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Who will the Oakland A's protect from the 2015 Rule 5 draft, Part 1?

In roughly three weeks, teams will need to set their 40-man rosters for the annual Rule 5 draft. In this two-part article, we take a look at the Oakland A's prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft and the likelihood that they will be protected by being added to the 40-man roster.

The Rule 5 Draft Rules

Any player not on a team's 40-man roster who signed his first professional contract in 2012 or earlier who was at least 19 years old at the time he signed and any player who signed his first professional contract in 2011 or earlier who was at least 18 years or younger at the time he signed is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December.

Although the ranks have been thinned by trades, the A’s 2012 draft class is arguably the best the organization has had since the 2004 class that produced Huston Street, Kurt Suzuki and Dallas Braden, among others. The A’s added two members of their 2012 draft class to their 40-man roster during the season – 1B/3B Max Muncy and RHP Ryan Dull.

Top prospect Matt Olson won’t need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season since he was 18 when he signed his first contract in 2012. The same rule applies to fellow 2012 high school draft pick B.J. Boyd. On a similar note, 2012 draft pick Ryan Gorton isn’t eligible for the Rule 5 this year because he didn’t sign his first pro contract until 2013 after a post-draft physical discovered a torn meniscus in his knee. However, several other prominent prospects are eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not protected.

The Rule 5 draft is an annual event that takes place at the close of the MLB Winter Meetings. During the Rule 5 draft, teams select in draft order until all teams have declined to select players. Once a player is selected from an organization, that organization can pull back another eligible player to be protected. Teams that select a player must keep that player on their 25-man roster for the entire regular season or offer him back to his original team. Teams generally set their rosters in advance of the 40-man roster in late November.

There is a minor league portion of the draft, but determining what players are exposed in that draft is tricky because it involves knowing whether players have been placed on a Triple-A or Double-A roster during the off-season. That information is usually kept secret by most organizations, so we won't address that part of the draft in this article.

The A’s will have plenty of work to do with their 40-man roster before the deadline to protect players arrives in later next month. Oakland has already cut four off of their 40-man roster this off-season, but they have several players on the 60-day DL that are set to re-join the 40-man roster after the World Series concludes. Oakland only has two players eligible for major league free agency (Edward Mujica and Barry Zito).

Below we take a look at some of the position players eligible for the Rule 5 draft and discuss the chances that they are protected. Part two of this article will discuss some of the pitchers eligible and their chances of being protected.

Position Players

Joey Wendle: Every year, there is at least one no-brainer when it comes to protecting prospects from the Rule 5 draft, and Wendle certainly fits in that category. After a solid first season in Triple-A that included a red-hot second half and a spot on the All-PCL team, Wendle was surprisingly not called up to Oakland in September. That was likely so the A’s could get more time to look at Brett Lawrie at second base, but Wendle should join the A’s 40-man roster this off-season and could even challenge for an Opening Day roster spot this spring.

Acquired for Brandon Moss this off-season, Wendle came better-than-advertised defensively at second base. Offensively, he hit for average (.289) and power (.442 SLG despite playing his home games at a pitcher’s park) while also showing some speed (12 stolen bases in 14 chances). Wendle didn’t control the strike-zone that well (114 strike-outs to 22 walks), but he was otherwise outstanding. The A’s have a lot of moving parts in their infield right now, but Wendle could be an important part of that puzzle next season and beyond.

Colin Walsh: Walsh has been eligible for the Rule 5 draft the past two seasons, but this is the first year that he would be a legitimate candidate to be selected. The utilityman had a standout season in Double-A this year, posting a .302/.447/.470 line in 134 games. Walsh is a bit of a tweener defensively, but he can play second, third and left field. He is a switch-hitter with decent power, an excellent eye and he can hit for average. The A’s may gamble that Walsh will go unclaimed given that he spent the year in Double-A and is 26, but a team looking for a 25th-man who could provide versatility both offensively and defensively could be interested in the Stanford alum.

Nate Freiman: Freiman had a nightmare first half of the 2015 season and that cost him a spot on the A’s 40-man roster, as fellow right-handed power-hitting types Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski moved ahead of Freiman on the A’s depth chart. Freiman cleared waivers when he was outrighted mid-season and remains a member of the A’s organization for at least one more year. The fact that he went unclaimed so recently makes it unlikely he would be selected in the Rule 5 draft, but given that he has a track record of success in Triple-A and experience in the big leagues, you never know. Teams interested in Freiman could simply try to make a trade with the A’s, who will be facing a potential crunch at first base in Triple-A with Matt Olson, Rangel Ravelo and Max Muncy all potentially needing time there next season.

