HOUSTON -- Considering the Astros will need to preserve a few spots on their 40-man roster for any free agents they might sign, in addition to likely taking a flier on a Rule 5 Draft pick, they have some difficult decisions to make this week.
Several of the Astros' most promising Minor League players will need to be placed on the 40-man roster by Tuesday to be protected from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft. Houston currently has 31 players on the 40-man roster, so there is a little flexibility.
"We'd like to protect everybody so there's not a chance of losing any of our prospects," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We have a limited number of spots, and we have to think carefully about who we want to protect and why."
Among the players who will need to be added to the roster is top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, who's expected to compete for a spot in the rotation next year and is a lock to be placed on the 40-man. Pitchers Brett Obertholtzer, Josh Zeid, Chia-Jen Lo, Kyle Weiland, Jose Cisnero, Jason Stoffel and Ross Seaton will also need to be protected or risk being lost.
Among the position players who will be exposed if they're not protected are outfielders Robbie Grossman and Marc Krauss and shortstop Jonathan Villar, who missed nearly two months last season after breaking his hand while punching a door at Double-A Corpus Christi. MLB.com ranks Villar as the team's No. 15-ranked prospect.
The Astros acquired Krauss from the D-backs and Rasmussen from the Pirates in trades last summer.
There's probably only room for the Astros to protect five or six of those players.
"We do need positions to be able to sign Major League free agents," Luhnow said. "We have a forecast of how many we have to have available."
Of course, the Astros will have the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft for the second year in a row and will probably pick a player from another organization. That player would need to stay on the 25-man roster for all of the 2013 season or be offered back to the original club.
Last year, Houston took two players in the Rule 5 Draft -- shortstop Marwin Gonzalez and hard-throwing reliever Rhiner Cruz -- and kept both of them all season.
"We're anxious to see what's available," Luhnow said. "Theoretically, we should have access to the best available player that's not going to be on the 40-man roster during the Rule 5 Draft and we plan to take advantage of that opportunity."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.