Onetime top prospect Hunter Harvey was among the three minor leaguers the Orioles added to their 40-man roster Monday, protecting them from selection in next month's Rule 5 draft.
Harvey, fellow right-hander David Hess and catcher Austin Wynns were the team's three additions by Monday's 8 p.m. deadline. Players over the age of 19 when they sign their first professional contract are eligible for the fourth Rule 5 draft after they sign, while players under age 19 at the time of their first contract must be protected ahead of their fifth Rule 5 draft.
Harvey, 22, the team's 2013 first-round amateur draft pick, hasn't pitched above Low-A Delmarva because he spent nearly three years battling injuries that culminated in Tommy John elbow reconstruction in July 2016. He worked his way back to full health in 2017 and will be tasked with building his innings back up in 2018, though his presence on the roster plus his mid-90s fastball and plus breaking ball will make including him in the conversation for a major league roster spot at some point quite tempting.
Hess, 25, was a fifth-round pick in 2014 and jumped right to High-A Frederick for his first full season. Though he struggled some in 2016, Hess rebounded to post a 3.85 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) for Double-A Bowie. While some evaluators believe he's ticketed for the bullpen long term — which could have made selecting him in the Rule 5 draft tempting — the Orioles see his four-pitch mix and envision him as a future starter, making him particularly valuable to an organization without much pitching in the high minors.
Wynns will be the third catcher on the 40-man roster behind Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco, serving as depth with those two expected at this point to begin the year as the major league catchers. Always considered a strong defender whose mitt would earn him a major league bench job at some point in his career, Wynns, 26, hit a career-high 10 home runs while batting .281 with a .796 OPS this year for Bowie.
The two main candidates left off the roster were infielder Steve Wilkerson and left-hander Luis Gonzalez.
Wilkerson came onto the radar this year with Frederick and Bowie by batting .305 between the two teams and playing all four infield positions plus right field, and had nine extra-base hits while batting .317 in the Arizona Fall League.
Gonzalez, a 25-year-old left-hander, broke out as a reliever this year with a fastball that runs up to 95 mph and an above-average slider, posting a 2.47 ERA and a 1.016 WHIP for the Keys. He also allowed no earned runs in 9 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
The club ultimately decided that Wilkerson could be exposed, given that other teams might have similar players in their own system and wouldn’t need to select one in the Rule 5 draft. They also bet that teams would look at Gonzalez’s lack of experience above High-A and pass on him, as well.
With the additions, the Orioles’ 40-man roster goes from 30 to 33, leaving plenty of room for possible Rule 5 additions and free-agent signings over the coming weeks.