The Rule 5 draft takes place on December 10th at the end of the Winter Meetings. But the deadline to protect eligible players is actually November 20th. That's tomorrow. The Brewers have made a number of transactions thus far the winter, the most notable being yesterday's trade of Francisco Rodriguez. One result is that the 40-man roster now stands at 34. So the Brewers have the ability to add as many as 6 minor leaguers.
You can find the full list of eligible Brewers players over at Brewerfan.net. I'm only going to discuss the players I think have a realistic chance of being protected. In order to protect these players they have to be placed on the 40-man roster and not all are going to make the cut.
Wei-Chung Wang (LHP)
Technically WCW is at the AAA level. The Brewers sent him there for a start at the end of the season and he's still listed among their roster. I believe this was to protect him from the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Teams can draft eligible players from the AA level to play for their AAA team and A players for their AA teams. So with Wei-Chung Wang at the AAA level it means a team would have to play him on their major league roster for the entire season instead of AA or AAA.
That's an interesting decision. Why go through the trouble of jumping WCW two levels--he had spent the entire season at A+ Brevard County--if you're just going to protect him from the Rule 5 draft anyway. It would seem to me this is an indication that they Brewers don't intend to place him back on the 40-man roster right now. But that doesn't mean they've give up on him.
Early on in the year they removed him from their 40-man roster. He was having an awful time of it at A+. Either it lit a fire under him or he was finally getting used to starting every five days--something which people seem to forget he's never really had a chance to do. Either way he ended the season quite successfully with a 3.54 ERA and 3.58 FIP. He's proving once again that he still possesses the upside that led the Brewers to draft him in the first place.
I think the Brewers are taking a calculated risk. WCW is probably still two developmental years away from being major league ready. Other teams will surely realize this. By moving him to AAA to end the season the Brewers force any team that drafts him to keep him on their major league roster. In doing so they'd probably have to hide him in their bullpen like the Brewers did. However teams would surely be more hesitant to further slow his development. And the liklihood that a team ends up returning WCW to the Brewers would be high.
My guess is they're betting no one will take him and I think they're right. If they are they'll start him at AA next year and then have a decision to make this time next year. Hopefully he's worth protecting then because it's a lot more likely someone would chance drafting him.
Jacob Barnes (RHP)
Barnes spent most of his minor league career as a starter. But this year saw him begin a transition to the bullpen and a corresponding jump in his numbers. In 75 innings at AA he struck out 26.5% of batters faced. That's a noticeable jump for him and one that could earn him a spot on the Brewers 40-man roster. He's also faring quite well in the AFL this year: 11.2 IP, 39.5 K%, 0.00 ERA, 1.43 FIP. Though it should be noted not only is this a small sample size, but the AFL statistics can be very misleading as the competition is very uneven.
Brent Suter (LHP) and Austin Ross (RHP)
I'm lumping these two together because they're somewhat similar. Each pitcher enjoyed certain degrees of success at AA and AAA this year. Each is best suited for the bullpen. They're both also 27 so expectations should be tempered. Between the two Ross has shown a better strikeout ability albeit in the bullpen. Still they might be the type that someone takes a chance on to see if they can handle MLB pitchers. Maybe it'll be the Brewers.
Damien Magnifico (RHP)
Damien Magnifico has been in the Brewers system for a while. Similar to Barnes he began as a starter before being transition to relief this year. He didn't quite see the same jump in effectiveness as Barnes but he had a reasonably decent season. He accumulated 20 saves with the Biloxi Shuckers. Saves don't necessarily mean anything statistically but it gives us some indication what the Brewers think of him. He hits 98 on the radar gun too. That's not something to take lightly.
Jorge Ortega (RHP)
The Brewers pretty much did the same thing with Ortega that they did with Wei-Chung Wang. Ortega spent all season at the A+ level--141.2 IP, 2.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP--until the Brewers sent him to AAA for one start. My conclusions about WCW apply here as well.
Nick Ramirez (LHH, 1B)
The Brewers system is short on first basemen. BCB fan favorite Matt Clark has departed via free agency. So there really isn't anyone ahead of Ramirez at the AAA level. And I personally don't view anyone above rookie ball as a legitimate option aside from maybe Ramirez. Though he didn't do much to help his case this year hitting 243/339/391 with 14 home runs during his second season at AA. He has shown more power than that in the past though and he seems to have strong OBP skills. In fact he's improved his walk rate while also cutting down on his strikeout rate each season. So maybe he's due for a breakout. Colorado Springs could help with that.
Victor Roache (RHH, OF)
Victor Roache is one of the more notable options on this list. He was the 28th pick of the 2012 draft. He dropped to that pick because he had a broken wrist. The problem was his immense raw power was his leading tool and it often takes a very long time for that to return with wrist injuries.
He didn't play at all in 2012. In 2013 he hit an encouraging 22 home runs at low A. But he had contact issues--.246 AVG and 26.6 K%. The following season was a disappointing one. At A+ he hit 226/298/400 with 18 home runs and a 28.7 K%. Time was starting to run out for the once intriguing outfielder.
He began the 2015 season repeating A+ where he did seem to improve markedly, at least statistically. He hit 259/326/448 with 10 home runs in half a season. However he also struck out an alarming 35.6% of the time. Mid-season the Brewers promoted him to AA. Much to my surprise and delight he actually seemed to get even better. He hit 247/329/430 with 8 home runs. The numbers are pretty close to what he did at A+ but he cut his strikeout rate to 25.7%. It's still not a great number but it's encouraging to see him do better after he advanced a level.
The ceiling with Roache is really dependent on his ability to cut down on his strike out rate and improve his contact profile. But he's a decent defender in the outfield corners and he has plus raw power. The outfield is an area of strength for the Brewers but that profile is still as intriguing as it was the day he was drafted.
Like there's a question about this one.
Orlando Arica is definitely getting put on the 40-man roster. I think Victor Roache, Jacob Barnes, Nick Ramirez, and Damien Magnifico stand a very good chance of being added as well. That's five of the six open roster spots. The Brewers don't have to fill each six openings and they might not.
I'll guess that Suter and Ross don't make the cut. They each present an interesting case but ultimately they're 27 year old relievers. I feel pretty confident in my conclusions about WCW and Jorge Ortega. I'm just not sure why else the Brewers would move them to AAA. So I'll guess they don't make the cut either.
It's possible a guy like catcher Adam Weisenburger makes the cut simply because the Brewers don't really have much else at the position. But I can't see a team taking him unless it's in the minor league portion of the draft which I suppose is a possibility.