TORONTO -- The Blue Jays protected right-hander Deck McGuire and outfielder Kenny Wilson from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft by adding both players to the 40-man roster on Wednesday afternoon.
The 24-year-old McGuire was taken with the 11th pick of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He joined the organization with lofty expectations, but he has struggled in each of the past two years at Double-A New Hampshire.
The native of Virginia posted an unimpressive 4.86 ERA in 27 games for the Fisher Cats last year. The previous season, McGuire also struggled to a 5-15 record with a 5.88 ERA. He has yet to figure things out on the mound while also failing to reach Triple-A.
Despite the early woes, Toronto moved to protect McGuire, who would have been an interesting reclamation project for another team. The fact that he's still in his mid 20s means there's plenty of time for him to turn things around, but there are questions about his overall upside and future as a starter in the Major Leagues.
Wilson was taken in the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and spent most of last season in New Hampshire. He's considered a plus runner with above-average range in the outfield, but he doesn't hit for much power.
The 23-year-old posted a .259 average, .333 on-base percentage and .708 OPS in 55 games for the Fisher Cats. Wilson likely will begin the year at either New Hampshire or Triple-A Buffalo, but he could be called upon as a reserve outfielder in the event of any injuries on the big league roster.
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.
Toronto still has a series of players who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft at next month's Winter Meetings, but it appears unlikely the club would actually lose someone to another team. Historically, relievers and middle infielders are the players that get targeted the most because they are easier to keep on the active roster.
Technically, former Blue Jays No. 1 starter Ricky Romero is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Romero was removed from the 40-man roster at the end of the season but likely isn't going anywhere because of the $15 million he is owed over the next two seasons. Romero spent almost the entire 2013 campaign at Buffalo, and he is still in the process of trying to solve his command issues on the mound.
Other prominent candidates in Toronto's system include right-hander Justin Jackson and catcher Sean Ochinko. It's possible one of those two could find a new home this winter, but early reports would seem to make that unlikely.
Jackson was drafted as a shortstop in 2007 and was recently converted to a pitcher after he failed to find any type of consistent success at the plate. Jackson certainly hopes to follow the career path of right-hander Sergio Santos -- who also was drafted as a shortstop -- but the process has been understandably slow to date. Jackson has yet to pitch above Class A, and he posted a 3.26 ERA in a combined 49 2/3 innings between Lansing and Dunedin.
Ochinko's value took a hit in August when he tested positive for the use of a banned substance. He split the year between New Hampshire and Buffalo while managing to hit just .231 with five homers and 37 RBIs. Ochinko is a solid defender, but he still has plenty of work to do on his offensive game, and it's doubtful another team would give him a shot at a big league job.
Toronto now has 39 players on its 40-man roster, but the club could create additional space either through trade or designating a player for assignment. There would appear to be a small group of pitchers that are expendable, if that need arises, including Thad Weber and Mickey Storey.