picked have to be carried on their new team's 40 man roster for the entire year or else they have to be offered back to their original team and carrying pitchers for that long is just easier.
However, with the state of the free agent market in terms of position players, do not be surprised if teams take more chances on bats in the Rule 5 this year with Barber, Dirden, and Daniels in particular being at risk of getting snatched away.