Bruce Maxwell: It has been an interesting first four years of development for Maxwell, who was the A’s compensation second round pick in 2012. Considered a hit-first, glove-second catcher coming out of college, Maxwell has improved his defense considerably, but he has yet to develop into the hitter the A’s expected he would become. Maxwell struggled badly in his first taste of Double-A last season and was much improved at the plate with Midland this year. Still, even with those improvements, he hit just .243/.321/.308. Maxwell has the tools to hit for power and average, but he hasn’t yet figured out a consistent mental approach at the plate. The good news is that if it comes together for him at the plate, Maxwell’s glove should be good enough to get him to the big leagues. But given where he is at in his development right now and that the A’s already have three catchers on their 40-man roster, he isn’t likely to be protected by the A’s or selected in the Rule 5 draft. 

Josh Whitaker: Whitaker has always been an underappreciated prospect in the A’s system, but injuries have prevented him from raising his profile around the league. He overcame off-season shoulder surgery to play 89 games for Midland this season and he homered 12 times. Whitaker’s post-season with Midland was sort of a microcosm of his entire career. He homered twice early in the post-season, dislocated a finger and returned from the injury in time to homer in the game that clinched the Texas League title for the RockHounds. Whitaker isn’t likely to be protected or selected because of the injury issues, but a healthy season in 2016 could set him up well for minor league free agency next off-season.

Brett Vertigan: Injuries wiped out Vertigan’s 2014 season, but he returned healthy in 2015 and posted his best year as a pro. The UC-Santa Barbara alum hit .288/.365/.385 with 30 stolen bases in 39 chances. He also played outstanding defense in centerfield. Vertigan handles the bat very well and is one of the best bunters in the A’s system. He is a difficult out and is a prototypical table-setter. He has a similar skillset to former A’s prospect Boog Powell. Because of the lost season, Vertigan is already 25 and hasn’t played above A-ball, so he isn’t a likely candidate to be protected or selected, but Vertigan is a prospect on the rise after his breakout 2015 season nonetheless.

Chad Oberacker: Like Vertigan, Oberacker had an excellent season in 2015 after a disappointing 2014 campaign. Manning centerfield for Midland for most of the year, Oberacker hit .294 with a .360 OBP and 19 stolen bases. Oberacker is another solid defensive centerfielder with good speed and the ability to be disruptive at the top of the batting order. He has been stuck in Double-A the past three seasons, but the 2016 season could offer him an opportunity in Triple-A for the first time. Oberacker isn’t likely to be protected or selected this season, however.

Beau Taylor: Taylor was a prospect on the rise in the A’s system in 2012 when he hit .328 in half a season with Stockton. He struggled to hit in Double-A the rest of that year and those struggles extended into 2013 and 2014 at that level. In 2015, Taylor spent most of the year back in High-A, but he did hit much better in a late-season return to Midland. Taylor is a solid defensive catcher. If his improved numbers at the plate carry over into next season, he could jump back onto the prospect radar. As it stands now, he isn’t likely to be protected or selected this year.

Melvin Mercedes: Mercedes is a fun player to watch. He is very fast and has a lot of athleticism that he puts on display both in the field and on the bases. At the plate, he is a grinder who sees a lot of pitches and generally makes a lot of contact. Mercedes hasn’t posted huge numbers, however, and he has yet to play above A-ball. For now, the 23-year-old isn’t a strong candidate to be protected or selected.

Michael Soto: Soto had a solid – though injury-shortened – season in 2014, when he hit nine homers in 71 games. His 2015 campaign was disappointing, however, as he hit only nine homers in 114 games and saw his OBP drop to .278. The corner infielder has raw power and has shown an ability to hit for average at times, but he has yet to string together two consecutive good seasons. The soon-to-be 24-year-old isn’t a likely candidate to be protected or selected.

Wade Kirkland: Kirkland doesn’t make any top prospect lists, but he has always served a valuable role in the organization as a versatile bench player. Kirkland filled in for Chad Pinder at times this season and helped carry the RockHounds into the post-season with a red-hot August. Kirkland has a plus throwing arm and decent speed, but his lack of plate discipline has held him back offensively. He isn’t likely to be protected or selected this off-season.

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