Later today, the Orioles and the rest of the teams in Major League Baseball must set their 40-man rosters in advance of the Rule 5 draft set for Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings.
Any player from the organization the Orioles add to the 40-man today will be protected and will not be available to be selected by another team during that draft.
It was at about this time last year that the Orioles added Zach Britton, Joe Mahoney and Matt Angle to their 40-man roster.
Last year the Orioles lost Pedro Beato to the Mets and Pat Egan to the Brewers in the Rule 5. Egan was returned to the Orioles during spring training, but Beato made it through the whole year on the Mets' roster, which is rare for any player taken in the Rule 5 draft.
Certain players do not have to be protected because they don't have enough minor league service time yet. Players like Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, LJ Hoes and Xavier Avery are in this category.
Here is a partial list of some players that would be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added today to the O's 40-man roster.
Position players: Buck Britton, Tyler Henson, John Hester, Caleb Joseph, Greg Miclat, Brandon Waring, Ronnie Welty and Robbie Widlansky.
Pitchers: Tim Bascom, Brandon Cooney, Oliver Drake, Pat Egan, Eddie Gamboa, Sean Gleason, Steve Johnson, Cole McCurry, Wynn Pelzer and Rick Zagone.
Just a guess by me, but I think the players most likely to join the 40-man roster today are Drake and McCurry. I think the club would also consider adding Johnson and Gleason, but I sense the other two are more likely.
Among position players, infielder Greg Miclat and catcher John Hester may have a shot to be protected, but I will guess they don't get added to the 40-man.
Remember, if a player doesn't get added, that doesn't mean the club doesn't like that player. It just means they weigh the chance of the player being taken by another club and lasting with that team all year against the value of using up a valuable 40-man roster spot.
Drake went 8-3 with a 2.14 ERA this year in 14 games at Single-A Frederick and at times there he was an innings-eating machine. He went seven innings or more in seven of his last eight Keys starts. He went 3-5 with an ERA of 5.20 at Double-A Bowie, but pitched to an ERA of 2.78 over his last six Baysox starts.
Drake's secondary pitches have improved according to some scouts and he had an effective split-finger pitch at times this year. He pitched often between 90 and 92 mph with his velocity and touched 93-95 mph at times. He had a 2.18 ground-to-air out ratio with Frederick and a 1.66 ratio at Bowie.
McCurry impressed a lot of people this year. In his first season exclusively as a reliever, the left-hander went 4-0 with an 0.80 ERA for Bowie and was 5-3 with a 4.15 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk. McCurry showed the ability to pitch multiple innings out of the 'pen, and lefties hit just .057 against McCurry at Bowie and just .213 off him at Triple-A.
Johnson, who was taken by the San Franciso Giants in the 2009 Rule 5 draft but later returned to the Orioles in the spring, pitched to an ERA of 2.16 in 10 Double-A starts this year and 5.56 in 17 Norfolk starts. He has had an impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League, with an ERA of 2.96 over eight games, where his velocity touched 93-94 mph at times, and he had several very pitch-efficient outings.
Gleason had 32 saves in 36 chances at Frederick this year and had a decent late-season, nine-game stint at Triple-A. But he has really struggled in the Arizona Fall League, pitching to an ERA of 17.25, and has allowed 34 hits in 12 AFL innings. Some reports say his fastball found the middle of the plate way too much and he struggled to command his secondary pitches, a bad combination.
Miclat did a lot this year to improve his stock playing at Bowie, batting .280 with 50 steals in 53 attempts. His defense at second base was solid at times and he made great strides in his pivot in turning double plays, but he did make 18 errors.
In the end, I'll take a guess that Drake and McCurry get added with Johnson and Miclat next in line if the Orioles add more than two players today.