Who will Blue Jays protect ahead of Rule 5 Draft?

Who will Blue Jays protect ahead of Rule 5 Draft?

TORONTO -- Most of the attention this week has focused on free agency, but behind the scenes, the Blue Jays also are preparing to finalize plans for their 40-man roster in advance of the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

The deadline to protect players from next month's Draft by placing them on the 40-man roster is Friday. Eligible players for the Rule 5 include anyone not on the 40-man roster who signed as an 18-year-old in 2012 or 19 or older in '13.

According to MLBPipeline, there are eight players on the list of Toronto's Top 30 prospects who are eligible to be drafted. The group is headlined by No. 1 prospect Richard Urena and No. 3 prospect Anthony Alford, but it also extends to promising arms such as Angel Perdomo and Francisco Rios.

Top Prospects: Perdomo, TOR

The Blue Jays currently have 34 players on their 40-man roster, and that does not include designated hitter Kendrys Morales, whose three-year deal has yet to become official. Toronto also needs a pair of corner outfielders, a first baseman and at least a couple of arms in the bullpen, so there isn't quite as much open roster space as one might think.

But additional space on the 40-man roster could be found if Toronto really needed it. Outfielders Darrell Ceciliani, Andy Burns, Chris Colabello, Josh Thole, Mike Bolsinger and Bo Schultz are among those currently on the 40, but they could potentially be considered to be on the bubble.

There will be two rounds in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 during next month's annual Winter Meetings. Eligible players can be selected for a $50,000 fee, but if they do not remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season, they would have to be offered back to the original team for $25,000. Just because a player is eligible does not mean he will be selected, because teams will have to believe that player is worthy of a big league roster spot.

Alford's solo homer

Urena and Alford are virtual locks to find spots on Toronto's 40-man roster. They're not ready for the big leagues quite yet, but they're close enough that other teams likely would jump at the opportunity to steal them away. Perdomo and Rios have yet to pitch above Class A and a jump to the big leagues seems unlikely, but the Blue Jays will still have to weigh the risks. Other eligible players on the Top 30 list include lefty Ryan Borucki (Class A Lansing) and outfielders D.J. Davis (Class A Advanced Dunedin), Dwight Smith (Double-A New Hampshire) and Roemon Fields (New Hampshire).

Outside of the Top 30, there are some other intriguing candidates. Right-hander Wil Browning posted a 1.94 ERA in Double-A before joining the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons late in the season. Twenty-two-year-old Adonys Cardona didn't make it as a starter, but he moved to the bullpen last season in Dunedin and could move quickly through the system. Catcher/first baseman Juan Kelly hit .274 with an .804 OPS in 131 games for Lansing. Utility man Jon Berti can play just about anywhere, and he had a .722 OPS for New Hampshire.

Success stories in the Rule 5 are rare, but they certainly are possible, and the Blue Jays know that firsthand. Toronto grabbed right-hander Joe Biagini during last year's Draft, and he not only defied the odds by cracking the Opening Day roster, but he also became a key member of the bullpen.

The downside to adding a player to the 40-man roster is that it takes up valuable space and also starts the clock on service time. Players on the 40 who do not make the big league team out of Spring Training have to be optioned to the Minors. Players get three option years, and one is used when that player remains in the Minors for at least 20 days.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.