Today is zero hour for the Royals to set their 40-man roster ahead of the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

The rules for the Rule 5 draft are fairly straight forward and simple.  Players eligible for the Rule 5 draft include those who were signed at age 19 and older and have been with a team for four years, and those who were signed at 18 or younger and have been with their team for five years.

Complicating matters for the Royals leading up to the deadline is the fact they are a young organization.  Players eligible for the draft are college players selected in Dayton Moore’s first draft. (For clarification, I’m calling 2007 as GMDM’s first draft.)  When you have a team as stacked in the minors as the Royals are it creates quite the conundrum.

Further complicating matters is the fact the Royals still have… let’s be nice and say they have issues when it comes to acquiring players to fill out their roster.   Case in point:  this month they claimed Joaquin Arias off waivers from the New York Mets.  Not a great claim, but the Royals felt they needed a backup in the middle infield.  Fine.  Except then they claimed Lance Zawadzki from the San Diego Padres.  Basically, the same player – a utility middle infielder who isn’t good enough to hold down a regular role on a half-decent team.

So now, through the magic of two waiver claims, the Royals have filled two spots on their 40-man roster with what we will call surplus.  They don’t really need either one of these guys and they certainly don’t need both.

Then there’s the fact the Royals are mindful of the future.  In other words, we all expect Mike Moustakas to make his debut at some point in the 2011 season.  Because he’s not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, there’s no reason to put him on the 40-man roster at this point.  Still, if the Royals do bring him to Kansas City at some point next summer, they will need to clear a spot for him on the 40-man.

The Royals won’t want to place a player on the 40-man roster now and then have to remove him during the season.  There’s a much better chance for a player to be claimed off waivers than to be selected in the Rule 5 draft.

It’s a complicated process.  Dayton Moore has said he will protect three to five players.  Here’s who I think the Royals protect.

Everett Teaford – Since teams have to keep players selected in the Rule 5 on their 25-man roster during the season, these drafts feature a run on pitching.  It’s basically easier to bury a pitcher at the back end of a bullpen, that to keep a bat on what has typically become a very thin bench.  Of all the Royals pitchers eligible for the draft, Teaford is the best of the bunch.  He threw 99 innings last summer for Northwest Arkansas and posted a 3.36 ERA and featured a strikeout rate of 10.3 SO/9.  His control was exceptional as well, with a walk rate of 2.9 BB/9.

He’s an automatic add to the 40-man roster.

Clint Robinson – This one is questionable.  He turns 26 in February and has yet to progress past Double-A.  Except this summer in Northwest Arkansas all the guy did was hit .335/.410/.625 while winning the Texas League triple crown.  As a first baseman, he’s sandwiched between Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihuie in the majors and Eric Hosmer in the minors.

Still, his monster year in AA was too good to ignore.

David Lough – Lough has been compared to David DeJesus and with DeJesus gone, now is Lough’s chance to show us how accurate those comparisons are.  A little speed, modest power and the ability to make contact does make him sound like DeJesus version 2.0.  Last year he hit .280/.346/.437 for Omaha, so he’s basically ready to make the move for to the majors.  You don’t leave players this close to the majors unprotected.  Someone will take him.  Plus, with the current roster thin on outfielders, there’s a chance he will open the season as a starter.

Another automatic choice.

That’s it.  Those are my three.  That means three must go.  I leave players like Derrick Robinson and Paulo Orlando exposed.  Those guys won’t be drafted as they’re marginal major league players at this point in their careers.  Same for pitchers Eduardo Paulino and Mario Santiago.  Their skill sets won’t translate well to the majors at this point in their respective careers.

Fortunately, even though the Royals needlessly added a pair of utility infielders, there’s still plenty of fat to trim off this roster.

I think Gaby Hernandez is gone for sure.  Once upon a time he dominated in the lower minors, but as he progressed he started catching too much of the plate and became incredibly hittable.  He’s one the wrong side of the fringe.

Victor Marte has done well in Triple-A, but has been absolutely battered in a pair of turns in the majors.  The guy just doesn’t miss enough bats and doesn’t have the stuff to survive in the major leagues.

Then there’s a coin flip between Bryan Bullington and Phillip Humber.  I think one of these guys will go.  The one who remains will get a shot at the back end of the Royals rotation.  Or perhaps in the bullpen as a swingman.

Those are my choices.  Get in early and leave yours in the comments.